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DDW Trend: The design of the future? Microdesign!

24 October 2020

A still from a microbial animation
Deep Design. Uh? Never heard of it. Could well be. It is a new discipline. According to ‘deep designer’ Anne van Strien, this means “working from the premise that form follows consciousness instead of function". Forms follows consciousness – an interesting thought. To illustrate: in order to change our view on water issues, for example, we must first learn to listen. Van Strien therefore created the podcast series Listening to the voice of water. Hence Deep Design can be heard in the Embassy of Water.

Also new is 'deviant design', a term coined by Tom Loois. With his Adviesbureau voor Afwijkend Gedrag, part of The Self Academy at MU, he encourages a review of the conventional code of conduct in public space. Because deviant behaviour sounds like something undesirable, something we must avoid. But is this really the case? With his deviant design, Loois wants to create more space for vulnerability, wonderment and intimacy.

Envisions Hackathon
© ©Elvis Wesley

And then there was the 'hack design' of Envisions. This collective of twenty creatives from a wide range of disciplines - from photographers and graphic designers to concrete craft workers and 3D printers - dealt with different everyday utilitarian objects in two-day sessions each. For instance, the washing machine was 'hacked' with questions as: why does this always have to be a white box? And why can't this be a showpiece in the middle of the room?

These subdisciplines show resilience and an unrivalled design flexibility. Responding to new societal developments and changing insights into what design is capable of, its boundaries are constantly being widened. Coupled with a lot of creativity, social engagement and open-mindedness, of course.

Zi-Han / Noctiluca scintillans / Taipei
© ©Zhi-Han Huang

As yet unnamed but unmistakably present this Dutch Design Week (DDW) is microdesign.

Is this because of 'the virus'? They popped up everywhere during the last few weeks. Microbes! They surfaced as the tiniest living creatures as pets in the graduation project Microbe Mate by Huai Yuan Wang of Design Academy Eindhoven. Admittedly still fictitious, this intriguing project sketches a conceivable scenario of a company that delivers a microbe-pet service and shows the user experience. Just as simple do microbes constitute the raw material for the eco-jewellery of Project Habitate. Before long we will wear organic micro life on our skin, in artfully designed jewellery, as a source of life for endangered ecosystems.

Collect and send data on the quality of the water
© ©Ermi van Oers

We also saw microbes serving as cleaners in the Ponds of Ermi van Oers, which exists of reactors full of microbic aquatic life in lakes and rivers, for example. This floating network - the first of its kind - generates energy and purifies water at the same time. These microbes release energy during the decomposition of organic material. This is used to visualise the health of the water with lamps that change in colour. The colour indicates how well or badly the water is doing; the water is, in fact, given a voice. Deep design meets microdesign – welcome to the future.

Feeding your microbiome is a form of solidarity
© ©Ronald Smits

Microbes and bacteria are predominantly seen as pathogens, but most of them are neutral or even beneficial for us. The fact that invisible small lifeforms are not necessarily harmful, is highlighted with the graduation project of Marek Glogowski of Design Academy Eindhoven. With Plurality Now he pre-empts the metabolised restaurant, the future in which all food is produced by bacterial processes. Not just healthy for humans but also for animals, as intensive agriculture can then be scaled down.

Who knows, we may someday build entire buildings and even entire cities of live organisms. At least that is the promise of the new material Kombutex™ that Studio Samira has developed in collaboration with the Hybrid Forms Lab of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. This leathery material is a culture of bacteria and yeast and is grown in laboratories. Maybe it will soon even 'grow' on location to become walls and floors in buildings. Not only is the material fully circular and natural, but it also has special air-purifying characteristics. That is the reason Kombutex™ was not presented in the Embassy of Circularity but in the Embassy of Health.

Microdesign is small – literally and figuratively. It is, after all, not just new and largely uncharted territory. We're also dealing with the smallest organisms. In this way, design extends its influence to the entire ecosphere - from bacteria and aquatic microbes to the sea itself and even to future life on Mars. So remember the name. Microdesign.

Written by Jeroen Junte, editor-in-chief DesignDigger.