So this is the new normal: an event that usually attracts more than 350,000 visitors, seems to be floating somewhere in a vacuum. We're all here together, yet on the other hand we're not, or at least we're invisible or inaudible. The creative hub where everyone immerses himself for a week in physical encounters and creative exchanges of ideas - and, quite frankly, also of business cards and telephone numbers - is now a Marketplace for innovation and vision for the future.
A new concept was born out of inventiveness and the ability to improvise: a virtual design week. Just for a week? There is no doubt that whatever is generated this week, will resonate for months to come, perhaps even until the next event in 2021. Dutch Design Year: sounds pretty exciting already. International TV shows, panel discussions, online exhibitions and live tours (only a small selection of the miscellaneous online content) turn this week into a virtual 'Dutch Open'. Based in London, graphic designer Oswin Tickler shares his daily reflections during his lockdown. Under the heading In Isolation: The First Wave he published a daily illustration of found material as a strip of adhesive tape, a newspaper clipping or a self-invented letter for a period of one hundred days.
Only a mouse click away lies the world of sound of Valdís Steinarsdóttir, voted Nordic Designer of the Year earlier this year. From Iceland, her country of birth, she presents her ASMR U Ready, a series of soundscapes with which she very subtly celebrates the sound of material. By scratching her nails over the surface, by bending it or simply by fidgeting with it. In the privacy of your own home, Steinarsdóttir makes you more aware of the sense that is so much underappreciated in design: our hearing.
Dutch Design Week embraces the digital transiency and strengthens this to a fluid and, above all, open platform. Because it is just as easy for visitors from Sao Paulo to Shanghai – or simply from Sittard, for that matter, – to experience live the, at least for the moment, centre of the design world. You can check in and out whenever you want. This is the concept. You can be sure that they'll closely watch a Design Week from Milan, London and all those other cities. How will this 're-design' of the design week turn out?
No one knows. Just as tricky as predicting a reality that has not yet been shaped, is designing it. This is borne out by the many sympathetic albeit, at times, naive projects that were launched directly after the coronavirus outbreak, remarkably often by young designers. For instance, the belt from which a colourful hoop with a diameter of some 2 m pops out, as soon as the other person gets close. This graduation project Bounding Spaces by Anne Dienemann from Design Academy Eindhoven, resembles a cold, almost dystopian chastity belt, rejecting everyone who comes too close. However, with its colourful pattern, this cheerful euhm...fashion item does more than simply adding some much-needed colour to the grey reality. Like the tail of a peacock, we can seduce more of them and strengthen our identity. Would we really wear something like this? Who knows. Although the smile at this designer joke will fade away, its essence will linger.
This is very much what designers are all about: visualise the invisible, fantasize the unimaginable and realise the intangible. And not just the designer but also business. Philips offers online master classes on the new challenges in healthcare due to Covid-19. IKEA organises the Greenhouse-sessions, with workshops, lectures and interactive experiences, so that we will be ready for a more sustainable home tomorrow.
In the end, they all come together – business, designers as well as visitors – in a new worldwide forum that aims to virtually outperform the cynical-realistic Economic Forum in Davos. The initiative for this World Hope Forum was taken this year in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic by Li Edelkoort and Philip Fimmano as a new network for societal change. A kind of Marketplace, in fact, for innovation and vision for the future.
The launch of this initiative this very week is, of course, no coincidence. The genie is out of the bottle. 'Open design' has transformed a physical event into a digital village square where the global design community can meet. Where you can attend and participate and join the discussions. An entire week, possibly an entire year, whenever you want.
The design week is dead and buried. Long live the open design year.