Who is Foundation We Are?
H: Tell us Bernhard, who are you?
B: I’m Bernhard Lenger and I’m the founder of Foundation We Are. I first studied engineering and industrial design in Austria and after that I went to Design Academy Eindhoven where I graduated from the department Man and Leisure.
L: That is were most of the members of Foundation We Are met. My name is Lucandrea Baraldi and like Bernhard, Hannah van Luttervelt, Daeun Lim, and Maxime Benvenuto I graduated from the department Man and Leisure. Jella van Eck also studied at Design Academy Eindhoven, but in the department of Man and Communication. Kornelia Dimitrova studied architecture at the Technical University Eindhoven and Karen van Luttervelt studied graphic design at Academie Minerva.
I’m one of the foundation’s curators and I deal with narratives. I try to string together the material identity and the content of the project into a coherent experience.
H: I’m one of the designers within the collective and I always happen to find myself in a coordinating role. The last couple of months I travelled a lot, so I’m redefining my role again. During my trip, I was thinking about what I wanted as designer and I realised that we need to look into what we can do for people that are way less privileged than us. This is why I wanted to work with Foundation We Are. To strive to make the world a better place.
For our graduation we worked on the topic ‘justice and peace’. First, we were hesitant because it is such a big theme, but it showed us what else design could be. It was a very important realisation for us. Bernhard initiated a way to continue with these projects after our graduation. The ‘We Are Human Rights’ project was the first thing we did as a collective.
What do you mean when you say, ‘What else design could be?’
H: As designers we can work on a theme such as human rights. It would be great if people understand that they can ask designers to work on socially relevant topics.
B: It’s really new what we are doing. We believe that the designer’s way of thinking can be implemented in social matters. We approach a question like ‘how to support a community’ the same as ‘how to make a chair’. The same principles that are applied when making a tangible object are now applied in the context of the immaterial or system thinking.
L: Design to me is about problem solving and is not bound to the material realm. It’s about the way to get to a solution. It’s about the toolset and the process of thinking that we are trained in. I believe they can be incredibly effective also for issues that are not purely aesthetic. Especially, when design thinking is combined with empirical knowledge of experts within the field of the case.
Is each Foundation member involved in every project, or do you also divide projects over different team members?
L: We either seek a collaboration or we are asked to collaborate. When a project arises we look for the designers who are the best fit. We look at the skills each of us has.
H: I think it’s important to mention that after the ‘We Are Human Rights’ project we realised that okay this is interesting and we were getting seen, but we don’t want to become the human rights group. It’s a good project, but it’s only a part of what we can do.
Do you feel that you need to be more proactive than a more traditional designer?
B: Well, we can’t start without a partner. We don’t make something and then find a buyer. So, in that sense, yes, we do need to be more proactive. It would be interesting if someone could do this for you, but as far as I know there isn’t an agency for social designers.
H: You could say that Dutch Design Foundation is working on this with their What if Lab. Actually, you see that the project becomes more durable when there isn’t a mediator. For instance, with the project for Lansbrekers, we made a first step together and now they decided to work with us again. This is how you create a more sustainable collaboration. People really underestimate the time projects like this take. So, a quick intense collaboration isn’t always the best way to set something up.
B: I always need to think about the barbecue test by Nicky Liebregts. ‘If you are going to do a social design project to connect people, which is more expensive than a neighbourhood barbecue you need to be really sure it’s more effective and not just new and complicated.’
You often use exhibitions to present yourself to the design world. Is DDW an important event for you?
L: It’s our biggest channel at the moment. DDW is a good moment to show people the wider range of topics that we have developed over the year, and to emphasise more on collaborative design.
You talked about your roles within Foundation We Are. How do you organize that?
L: Last year it was a lot of trial and error. Now, while making the second exhibition, we know a lot better each other’s strengths and we trust each other more.
H: We are still figuring out how to organise a collective of eight people. It’s difficult, because it’s really important that everyone does things they feel connected to, and we want everybody to feel included.
B: It might look chaotic sometimes, but that's because we don’t have a strict hierarchy. We don’t have someone that makes a final decision. We do that collectively.
L: That’s why trust and responsibility are important. We can’t keep questioning each other’s choices.
H: This year we are trying out a method with small groups. Every project is divided into small tasks and when a group finishes a task they hand it over to the next small group.
B: For instance, I’m working on PR, so I'm not going to question the visual identity. First of all, because I think they are doing fantastic work, but also because this is what they decided on so I’m going to work with it.
What is Foundation We Are?
B: As Foundation We Are, we work like a design consultancy bureau. We have eight designers in our team, which enables to work on a wide range of topics. We can create a team personalised on the client or collaborator. This is the service we offer, because most of the time you don’t know the exact problem in advance so we can adapt to what is on the table. We want to invite governments and companies to work with designers. We want to improve the lives of people. It would be great if we can inspire others to go in the same direction. That is what we want to facilitate with the foundation.
If you don’t know what designers can do for you, come to us.
The full interview with Foundation We Are can be found in the second edition of BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE. You can follow BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE here.
Interview: Anne Ligtenberg and Mats Horbach / Photography: Saskia Overzee / Tekst editor: Mats Horbach