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Rotterdam Design Prize Nominations

The nominations for the Rotterdam Design Prize are in, but not yet out!  We talk to some of the scouts about what they were looking for.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 04-10-2013

The Rotterdam Design prize is one of the most important in the Netherlands.  Its focus seems to be on how design impacts on the real world.

Scouts from all different disciplines are given free reign to define their own parameters and frames of reference.  Each comes up with three nominations.  This year the scouts are Ineke Hans, Erik and Ronald Rietveld, Carlo Wijnands, Niki Smit, and Caroline Hummels (TU/e Industrial Design).

The result is a competition with no strict categories that often pits vastly different projects against one another.  The debate is always a relevant one and the winner (15,000 euros) is a good gauge of the direction Dutch design is taking.  

Niki Smit relishes the freedom the RDP affords it scouts.

“I was just told to go for it,” he says.  “I asked, ‘but what about this or that’ and was just told yes yes yes.  The only thing they are strict about is that the work be new – no older than two years old.”

Smit quickly defined his own frames of reference.  He wanted to find work that had reached an audience.  “I was less interested in some obscure concept that was hidden deep in somebody’s studio,” he admits.

And his own passion for interaction design – of tearing down walls and doing something new - definitely informed his final decisions.  “We like to stay at the forefront of the discussion on what interaction design can be, and how it can influence new fields,” he says. “My main focus is on how to make interaction human again.”

Smit believes that play - especially free play - is a basic human need.  “Our world gets more and more technological by the day but technology is not human,” he says.  “I am interested in forms that help overcome that, forms that help pull interaction out of the tech environment and make it more intuitive so it can be enjoyed by more than just those who like smartphones.”

Smit thinks the RDP is amongst the best because of the debate it helps to generate.  “It get opinions and juxtapositions,” he says.  “You really end up discussing design and what it does. Too often with prizes the designer stays inside a design bubble with all the usual mentalities and discourse that accompany that.”

2011 winners Ronald and Erik Rietveld join the RDP this year as scouts.  “Our search was for people who have a deep fascination and who have a belief in achieving the impossible,” Ronald Rietveld says.  “It is important to be experimental for that, but we also wanted to find projects that managed to move on to create an image from an idea – to transcend the meaning.  We also like to see work that properly connects to social issues.”

The Rietvelds crossed disciplines in their search for designers who are interested in creating a new type of world.  “We came across people who were really stretching the boundaries even within their own disciplines,” he says.  “The result is that the meaning of what they make is far greater than the actual thing they make because in our view it is much more important to be involved in creating a different way of living than just making things.”

Rietveld goes on to point out that this is what distinguishes the RDP over the Dutch Design Awards.  “The RDP has a wider meaning,” he says. “In my opinion it is more relevant.”

Carlo Wijnards, programme manager for Amsterdam Fashion Week, decided to focus on innovation, cultural entrepreneurship and visibility.  Like with the other scouts he wanted more than just an idea.  “And talent is not enough,” he says.  “I wanted three things in combination.”

For him beauty (particularly in fashion) is irrelevant.  “There has to be a type of renewal, something confronting that makes you think or at least makes you wonder what to think about it.”  

Initially Ineke Hans was worried that graphic design was not adequately represented amongst the scouts, which made her feel more obligated.  “But in the end it is not how it works,” she says.  “I only selected what was truly good regardless of discipline.”

Hans is also a big fan of the prize saying it really defines what is contemporary and important in design.  

“It is difficult to choose three projects that really show the scope of current design thinking,” she says.  “That was what I found most difficult.”

Hans wanted a thread to connect her nominations to properly reveal her defined priorities. “Ultimately I wanted projects that were more in touch with the world,” she says.  “Not private design investigations or very niche-oriented things.  I also wanted the projects to show the broader power of design … work that shows how design can make an extra impact on our lives and futures.” looks will announce the final list of nominees for the Rotterdam Design prize 2013 on November 16th.

Main image:
Vacant by
Erik and Ronald Rietveld, winners 2011
Left from top:
Erik and Ronald Rietveld
Ineke Hans
Niki Smit
Carlo Wijnand
Caroline Hummels

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