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Muzus - Sanne and Neele Kistemaker: “Collaboration is the power of social design”

09 October 2023

© Muzus - Blickfanger
Designers Sanne and Neele Kistemaker are one of the beacons* of Dutch Design Week (DDW). They are also the founders of Muzus, a design studio specialised in the creation of positive impact on welfare issues and social transitions. They do this by developing designs that create urgency and a willingness to take action in relation to major themes such as poverty, health, climate change and social security. Over to Sanne and Neele:

“We are facing complex challenges in modern society. Issues relating to sustainability, social security, health or digitization for example. There is no simple solution to all these challenges. What’s required is a combination of solutions and an innovative approach. We use our design skills, imagination and creative powers to shape the future. But more importantly, we succeed in stimulating civil servants, citizens and other stakeholders to take action. It is not just about the outcome, but also about sharing the process. We see human behaviour, service provision, policymaking and legislation as our raw materials. And all this, with the aim of an inclusive society for everyone.”

“We are most proud of projects that go further than just generating awareness, putting people first or finding (partial) solutions. Our greatest pride lies in projects in which we achieve transformations on all levels of the system. We want to bring about change throughout society. This means that our projects cover many different current themes. We work on sustainability, but also on social security, well-being, basic skills and safety. Complex challenges usually span multiple themes and cannot be solved in a single project.”

“The role of designers is shifting: we now contribute to long-term positive change across the board.”

“A good example of this is within the theme of health and well-being. Everyone in the Netherlands has the right to live a long and happy life. But not everyone has an equal chance at this. The significant health differences and the relationship that health has with all other aspects of our lives and society make this an important issue.” 

© Muzus - Blickfanger

“Smoking is one of the main causes of health inequalities. More and more people are quitting smoking, but unfortunately a very large group of smokers remains. The percentages of people who smoke are significantly higher in neighbourhoods where people with a lower socio-economic position live. However, having a conversation about (secondary) smoking is often difficult. People just don’t want to talk about it. It goes hand-in-hand with all kinds of emotions. And yet 80% of people who smoke would rather quit. In the programme Rookvrij Leven voor Iedereen (Smoking-Free Living for Everyone) Muzus collaborates with Pharos (Expertisecentrum Gezondheidsverschillen), using a social design approach to create a movement. To initiate a good narrative about smoking, for better support with quitting smoking and a smoking-free world for children to grow up in. Locally in the neighbourhoods, together with the GGD, professionals from the social domain and healthcare, key figures and professional experts.”

"The difference between the theoretical reality on paper and the daily reality of real people is the cause of many undesirable situations in our society. This can be prevented if the living environment of the people for whom something is intended genuinely takes centre stage."

What we do as Muzus is initiate projects and create urgency around topics that we see can use the power of design. Examples of this are making pensions tangible, preparing the Netherlands for informal care, the development of old age provision for the self-employed or making a digitalizing society accessible. As designers, we clearly experience that, in the layered nature of these issues, we can switch between different abstraction levels and perspectives. As well as creating urgency, this also makes it possible to focus on action and offer practical perspectives and power to act that are in line with all the different stakeholders. By making things that actually help people to do something.”

© Muzus - Blickfanger

“Our mission is to make the world a better place by giving people in all kinds of systems the tools to change. There is a lot of talk about the capability to change, often that of the citizen that may or may not enable someone to participate in our contemporary society. But action is also needed in other places in the system to break away from the theoretical reality. If people, the legislator, the policy maker or the citizen, take action from a shared perspective and do the right things from a common objective, then we have succeeded. This goes further than empathy, urgency and recognising inequalities. It is about action.”

“The field of social design is developing. Modern society is characterised by a wide range of social issues. Designers have the skills, instruments and methods to work on social change in full co-creation with both stakeholders and people from the target group. The nature of the issues, however, requires multidisciplinary collaboration. We must harness the power and knowledge of disciplines and professions that are (far) removed from the design field, to really understand the challenges. This demands a well-designed process in which perspectives come together, shared ownership exists and change is realised on different levels. The condition for the designer is that they must embrace the increasingly complex role and value the expertise of others. We cannot simply eliminate all problems from the world. We must empower others to act using our designs.”

“We therefore admire designers who help others take action. Maintaining that power of design in a systematic or administrative context. That is where a difference can be made in the coming years. An example is the Makers Collective at the ministry of Justice and Security. A designer’s collective inside the ministry, who seek each other out and get more done, especially in the professional field!”

“We see our role as beacon as a chance to emphasise that collaboration is the power of the social design filed. Working together to create the best possible society for the future: one we all want to live in.”

“The fact that Muzus has been chosen as beacon is a fantastic recognition of our work but also of the social design sector. As well as being very proud to have been selected for this, we also see our role as a chance to emphasise that collaboration is the power of the social design field. Working together on topics, working together with different disciplines, working together with all kinds of experts. But above all working together to create the best possible society for the future. One we all want to live in.”

Curious for more from Muzus? Muzus is part of various exhibitions during Dutch Design Week 2023. You can view their work from 21 to 29 October in the exhibition 'A smoke-free life for everyone' as part of the Embassy of Health and as part of the opening exhibition in the Klokgebouw Introduction on DDW. Additionally, the project 'The Art of Later' can be found in Klokgebouw Hall 3 as part of the Innovation Labs programme. 

*Whereas Dutch Design Week (DDW) used to appoint two or three ambassadors each year until last year, we are now exploring a different format. This year, Dutch Design Week invites three designers to serve as beacons. Leading designers, pioneers in their field. These trailblazers serve as kinds of landmarks in the turbulent world of design and are seen as guiding lights for fellow designers, partners, and DDW visitors.

We aim to build on the knowledge, experience and expertise of these beacons to deepen the dialogue within the design field. This year, we will explore together what form(s) this can take, hopefully resulting in a valuable, sustainable connection.