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New Creative Head for Design Academy Eindhoven

Graphic designer Thomas Widdershoven has a good head and great attitude and has been appointed Creative Director of the Design Academy Eindhoven.   What people seem to like most about him is that he is not another voice in the current debate about product design, but a more general voice about design and designership. 

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 21-03-2013

The Design Academy has trodden a difficult path since Li Edelkoort’s departure in 2008. Alexander van Slobbe eventually took over as Creative Director, but left after only nine months.  That left Chairwoman of the Executive Board, Anne-Mieke Eggenkamp, in charge, but with no creative head.  Eggenkamp left late last year after a very public disagreement with the Heads of the Master’s programme.

So the announcement that the co-founder and director of Thonik, Thomas Widdershoven, will be DAE’s new creative director has struck a joyous chord with the industry.  Widdershoven will also be Chairman of the Executive Board.

Word on the street is that the applications for the job were of the highest calibre.  Widdershoven was selected not just because of who he is, but because many of the other applicants – as impressive as they may have been - are too embroiled in the politics that have become the school’s biggest problem.  Appointing a new artistic head was always going to be a very emotional decision.   Widdershoven, we also hear, had a fantastic motivation letter, which the selection committee unanimously admired.

What now needs to be focussed on is building the school’s international reputation and evolving from within to ensure that students graduate with a good understanding of how design skills can match the contemporary needs of society.

“I think it is a clever choice,” says Piet Hein Eek, designer and DAE graduate.  “He has distance from the academy.  It is certainly better than some of the other choices that have been made there recently.”

“He is an artist, or a designer, and I think that is important,” says Ted Noten, designer and DAE tutor.  “The school needs artistic input from someone who knows about design – about its laws and processes.  He is not a bureaucrat who comes up with theories, but rather he knows what it takes to design and make things.”

“It is an inspired choice,” says Garech Stone, one half of the Stone Twins who head up the Man and Communication department.  “It is a clear signal that the academy has moved away from product design to embrace broader definitions of design.”

“I was surprised, but really happy,” says Jan Boelen, Head of Social Design.  “We wanted someone creative and we got it.”

“I think it is an adventurous choice,” says Timo de Rijk who hit headlines recently with his criticism of how design education, particularly at DAE, has lost its way.  “I didn’t expect someone like him to apply, but he is very aware of how it all works – he knows a design commission, about designing for companies and institutions.  Also his graphic design background might be interesting because it is an area the Design Academy is growing in.  The approach of graphic design to the conceptualization of ideas can be used across disciplines.

“One thing I do hope he realizes is that the Design Academy is a school and not a cultural institution,” De Rijk continues.  “What I expect from a school is to educate people.   Those kids are not in the business world, it should not be about presenting products and projects like they were out in the real world.  It should be about educating students, which may not be as sexy.  There is too much focus on the graduation show, like that is the only and most important day of their education.  And it is not.”

“I was pleasantly surprised,” says Gert Staal, design writer and DAE teacher.  “I think it is the right decision to take the DAE into the future, but best of all it is unfamiliar territory for Widdershoven.  It is outside his own zone, but also heavily connected and I like that.  I don’t think he is committed to a very specific idea, but has an open minded view on what design can be without the burden of a long-standing education career.  It will be very interesting.”

So Widdershoven is respected, politically clean and talented.  “He is also a really nice guy,” adds Stone.  Now Dutch design waits to see what he can fix.

“But there really is nothing to fix,” says Boelen.  “The academy is still very good, it just needs adjustments.  Thomas just brings in a direction.  I see it more as putting everyone’s noses in the same direction, which I think he can do.”

“But it will be a lot tougher than he probably thinks,” concludes Staal.  “I was at the academy just after the announcement was made.  Thomas wasn’t even there, but the situation already felt different.  It was like everyone understood that there was going to be a new direction, and that the move would be a solid one.  But still, it is going to be difficult.”

Widdershoven plans to balance his new role at DAE with his work at Thonik and will soon appoint an education director to structure courses.

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