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What Design Can Do for Richard van der Laken

The annual design conference What Design Can Do will be held in Amsterdam on 16 and 17 May, caught up with organizer and initiator Richard van der Laken about his hopes for this year’s edition. 

By Cassandra Pizzey /asdf 09-05-2013

With new partners, a new line up and brand new speakers, What Design Can Do 2013 promises to be an inspiring couple of days in the Dutch capital. Richard van der Laken answers our questions:

What are your expectations for What Design Can Do 2013?

“Well ,I have many. First off I hope the conference will become more focussed, offer clearer clusters of themes and subjects to really inspire people.

The event itself I hope will become more interactive. It’s something we’re really focussing on through a series of discussions, workshops and happenings. Our partners vary from the Design Academy Eindhoven to The New Institute, The Chocolate Makers and many more. It’s very exciting.”

In an earlier article you stated: “Creatives should be used to create a better, cleaner and more honest world”, what role does WDCD play?

“WDCD offers the proof and inspires designers, businesses, industry and government to see design as a force that can make a change. The conference aims to create a public awareness towards design, it’s more than just a beautiful vase. For our peers we want it to be a ‘call to action’, you have special skills so use them in a meaningful way!”

Let’s talk about some of the speakers, why did you pick them specifically? Mike Kruzeniski of Twitter for instance.

“I don’t need to tell you that interactive and digital media have drastically changed our lives over the past years. How do you deal with that as a designer? Mike Kruzeniski has done some groundbreaking work at Microsoft and Twitter. For me it’s important to not only present the politically correct designers, there are those that move between large industry and big business who can have a significant impact. 

On the other side of the spectrum, a Mexican fashion designer such as Carla Fernandez working in a completely different field, manual and and with native inhabitants – Indians – makes incredible fashion. It’s just as important and inspiring.”

We’ve seen quite a few economic and social changes since last year’s WDCD, how will the conference relate to these changes? Will we see speakers or subjects tailored towards these issues?

“I think there has been a massive change since the economic crisis hit in 2008. There is a good reason for change. The crisis that has been raging for five years has given Dutch designers a wake-up call, it will never be the same as the past. This poses some existential questions. Why do I do the things I do? What is my contribution to the world? How can I create change in a positive way?

Designers are asking themselves these questions too. It’s not all about beauty and aesthetics. It’s about offering alternatives, showing new horizons, contributing towards solving big and small social issues, breaking through taboos, not through talking but by getting into action. 

How do you see the future of WDCD, will we see related projects, different cities or bi-annual events?

“Yes that’s certainly the idea. The conference is the core but we notice a growing need for good master classes, workshops and exhibitions. Also, organizations like to manifest themselves, whether it’s a publishing house or a furniture producer. The proposition of WDCD, the relevance of design, offers many possibilities. I really feel we’ve hit gold.”

What message does WDCD convey and how do you get the message across?

“The value and meaning of design shouldn’t be underestimated. In the end, everything is design so we all are in contact with it every day. Designers see problems as a challenge, that is precisely what designing is.”

What does WDCD mean to you personally?

“I’m an involved designer, something I can say about myself without false modesty. It is from this principle that I started this project. WDCD and the position it occupies within the Netherlands is very important to me. 

Also, it’s amazing to spend a year on something that involves a lot or people and organizations (De Balie, the Apple Store, the Stedelijk Museum, BNO and AKZO Nobel to name a few). It’s becoming popular among people, something that gives me intense satisfaction.”

Finally, what message should visitors to this year’s WDCD take away when they leave the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam?

“Haha, a feeling of ‘Shit! I need to get to work right now!’.”

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