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#heyddw: Hoi Lilian van Daal

14 April 2021

Biomimicry Chair, close-up ©Lilian van Daal
Every other week we celebrate one of the most interesting, exciting, intriguing, funny or unusual #heyddw Instagram posts by featuring an exclusive interview in our online DDW Magazine. This week, the biomimicry expert Lilian van Daal.
Lilian van Daal
© Lilian van Daal

Hi Lilian! Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Your name, where you're from, why you started designing?

Hi, my name's Lilian van Daal. I was born in Sambeek, a small town in North Brabant, but I live and work in Arnhem. From a very early age, I loved creating things like drawings; that was my passion. I loved drawing contests. From high school on, I became more and more fascinated by biology. I never thought I'd bring these two disciplines together!

I graduated in industrial product design at the HAN (University of Applied Sciences) Arnhem in 2010. While I gained a lot of technical knowledge, I still had a lot to learn about the design profession. So I started a post-graduate course in industrial design at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK), where I learnt what I stand for as a designer. During my studies and working at StudioMOM, I learnt about biomimicry, the science and art of emulating nature's best biological ideas to design, improve, and make human applications more sustainable. That's what I believe in: bringing together design, nature, and technology to use the efficiency of nature in our products.

Microscopic Imitations
© Lilian van Daal

You shared your new work 'Microscopic Imitations' on Instagram with the hashtag #heyddw. What can you tell us about this work?

The aim of the 'Microscopic Imitations - Infinitive Reflections' project is to explore the potential of microscopic structures of organisms and natural light phenomena and to convert it into efficient, functional light objects. What I want to do is cultivate the general public's wonder and appreciation for nature, but I also want to create impact and awareness within the industry and optimise production processes and make them more sustainable. Today we live in a society in which it is increasingly important to ask ourselves how we can be less dependent on large corporations and scarce resources. These times require a new attitude towards nature and each other. Humans are so far removed from nature now, and there are consequences to this. But the solutions lie in nature, so we have to reconnect with it. 'Microscopic Imitations' is about exploring the countless examples of reflection, absorption, transport, and generation of light in nature and then mimicking them. The central question of this project is how can we create the greatest possible light output with a minimal light source by imitating natural principles so that light is generated, absorbed, reflected, and distributed in an optimal way?

Biomimicry Chair, 3D printed soft seat
© Lilian van Daal

Nature seems to be your greatest source of inspiration. What is it about nature that you find so inspiring?

Biomimicry is based on 3.8 billion years of evolution, where it's the best ideas and best adaptations that survive. Nature gives us access to an unlimited library of knowledge that we as designers can use. I'm convinced that nature can provide us with solutions, and I want to make people aware of this. As a designer, you're always creating new products and that's why it's important to think about how we do it.

My research often starts with a microscope that magnifies every cell and organism into a photogenic work of art. I am fascinated by the hidden and perfect details that can be found in nature, where everything has a deliberate function. The solution to a more sustainable and efficient product lies in these details.

Biomimicry Chair, 3D printed soft chair
© Lilian van Daal

Your work has been widely picked up by the media in recent years. What moment stands out for you and why?

My final project (2014), 'Biomimicry: 3D printed soft seat' was my first real biomimicry project. It was selected to be exhibited at the Salone del Mobile in Milan. This resulted in a completely unexpected amount of media attention! If the project hadn't been so well received, I wouldn't be where I am now. The project was also picked up internationally, so I'm still asked to give lectures about my work, 3D printing, and biomimicry. Which takes me to a lot of inspiring places.

What does a typical Lilian van Daal look like?

In nature, every minute detail counts, everything has a function. My work is often very detailed and I strive to ensure that every detail is necessary to function properly. It may at times seem chosen for aesthetics, but the goal is functionality.

Shapes of Sweden
© Lilian van Daal

What for you is the greatest or most remarkable project you've ever designed?

My 'Shapes of Sweden' project won the Volvo Design Challenge. That was a big surprise for me. A few years later, the Centre Pompidou in Paris asked me if they could buy the work for its private collection. I'm still really proud of that!

How has the pandemic affected your work so far? How do you look back on the past year?

Besides the work I do for my own studio, I also work as a freelance designer for companies such as Philips. This freelance work has recently come to a halt due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, it's affected a lot of companies, and freelancers are always the first to go, which is a pity! Because I now have less freelance work, I can spend more time on my new project, but if there's a paid commission in between, that commission will then be given priority. I think for a lot of people it's about arranging and rearranging now. Because of the pandemic, we're all at home a lot more, which has really impacted my creativity and inspiration. I often get a lot of inspiration from meeting and talking to other people, travelling to other countries, visiting museums, festivals, and design events. So it's a great pity.

If you could choose one person to work with (a designer, politician, artist, scientist, anyone), who would you choose and why?

For my current project, I'm working with biology students at Utrecht University. I find this very inspiring and I'd like to do this a lot more. I regularly work with scientists, who are always willing to share their in-depth knowledge, which is really interesting and I learn a lot from them. But science students still think more 'freely' and are full of new ideas, which makes for a really dynamic collaboration! I believe in the coupling of science and design.

And when I talk about my current light project, I think it would be nice to sit around the table with Olafur Eliasson.

Lilian van Daal
© Lilian van Daal

If you could ask yourself a question for this interview, what would it be? And how would you answer it?

Ooh, difficult... As I said earlier, I work on my own experimental research projects and as a freelance product designer for various companies. Maybe a good question would be: Why don't you just really focus on one direction? I've often thought about this, whether it would be better to choose just one. My background is in industrial design and I'm still enthusiastic about designing products for clients. I'm always striving for sustainability, but unfortunately, an exploratory biomimicry project for a client hasn't materialised just yet. My ultimate goal is that these two 'directions' will one day come together. For the time being, my own projects always come from me, from my own fascination or my own frustration. The best thing would be if a company were to ask me to think about some product or process of theirs from my own perspective and to look into it. I could then help them innovate and become more sustainable. That would be great!

Any news to share with the DDW community?

I was awarded a seed grant from the Stimuleringsfonds (Creative Industries Fund NL) for 'Microscopic Imitations'. I was able to carry out a short preliminary study of efficient light phenomena from nature. If all goes well, I hope to be able to share some experiments on my Instagram very soon! So keep an eye out! ?

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