We’re in Frank Kolkman‘s studio, and he’s showing us one of his projects. “In 2015, I worked on a project which was called Open Surgery. And that was really my first step into the healthcare arena. It was a proposal for a do-it-yourself surgery robot, inspired mainly by finding these YouTube videos online of especially uninsured Americans that were doing all kinds of medical hacks on themselves, simply because they could no longer afford to go see a doctor. And for me, that was, first of all, a bit shocking, but secondly, it really speaks about the economic system that exists around health care.”
Frank is an experimental designer, and an ambassador for the Embassy of Health. And he’s working on putting together this year’s exhibition at Dutch Design Week, together with one of its curators, Jetske van Oosten. She explains the themes she chose: “If we look at healthcare, it becomes visible that we are the system. The responsibility for good healthcare is not something we can give to healthcare organizations or to the sector or to others. We have to take care of each other.”
Jetske works at the Creative Industries Fund, and she links designers with organizations working in healthcare, because designers can lend a unique perspective to one of the most important aspects of our lives. “We’re trying to raise questions about the quality of care and not if it’s good or bad, but more what defines the quality.”
“I think one of the advantages for designers is also that they are not part of the system in a way that they are responsible for one small part of it. So they have the opportunity to oversee a more societal challenge. What designers try to do is – within the system – trying to make room for change, or make the system adaptive and more human. The way of working of designers is very different from the way of working from the healthcare people themselves.”
Probing Emerging Futures
Frank: “Part of my involvement with this Embassy of Health is that I am overseeing a project in collaboration with Philips Design and students from the Design Academy in Eindhoven as well as the Technical University in Eindhoven. We’ve worked on a project that is called Probing Emerging Futures, in which we’re really aiming for the students to explore future narratives for healthcare. So the students created physical models of future healthcare products or services that we display there to get feedback from the audience to see how they would feel if they were to use this particular device or service – hopefully to get a better understanding of what we hope for the future. What do we desire? What do we dislike or what are we hoping for that never is gonna happen?”
Focus on imperfection
This year, the Probing Emerging Futures project is focussing on the theme of eco-entanglement. Or how we, as humans, fit into the larger ecosystem. But there are other themes within the exhibition as well. The search for the ‘perfect body’ is one of them, Jetske explains.
“If we talk about the quality of healthcare, is it meant to make us a perfect human being, which is, in fact, an artificial kind of human being? Or should we focus more on the vulnerability and fragility of human beings, the fact that we will never be perfect?”
Jetske points to Joost van Wijmen’s project, called ‘Encounter’. “He’s a costume designer, but he uses his skill to get in contact with persons, very different persons, based on the scars on their bodies. And he tries to draw these scars first.”
Volunteers of all ages let Joost trace their scars onto a transparent piece of plastic. Then he asks them to share their stories about their scars by writing them down. The scars are then embroidered onto pieces of silk and presented with their histories. The idea is to give space to themes like intimacy, privacy and fragility.
Jetske: “It’s not so much the textile he is making, but it’s more like making the scar visible and also the narrative around it, the stories that people are telling. So it’s actually focussed on imperfection, and what’s the story behind that.”
All in all, the Embassy of Health will explore various aspects of this issue with design talent, healthcare professionals, commercial parties and government agencies. With ‘Chronic Health?’ the Embassy of Health highlights the power of design to lead the healthcare transition.
It’s not easy to analyse today’s healthcare system, Frank says. “It’s still a fixed system within a very neoliberal approach focusing on human progress above all else. We have to learn to let go. Throughout the exhibition you see different approaches of people trying to deal with these issues of change. What are the different approaches and what is the human morality in it, what do we feel comfortable by, what do we feel repelled by?”
The partners in the Embassy of Health are offering complementary perspectives, Frank says. “So you have Philips, which is basically a producer of healthcare products. Then you have Maxima Medical Center which is much more like a consumer in terms of the medical field but also a provider of medical care. Then there is Ucreate, which is a center of expertise representing both healthcare professionals and a general public. Waag is representing a societal perspective. And then you have the Creative Industries Fund that is representing the perspective from the designer. It’s really interesting because we don’t really speak each other’s language just yet, but we’re getting closer every year it seems.”
Together, they will continue working on building a new vision of what healthcare could be.
Frank: “A healthcare that’s much more accessible, much more fair and equally distributed.”
Jetske: “…and based on human values instead of economic.”
Part of the Embassy of Health: Lab Romanticism in IVF
The moment of conception during ‘traditional’ reproduction usually happens in the intimacy between two partners, but with IVF this is replaced by a clinical process in the lab of the fertility clinic. Designer Lisa Mandemaker made it her project.
“To find the balance between Lab and Romanticism I searched for different references and interactions that would fit this new ritual. Eventually, I based the design on Japanese zen gardens, matryoshka dolls and animal courtship dances, specifically that of the white-spotted pufferfish.
The project has two goals, on one hand I would like to educate people on what actually happens in the fertility clinic during an IVF process. On the other hand this project is questioning the romantic ideal around reproduction, inviting you to think about the beginning of life and new values in family planning.”
The World Design Embassies are a programme of the Dutch Design Foundation, and work year-round with partners and stakeholders to look at the role that design can play in the development of new perspectives and concrete solutions to the challenges we face as a society in a quickly-changing world.
The Embassies are also a part of Dutch Design Week, where the world comes to Eindhoven to discover innovation through the eyes of designers, design thinking and design skills. During Dutch Design Week, the Embassies take on a physical form – in exhibitions, lectures, discussions and workshops – so that ideas, expertise and insight can be shared, with experts but also with the general public.