Dutch designers Ineke Hans and Jorre van Ast joined Singapore-Barcelona based collective Outofstock for a candid discussion on design at Foundry earlier this month. Cubes Indesign Managing Editor Rachel Lee-Leong moderated the event and posed these questions.
The first question is to Jorre and Ineke. In the design world, Dutch design has become a category all its own. In your opinion, what is Dutch design? What are its characteristics, what are its values? And are these reflected in your own works?
Jorre, Creative Director at Arco: I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the word Dutch design. I’m not really sure what it is. I don’t think it’s a category, so I don’t see myself as being part of Dutch design.
From left: Ineke Hans, Gustavo Maggio, Gabriel Tan and Jorre van Ast
Ineke: I also have a problem with it, but at the same time I think I can see why people think that. When I was starting out, it was difficult for Dutch designers to work with companies, and so a lot of designers thought, ’If I can’t design for a company, I’m going to do it myself’. And they were trying to show other things. It started off with ideas, it started off with more ideas about product and really thinking about production. And I think this has somehow become a parallel idea about Dutch design, that it’s about being conceptual and about ideas.
Fly by Ineke Hans for Arco
For a long time a lot the Dutch companies thought, ’Ah, these conceptual stuff, we don’t have to worry because it’s just ideas, no one’s going to buy it, so we’ll keep on going in the same way’. But then a person like Marcel Wanders came along and started a company like Moooi, and showed that you could start to make some money out of it. Quite a lot of Dutch companies then woke up and said, ’Oh my god, we have been sleeping for 20 years!’.
But now, people read the same papers, the same Internet sites. Everyone is influencing one another so I also don’t think you could say that only Dutch designers do this conceptual stuff. I think it’s happening all over the world.
Jubilee by Ineke Hans for Arco
In an age of globalisation, where everyone is influenced by almost anything around the world, what role does culture have in design?
Gustavo, from Outofstock: We all look at the same blogs, and we all unfortunately get too much of the same kind of inspiration before we start designing or as we are designing. But at the same time I think each country, each city, is still very different. So eventually when you’re working with different companies, you need to understand their culture, you need to travel, you need see, and you need to feel the city. You cannot do that through blogs. So yes, we are globalised but at the same time each place is very unique.
Volume sofa by Outofstock
When you’re designing products, what are some key ideas that you find yourself constantly thinking about?
Jorre: I think one of the biggest challenges for designers is to come up with something new. I think one of the ways of looking at objects is to look at the different typologies. With drinking vessels, you have wine glasses, beer glasses, whisky glasses… and they’ve all evolved for a reason and they are all different typologies. So rather than designing another whisky glass or another beer glass, the challenge is to add another typology.
Utensils by Arco Design Studio
Gabriel, from Outofstock: When we started out, it was without a client because at that time nobody knew us, so it was also about thinking about a theme or a concept that we felt that we wanted to explore ourselves. So exploring typologies or exploring materials was really some of the approaches that we used, or working with craftsmen who worked with a certain technique.
And then there are of course projects for clients where they ask us to design a specific product or collection. But I think it is also important for designers to not always simply give what the client asks for but to try to understand what they are trying to achieve, and then maybe offer a counter-proposal that could possibly work better for them.
Volume console by Outofstock
Ineke: I do agree that there has be a form of innovation involved. I think we already have so much stuff that it doesn’t make sense to add something that we already know. I also happen to work with a lot of companies that are open to discussions and that are trying to find a vision for the future. I think that’s very important. It’s not only about what you want to do, but also where you are going with design.
The Welland series by Ineke Hans for SCP
Before asking where we are going in design, maybe one of the things to do first is to look at the state of design today. From where you come from, how would you describe the state of design?
Ineke: I think that at the moment there are a lot of designers around. There are a lot of students educated in design nowadays, and where are all of them going? We are also living in a world where a lot of designers are adding to another cheap, crappy plastic chair, and I think we have to try to convince everyone that we have to make good products. We have to take our profession very seriously.
Steel table by Jorre van Ast
Jorre: I think that maybe the Dutch design world and the education is in a little bit of a crisis, looking at what’s next. I think we have also come to realise that while all this conceptual work has been fantastic, and has been an eye-opener, and has put a different perspective into design, at the same time, in Europe, I think we need to go beyond the conceptual work and also deal with pragmatic, everyday problems. So I’m also wondering where the education will go. At the moment they are looking for a new direction, but they are also struggling.
Cafe chair by Jonathan Prestwich for Arco
Gabriel: I think the state of design in Singapore is at a crossroads. Right now we have a lot of institutions starting design courses, attracting a lot of students in Asia and beyond to study in Singapore. However, we are also very close to the producers around Asia and a lot of them are doing replica design making. Because of the abundance of these replicas on the market, sometimes it’s very hard to push your customers to buy the originals when replicas are available at a fraction of the price.
I guess one of our responsibilities as designers is to try and make sure that our clients do not condone the use of replicas. At the end of the day, if we stop using replica furniture and local companies realise that consumers are into buying original products, they will hire our local design graduates or people who have studied in Singapore to design original products, and get them produced in the factories in Asia that they already have access to.
Hull table by Outofstock
Gustavo: Compared to the design scene in Europe, which has so much history and tradition, Singapore is a very new society that has been exposed to design very fast and very strongly. In that sense, here we have a unique opportunity to set things right.
Tre table by Jonas Trampedach for Arco
Arco, SCP and Outofstock products are carried in Singapore at Foundry Store.