Longread Talent #1: Me and my practice: How design talents (have to) reinvent themselves

Over the past seven years, the Creative Industrie Fund NL has supported over 250 young designers with the Talent Development grant. In three longreads, we look for the shared mentality of this design generation, which has been shaped by the great challenges of our time. In doing so, they examine how they deal with themes such as technology, climate, privacy, inclusiveness and health. In this first longread: the in-depth reflection on the field and place of their own practice in it. The entrenched principles of fashion, design and architecture are questioned and enriched with new tools, techniques, materials and platforms.

24 September 2021

The Dirty Design Manifesto by Marjanne van Helvert is a fiery argument against the fact that the production of many design objects causes so much pollution. It also takes a stand against tempting design products, without individuality or intrinsic value, fuelling consumption. The manifesto focuses not only on manufacturers and consumers but also on designers who pay scant attention to sustainability, inequality and other pressing social issues. In short, it is a j'accuse against design's darker aspects.

As well as being a critic, Van Helvert is also a textile designer and developed 'Dirty Clothes', a unisex collection of used clothing. In 2016, to further advance her critical vision, she received a talent development grant from the Creative Industries Fund NL. They award this € 25,000 subsidy annually to about 30 young designers. Van Helvert used the support to write The Responsible Object: A History of Design Ideology for the Future, in which she thoroughly examines various design philosophies, testing them for durability and applicability now and in the near future. Unsurprisingly, the book was convincing in design alone, executed in a clean grid and a powerful black, white and orange palette. In addition, Van Helvert's writing demonstrates she is an astute thinker and conscientious researcher.

Sabine Marcelis, materialenbibliotheek

healing war wounds
Van Helvert's approach is indicative of a design generation who no longer cast their critical eye solely on their individual practice but on the entire sector. This trend is clearly evident when we look at the various cohorts of Talent Development Scheme grant recipients over the years. Together, these design cohorts provide a current snapshot of the creative industry.

Since the Talent Development Scheme's launch in 2014, some 250 young designers have drawn on this opportunity to professionalise. In the first few years, the participants mainly focused on an in-depth reflection of their own practice – with great success, in fact. For example, product designer Sabine Marcelis (2016 cohort) used her development year to collaborate with manufacturing professionals, resulting in a library of new, pure materials for various projects. It brought her world fame. Fashion designer Barbara Langedijk and jewellery designer Noon Passama (2015 cohort) experimented on Silver Fur, a joint project with a high-tech, fur-like textile. It resulted in an innovative collection that organically merged clothing and jewellery. Or architect Arna Mačkić (2014 cohort), who examined architecture's role in healing war wounds in her native Bosnia. In 2019, Mačkić won the Young Maaskant Prize, the highly prestigious award for young architects. All these talented practitioners broadened their particular fascinations and strengthened their design skills to develop a unique profile. This remains the basis of the Talent Development Scheme – the name says it all.

Gradually, alongside the recipients expanding their professional boundaries, they increasingly began to explore the precise boundaries of their professional field. The youngest cohort also demonstrates that research is not just a means to arrive at a design. Research has become design, and this is as true in fashion as it is in product design, graphic design, architecture, and gaming, interactive and other digital design. Why should an architect always design a building, an urban district or landscape? This is the starting point of Carlijn Kingma's utopian landscapes (2018 cohort). Her architecture only exists on paper and is made of nothing but jet-black ink. The meticulously detailed pen drawings are often more than a metre high and wide and consist of buildings that are part fantasy and partly historical. These maps depict abstract and complex social concepts architecture has grappled with for centuries – utopia, capitalism and even fear and hope. Kingma infuses her field with philosophical reflections and historical awareness. By eschewing the term architect and instead calling herself a 'cartographer of worlds of thought', she positions herself beyond architecture. Like Marjanne van Helvert, she is simultaneously a participant and observer of her profession.

tech-food as a conversation piece
The textile designer who makes a book and the architect who does not want to build exemplifies a generation that is researching and redefining its profession. What are the options for a fashion designer who wants to break away from the industry's dominance? What does it mean to be a product designer in a world collapsing under the weight of overconsumption? How do you deal with privacy issues or addictive clickbait when designing an app, website or game? Although this fundamental self-examination is based on personal dilemmas, sometimes even frustrations, it nourishes the whole professional community.

