Rotterdam Design Prize Reflects Reality
Surprise was the most common reaction to last week's announcement of the nominees for the Rotterdam Design Prize - a closer look shows that the list is a fairly good gauge of the broader debate dominating design thinkers - just where is this industry going?
A lot of people I spoke to from the Dutch design establishment were a bit shocked by last week’s announcement of the nominees for the biennial Rotterdam Design Prize. A closer look shows the diversity of choices reflects disagreements from within design about what role the industry should be playing.
NRC Handelsblad, the country’s high-end newspaper that has lost a lot of support with its new editor and its markedly more mainstream appearance and content, was nominated by Matthijs van Dijk. He also nominated the popular bakery chain Vlaamsch Broodhuys that seems to pop up on a new corner every month.
But the nomination committee - Matthijs van Dijk, Aziz Bekkaoui, Joost Grootens, Sophie Krier, Ginette Blom and Jacqueline Moors – have a consistent perspective. Each one has forwarded three names that they feel best represent design in Holland now and where it is headed.
That is where things get sticky and interesting. Where design is going and even what design is has evolved into such a debate that five scouts will never come up with a coherent list of nominees. The diversity this year is extreme and only serves to emphasize the debate raging between professionals about what is next for design.
Al that is clear is that design is no longer just about shaping products or identities – a designer is as an intermediary, a researcher, a scientist, a communicator, an entrepreneur and often all at once.
While Van Dijk brings design back to a broader public’s preference, Sophie Krier – who nominated Monique van Heist, Ester van de Wiel and Matthijs Munnik - blurs the art design distinction thus affording design a more experimental role rooted in research. Krier’s perspective perhaps best matches with the graduation projects we have seen over the past few months.
Social design, collaboration and science play a big role. The only traditional product design is the MyAmbiance LED bulb by Philips. Some projects respond to well-defined problems like Monique van Heist’s seasonless fashion collection that defies that industry’s non-stop lust for change. Other projects simply acknowledge a problem and seek to contribute to a debate. Catalogtree, for example, turned Marije Meerman’s documentary “Money & Speed: Inside the Black Box” into a Touchdoc – a documentary for the iPad that required a whole new typology.
The previous Rotterdam Design Prize winner Joost Grootens nominated Piet Hein Eek, not for his product design but for his entrepreneurship for the Factory – the designer’s conversion of an old Philips complex into a new production facility that houses showrooms, ateliers, a restaurant and a shop.
Selecting a final winner is going to be a tough job for the international jury and will ultimately be more about what their own position on how the role of design should develop.
All the nominations are currently exhibited in the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen where the public can vote for the Premsela Public Prize. It is also possible to vote online here. The exhibition will run through till February 12.
At 2pm on Sunday 11 December and Sunday 15 January Premsela, the Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion will host a public debate with the scouts and the nominees in the museum on the topic of “What is Design?” Tim Vermeulen of Premsela will act as moderator. Scouts Sophie Krier, Matthijs van Dijk and Joost Grootens will take part on 11 December, and Aziz Bekkaoui and the duo Blom&Moors will participate on 15 January.
Image: Joost Grootens, Prize Winner 2009 and Jury member Alice Rawsthorn. Photography by Fred Ernst.
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