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Column: Designer seeking industry

19 October 2021

8 min. to read

REX – low eco-impact re-engineered moulds | photo by Annegien van Doorn
Next to designers, the industry is indispensable to improving the production chain in order to help the consumer make a more sustainable choice. Industry, designers and consumers need each other, but they also have difficulty finding each other. Can a TV format offer a solution?

Column by Jeroen Junte | 

‘Huh, that already exists, doesn’t it?’ Often, it’s the best ideas that give you this feeling. Take REX, the first Dutch deposit chair that Ineke Hans presents in Microlab at Strijp-S this DDW. She developed the chair for Circuform, a new brand. The principle behind the chair is so simple that you can hardly believe it hasn’t been done before. If you buy the chair, you can return it at the end of its lifecycle - or whenever you feel like sitting on something else at your kitchen table, that’s no problem at all. Just bring it to a collection point, and you receive 20 euros. Just like a Coke bottle, actually. In fact, the REX is made of recycled plastic itself. 

Unfortunately, there’s another rule: if an idea seems simple but does not exist, it is often complicated to put it into practice. For example, special moulds had to be made for the REX to ensure they were suitable for recycled plastic. Deposit chairs that are returned have to be checked, cleaned, repaired if necessary and sold again. A complete distribution system had to be designed and set up for this. Chairs that cannot be repaired are shredded into raw material for the production of new chairs. This requires a well-thought-out process as well. In short, the realisation of the REX is not just the design of a chair but a complete production chain. Such a feat is only possible in close cooperation with the industry. 

The fact that the desired transition to a sustainable production chain - and therefore to a better climate - may be complex, but is certainly not impossible, is also demonstrated at the Cabinet of Collaborations presentation on Fuutlaan. Here, the role and value of the designer for industries is emphasised. On display are 10 fascinating collaborations, in which the designer joined the creative process early on. Sometimes, this leads to surprising product innovations. The digital fashion collective PMS, for instance, was allowed to make a virtual look-book show for Adidas. Even a multinational like Adidas does not have all the knowledge in-house; the external designer can then take on the role of art director. 

Another possibility is that the designer becomes a product developer. Solar designer Marjan van Aubel came up with a flexible glass panel that doubles as a solar panel. Van Aubel does not have the technology and machinery to make these panels herself and knocked on the door of ASCA, a manufacturer. And now RA - the name references the Egyptian sun god Ra - is a fully-fledged product, ready for the market. Van Aubel takes on the role of a complete Research & Development department.

The food industry is another field where the designer can make a crucial difference. After all, this is one of the largest production chains in the Netherlands. However, doing so is very complex, as the Embassy of Food in the Klokgebouw makes clear. Curator and food designer Chloé Rutzerveld has collected projects by international designers that can make a difference in the food industry. For example, packaging that changes colour as the best-before date approaches, so it lets the consumer see whether a product is still good at a glance. Another project is a tea set that looks completely different on screen than in real life; it makes an online tea ritual possible for people who can’t meet offline. The past covid year has proven that there might be a need for this. 

Although some of these ideas have been around for years, they still have not reached supermarket shelves, which is where the real difference is made, according to Rutzerveld. With her Embassy of Food, she shows us why it's challenging to get an innovative product to the consumer. Sometimes it is the regulations, because food regulations can be stringent. Sometimes it is money: a successful product launch requires at least 1.5 metres of shelf space to inspire consumer confidence. But there is no such space. 

There are numerous reasons why industry, designer, and consumer cannot find each other - not just in the supermarket. Whereas there are plenty of exciting and innovative ideas about healthier and more sustainable food. Or sustainable kitchen chairs and trainers. And who doesn't want that? Designer seeks manufacturer - that suddenly sounds like one of those fantastic TV formats that make you think: ‘huh, that already exists, doesn't it?’ There must be a designer who can develop this idea into a catchy format for DDW TV.

Want read more?

Check out Jeroen's previous column: Real fake - fake real.

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