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Driving Dutch Design: Bouke Bruins

03 October 2018

Driving Dutch Design (DDD) helps young designers on the road to becoming real entrepreneurs. This year, Bouke Bruins is one these ‘drivers’. He'll be presenting his work together with the rest of his class in the Klokgebouw during the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, which is taking place from 20 to 28 October. The self-proclaimed 'Boyscout Designer’ uses public spaces as a canvas and tells us about growing up as a designing entrepreneur.

To his own surprise, Bouke Bruins (1989) graduated cum laude from the Design Academy in Eindhoven two years ago. He concentrates on creating a dialogue in public spaces using designs that engage and stimulate for municipalities and clients such as Dutch Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen, NS).

Bouke uses his work as a hyperlocal sociological study. For example, he installed a hometrainer next to a bus stop in Eindhoven. For two weeks he closely observed how people responded to it. “In the morning people cycled on it, in the afternoon they simply looked at it, and in the evening a school pupil started vandalising it. That's when a bus driver got off his bus to tell him off. ‘What do you think you're doing? This is our bicycle!’ I love to see things like that.”

When did you realise that you wanted to get into this field of work?

“Even when I was little I wanted to work on a large scale. I remember creating large drawings and felt that an A4 page was way too small. That's when I started to feel drawn towards large walls and started spraying graffiti in my teenage years. Later, that transitioned to public spaces and three-dimensional works.”

How did your friends and family feel about your choice of career?

“My parents always believed that if I did something that I was passionate about, everything would turn out alright. When I was a teenager I was slacking for a while, but at a certain point I realised that the opportunities I was being given wouldn't keep coming forever. That's when I started working really hard and completed two studies. During this time I'd often hear people say that you couldn't earn money with design or that you can't buy your own house as a self-employed person. On top of that criticism, it didn't help that my designs were also very artistically inclined. But in response, these types of comments became a motivation for me to develop myself in more directions and to work even harder.”

Does it motivate you when people say that something won't work or that you can't do something?

“I am quite competitive, actually. If someone tells me that something won't work or that there are others who can do it better, I always want to prove that I can do it, that I'm different. This was an important motivator for me at the Design Academy. I tried to demonstrate my worth through quantity. I find it hard to say that I'm a ‘hard worker’ but in terms of work I do actually have a really good drive and work ethic.”

Do you use your profession as a tool to achieve personal progress?

“My company is a tool to become stronger on a personal level, and it has become even more so over time. For example, when I started installing my work in public spaces I'd be told that I was destroying something. That wasn't what I wanted. For example: I made sure that hometrainer was planted firmly in the ground. I removed tiles from the pavement and set it with cement. People said that I was destroying the street, but that was never my intention. I was just trying to give something back to the city. Those types of comments weigh quite heavily on me, so I set some rules for myself and wrote my own manifesto. The first rule states that I'll bend the rules for my design. The last rule is that I'll take responsibility for what I do. I also always ensure that any damage that I do can be reversed.

My work may not always be sustainable in the short term, but I try to make as many people as possible aware of sustainability as the larger theme. I use design to try and solve social issues. I might do a little damage in the process, but it could just have an impact that makes all of us better people.”

Is being a designer difficult to combine with being an entrepreneur?

“I find it a complex combination at times. I feel that being an entrepreneur disrupts my creative process. Sending e-mails, taking care of communications, PR, paying invoices, directing people... These things aren't in line with what I want to make and achieve as a designer. As an entrepreneur, you main goal is to run a successful business and make money, and sometimes it's difficult to balance that with my creative dreams.”

Has Driving Dutch Design helped you with this balance?

“It's the perfect programme for me, as it offers a network of people who are in the same phase as I am. We're a varied group of designers, but we face the same pitfalls. This ensures that we can help each other get on track. We are given monthly masterclasses about how to start your own business in a solid and healthy way and how to make it grow. This includes a financial element, but it also involves acquisition and communication. How do I present myself to the outside world? What story do I want to tell? These types of questions are at the centre of DDD. Acquisition is very important to me personally. Considering that my field of work is in outdoor spaces, I have more work in the summer than in winter. This allowed me to focus on DDD during the cold months at the start of the year, but as the year progressed my workload started to increase. I noticed that it became more and more difficult to focus on the lessons learned. But because the masterclasses have become a monthly ritual, I am forced to spend one day every month on how to define myself as an entrepreneur and to think about where I'm heading. This grounding is very important to me.”

The precise nature of running a business is in stark contrast to the enigmatic nature of creativity...

“I think that the one can actually support the other. To run a company you need a certain form of creativity to really make your business stand out from the rest. This can be something as simple as your e-mails and the tone of voice you use. These also need to be designed. And how does your invoice look? You could send an Excel sheet, but you could also take a different approach. You can integrate your creative vision into every aspect of your business and doing so has become a personal goal for me.”

Can you elaborate on this vision?

“I look at the ways in which we can make the outside world interesting enough to keep people from constantly being engrossed with their mobile phones. But my idea of how to achieve this changes quite often. Sometimes I think that I need to start a dialogue, other times I feel that observation and research are the way forward. It's quite tricky. Some people say you should be able to encapsulate your vision in one sentence, but I struggle with that. Is it really essential to do this? I see many people around me with a very clear vision who know what they want and how to achieve it. I have a tendency to question things much more often in this respect.”

This doubt could actually focus your vision. By questioning yourself and your work you push yourself to a higher level.

“That ties in to the negative comments that I mentioned earlier. People don't always understand precisely what it is I do. The uncertainty this gives rise to ensures that I ask myself what I'm doing and where I'm headed every day. That is something positive; it means that I'm always thinking about how I can improve myself. But this doubt is not a nice feeling, and the negative comments aren't great either. But that feeling changes the very moment that you can turn that resistance and doubt into progress and improvement.”

About Driving Dutch Design

Designing for the future, that is what Dutch Design Week is all about. Main sponsor ABN AMRO joins forces with the Association of Dutch Designers (BNO) and the Dutch Design Foundation (DDF) to organise the Driving Dutch Design masterclass design talent driven by passion and ambition. The process lasts ten months, during which we help designers navigate the world of business. The campaign titled ‘Echte drive is niet te stoppen’ (real drive cannot be stopped) is an ode to these designers of the future.