14-10-2016 - Design critic Ed van Hinte dug into the work of this latest crop of designers, put everything into perspective, identified different trends and separated the wheat from the chaff.

WRITTEN BY ED VAN HINTE

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Dude's final exam selection includes thirty remarkable graduation projects. But of course, this year's yield was far broader. Design critic Ed van Hinte dug into the work of this latest crop of designers, put everything into perspective, identified different trends and separated the wheat from the chaff.

Getting an overview of graduation projects is like the browsing headlines in a newspaper. You quickly scan what's happening and what the results are. I'm familiar with some of the students as a teacher, I see the final presentations for a few of the programmes and I occasionally hear something from my colleagues. It provides some kind of insight, but no real overview. So it's a nice change of pace to have a 120 academy graduates selected by Dude simply served up to me. It offers a much sharper image of the times.The variety of topics that the graduates covered is impressive.

 

'THE VARIETY OF TOPICS THAT THE
GRADUATES COVERED IS IMPRESSIVE'

 

Of the selected projects, more than half are ‘engaged’. By that, I mean that about 70 candidates reference a specific problematic phenomenon with their work. They want to improve something, or do something with it. For example, there’s too much noise, or there’s too much waste from peeled shrimp that might be suitable for new materials. Furthermore, many of these designers, about a third of the total, are indeed drawing attention to some shortcoming that they have detected. But the range of projects that this applies to is even richer than I had imagined. The unavoidable fascinations are there as well, but I only count about nine.

 

'I LIKE IT WHEN DESIGNERS
RESTRICT THEMSELVES BY ELIMINATING
THEREFORE MAKE NEW DISCOVERIES'

 

Based on Dude’s initial selection, as well as the work I had already seen, I differentiate something like 18 different graduation themes, with ‘social’ being the largest, and ‘philosophy’, ‘behavioural influence’ and ‘professionalism’ as the smallest – each with a single project. There isn’t a clearer classification, because if you try to come up with categories, you’ll inevitably stumble on the overlap and exceptions that make categorising so fun.

My method was simple. I started at the top of the list. That was quite arbitrary, because I don’t know what the order was based on – it wasn’t alphabetical, or by academy or specialty. But it doesn’t matter. It started with ‘Eyomimicry’. Sander Erdmann designed cameras according to unusual, naturally-occurring eye principles, like compound eyes. So it’s biomimicry with eyes, and he wants to show the advantages. For me, the emphasis here is on ‘technology’, and so that became the category. Upon further examination of the themes, I settled on ‘materials and technology’. Examples of reuse also fall under this category, as well as experiments with shape. I liked ‘Evolving Patterns’ by Milou Voorwinden because she weaves a colourful combination of materials, including wires and cords. I also think that ‘Collection Nassau’ by Kelly de Gier is powerful, but for nearly the complete opposite reason. She used leftover fabric from Dutch military police uniforms to make clothes without any fasteners. She created the closures and detailing by stiffening the material with fabric glue. I like it when designers restrict themselves by eliminating certain possibilities – in this case buttons and zippers – and therefore make new discoveries.

I also include ‘Can a robot have a mental disorder’ by Erik van der Veen in the technology category. He wondered if keys could suffer from all the typing, and if vacuum cleaners could develop a cleaning obsession. It has a light-hearted philosophical connection to the work of Elisabeth Hunting, who graduated with the second crop of ArtEZ Creative Writing students. Her work wasn’t part of this selection, but I did see it. Among other things, she developed a form for testing whether or not you’re a robot. And there were some other interesting things from this new specialisation. The intriguing poetry Lotte de Vos was strangely touching, as their recital was accompanied by with slowed-down videos of people and animals losing their balance. These kinds of images are well known from annoying TV shows featuring over-excited chatterboxes who introduce ‘funniest home videos’, but they make a very different impression here thanks to the association with her poems. The Dude selection also included a poetry collection ‘rant’, about a teacher who fled from the Groningen earthquake, complete with a map. The promise of a new direction lies in the possibility that writers and poets can learn to express themselves in different kinds of media and with more than just words. I’m under the impression these student learn to reflect more skilfully than other disciplines: a good reason for more collaboration.

