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What is Dutch Design?

During the Design Lecture-Oranda Design Afternoon in Tokyo at Tokyo Designers Week, the question hanging in the air was ‘What is Dutch Design?’

By No author / 04-11-2008

'What makes Dutch Design Dutch Design?' Is it being 'down to earth’? It may be difficult to answer this question, perhaps because of this Dutch nature of being 'down to earth', what can one actually explain about being 'down to earth'?

What is Dutch Design? What makes Dutch Design Dutch Design? These were the central questions during the Design Lecture-Oranda Design Afternoon on 2 November in 21-21 Design Sight during Tokyo Designers Week. The big number of visitors showed that many are interested in Dutch Design – the Japanese are curious about what is behind this Dutch Design, what is the concept, what are the motives, where does it originate from?

Hester Swaving from Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion, began with explaining about the nurturing environment that has helped Dutch Design take off. She emphasized the high level of the education one can find for instance at the Design Academy Eindhoven.

Product designer Chris Kabel, known for his designs like 'Shady Lacy' for Droog gave the audience a peek into a cupboard that was filled with his designs. A ceramic water cooker, bubble shaped glass lamps and chandeliers that work on gas. Through his work one could easily feel his urge to create and recreate, use and reuse images, discovering new possibilities. His solutions are simple, modest and practical. His explanation of how he came up with his blue gas chandelier with the GAZ gas container was a perfect example of tackling a problem with a down to earth approach. And that is perhaps one part of the answer to the question, 'What makes Dutch Design Dutch Design?' For people like Kabel it may be difficult to answer the question, perhaps because of this Dutch nature of being 'down to earth', 'practical', what can one actually explain about being 'down to earth'? But how about the 'twist' that Dutch Design is famous for? The remarkable match, 'down to earth with a twist' can be found in the word 'relative'; don't make things bigger than they are.

Hugo van den Bos, strategy director of graphic design studio Koeweiden en Postma showed a reel with house styles and logo designs. 'Dutch design is simple and powerful', he noted. Through his presentation his message was 'Dare to not listen to the client, follow your own instinct as a designer.' A clear example of this approach was the design for the series of book covers for the American-Jewish writer Philip Roth. The publisher was hesitant towards mentioning the Jewish background of the writer. Koeweiden en Postma however thought the opposite. The final design shocked the publisher but was loved by Roth. He further noted that the dominance of Western visual language should make room for other cultural influences. Van den Bos showed some examples of how Arabian patterns and designs were used and redefined. Also their cooperation with a studio from India for an upcoming design congress had led to a new approach. He called upon Japanese design studios to start a similar cross collaboration with Koeweiden en Postma.

The last speaker was author and journalist Tracy Metz. She emphasized the relationship between the way the Dutch shaped the country and design: simple and functional. She explained that the education encourages work between disciplines which stimulates a more conceptual perspective. As an example she mentioned Droog and its cooperation with the Technical University in Delft. She told that the Dutch government is very willing to support initiatives and provide subsidies to promote Dutch Design. 'It comes down to mentality', she said. In the recent years Dutch designers have rediscovered their heritage and their nation’s history. Century old designs are being recreated. Metz saw a tendency that designers create very expensive design in limited editions but on the other hand she recognised the development of democratic design, where for example the chair of KesselsKramer is no more that a metal cube. The customer receives a hammer with which he can shape the cube to his own favourite model chair. And what about the 'twist' in Dutch Design? 'The Dutch have the ability to make fun of themselves. Also it's a matter of combining things that usually don't combine at all. Dutch designers are good in using materials that look worthless. The designers give them a new value.'

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