 

'I HAVE AN AFFINITY WITH
DESIGNERS WHO PREFER TO EXPLORE
WHAT'S POSSIBLE, INSTEAD OF
CONFORMING TO WHAT THEY
THINK IT SHOULD BE'

 

The most conventional projects are from the students specialising in spatial design, which is also a distinct category. The graduates are delving into urban adaptation processes, or they are submitting themselves to the geometric simplicity of a century ago. But I did find one inspiring piece: ‘Vrijheid in ruimte’ (‘Freedom in space’) by José Koers. She defined an interior with thin, white fabric hanging loosely from a simple frame and did so intelligently, with a calm tone. In my opinion, you can recognise elements of Shigeru Ban in it, one of the few architects who I admire.

But I still have an affinity with designers who prefer to explore what’s possible, instead of conforming to what they think it should be. That’s why I found the piece by Anastasia Kubrak appealing. She invented ‘Unreal Estate’, a company that provides disguises for luxury villas and estates, similar to what’s used for military applications: camouflage, and inflatable tanks and fighter jets. Owners avoid having the spoils of their corruption detected by satellites thanks to the fake tennis courts and inflatable sheds. Admittedly, Kubrak graduated with a degree in communications, not spatial design.

 

'AS FAR AS I'M CONCERNED,
THE MOST MEANINGFUL PROPOSALS
WERE THE ONES THAT START
DISCUSSIONS, WITHOUT FORCING ANYTHING’

 

With projects like this, we’re starting to enter the virtual domain. The wall between virtual and real is crumbling – this summer, Pokémon threw a destructive red and white ball against it. So it makes sense that graduates explored the potential of virtual reality (VR) from a variety of perspectives. It’s exciting to see how a relatively old idea – the first VR glasses were tested in 1968, but were hung from the ceiling due to their weight – keeps resurfacing, and each time a bit better and more accessible. Presumably, VR has taken the place of 3D printing as a hot technology theme. I appreciate Elizaveta Pritychenko’s philosophical approach in ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’ for the way she puts the blurring lines between the virtual and real up for discussion. And she does it using VR, but I haven’t seen her virtual presentation yet. Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that augmented reality should actually be called ‘diminished reality’. But maybe that’s still on its way.

That finally brings us to the ‘engaged’ category. The entries include some amusing suggestions, such as the idea that you should be hospitable even when you don’t feel like it, by Rozemarijn Oudejans. She pounded nails into the seats of chairs and baked ‘piss-off cookies’ to encourage us to think about hospitality. And that brings us directly to the current issue of migration. A considerable percentage of the design work addressed this. As far as I’m concerned, the most meaningful proposals were the ones that start discussions, without forcing anything. Jiawei van Kleef developed an app that helps people who wanted to play football to find each other. Marleen Gubler developed a more general platform. She turned the concept of migration around and designed a ‘suitcase’ that Dutch people could use to travel to another culture, without leaving home. Zain Naqvi, who came to the Netherlands as a refugee when he was a child, used his spatial design skills to show what’s happening at a small scale and what that should mean at a policy level. ‘Boundaries’ is the proving ground that he designed to test and improve the resulting strategy.

That principle of testing is so important, and it’s addressed with humour in Sarah Louwaert’s collection. She says: The North Pole is gone. We need to protect ourselves from environmental disaster. So she designed lavish outfits using the language of safety precautions – including a bright orange inflatable jacket with ‘Mind Your Step’ on the back. That’s the image from this year’s fashion show that will stick with me the longest.

Ed van Hinte

This text was also published in Dude 3, 2016, as an introduction to the final selection of the 30th best design graduates.

Images:
– Sarah Louwaert, I NEED TO BE PROTECTED
– Zain Naqvi, Boundaries
– Marleen Gubler, We are all immigrants, our home is the earth
– Rozemarijn Oudejans, Gast_vrij
– Jiawei van Kleef, Refugees Humanized
– Anastasia Kubrak, Unreal Estate
– José Koers, Vrijheid in ruimte
– Erik van der Veen, Can a Robot Have a Mental Disorder?
– Sander Erdmann, Eyomimicry

Dude, English