This research can be both hyper-realistic and hypothetical. Food designer Chloé Rutzerveld (2016 cohort) combines design, science, technology, gastronomy and culture to realise projects about the food of the future. 'Edible Growth' is a design for ready-to-eat dishes using a 3D printer. They are made up of layers containing seeds and spores in an edible substrate. Once printed, they become an entirely edible mini garden within a few days using natural yeast and ripening processes. Rather than an emphatically concrete product, Rutzerveld has developed a paper concept to bring discussions on social and technological issues surrounding food to a broad audience. The resulting mediagenic images of fake dishes and intriguing project texts have resulted in Rutzerveld figuring on the international circuit for lectures and exhibitions. Her prototype has become the product.

This probing attitude has become the unifying factor among the young designers who received a talent development grant. The goal can be a specific result, such as creating a materials library or a fashion collection independent of seasons and gender. The entire design field is also being researched, including a manifesto about dirty design. Another outcome is exploring the designer's role as a producer, as Jesse Howard (2015 cohort) does with his everyday devices that allow the user to play an active role in both the design and production process. Utilising an open-source knowledge platform, Howard explores innovative ways to use digital fabrication tools, such as 3D printers, computerised laser cutters, and milling machines. He designs simple household appliances, such as a kettle or vacuum cleaner, that consumers can fabricate using bolts, copper pipes and other standard materials from the hardware store. Specific parts, such as the protective cover, can be made with a 3D printer. They share the required techniques on the knowledge platform. If the device is defective, the producing consumer – or prosumer – can also repair it. These DIY products are made from local materials and offer a sustainable and transparent alternative to mass production.

performer, dj, choreographer – and designer
During the past seven years of the Talent Development Scheme, design's boundaries have been interrogated and expanded through new idioms, such as social design, food design, conceptual design, and speculative design. Architects act as quartermasters and cartographers. Fashion disrupts with anthropological installations. Today it is as much an inquisitive mentality as a skillset that distinguishes design talent. Sometimes the individual's approach is such that graphic design, architecture or fashion no longer appropriately describe their practice.

Juliette Lizotte (2020 cohort) wants to employ videos and LARP (live action role-playing, a role-playing game in which players assume a fantasy role) to stimulate the discussion about climate change. Under the name Jujulove, she DJs, collaborates with dancers and theatre makers, and, with a fashion designer, makes recycled plastic costumes for the dancers in her videos. In her self-appointed role as a witch, she promotes ecofeminism, in which women represent a creative and healing force on nature. Through a multisensory experience of image, sound and performance, she mainly aims her work at young people and target groups not traditionally considered by the cultural sector. However, her fantasy world actually runs parallel to the traditional design world. Jujulove is not a designer but creates a groundbreaking holistic design using diverse disciplines such as film and storytelling.

Designers are no longer central to their own design practice. There is an explicit pursuit of interdisciplinary collaboration and interaction. Though French-Caribbean programmer/designer Alvin Arthur (2020 cohort) trained as a designer, he has developed into a versatile performer, teacher, researcher and connector. His toolkit is his body, which he uses to visualise how the writing of computer programs works. He calls his mixture of choreography, performance and design 'body.coding'. Through a specially developed lesson programme, full of group dance and movement, he teaches primary school children about the extent to which their living environment is digitally programmed, from their school buildings and places where they live to the design and production of their smartphones. Above all, he shows that programming and design are not necessarily sedentary activities that you do behind a desk. Designing is thinking, moving, combining and collaborating.

The latter is especially true. Sometimes two different disciplines work together to great effect, such as jewellery designer Noon Passama and fashion designer Baraba Langendijk. Increasingly, however, designers are combining their knowledge and skills in close-knit collectives. Knetterijs (2019 cohort) is a group of eight graphic designers who operate as one studio. Each member has their expertise and role, from analogue printing techniques, such as risoprint and screen printing, to digital illustration techniques or running the Knetterijs webshop. They used their development year for the joint production of three 'magazines' in which new techniques such as graphic audio tracks and an interactive e-zine were explored. They replace individual ego with 'we go'.

storytelling and street art
This transformation of the design disciplines is now at the heart of the Talent Development Scheme. Since 2019, scout nights have offered creative talent that has not trained on the usual courses – such as those at the Design Academy Eindhoven or TU Delft – an opportunity to pitch their work to a selection committee. Professionals in art direction, storytelling or city making are given the opportunity to consolidate their practice. Street artist Saïd Kinos (2020 cohort) already had success with his colourful, graphic murals featuring design techniques like collage and typography. Thanks to a talent development grant, he can now transcend the street art category and expand his practice into being an artist whose canvas extends beyond that of the city. He has mastered digital techniques, such as augmented reality, animation and projection mapping (projecting moving images onto buildings).

a practice of evolution
The advancement of an individual or collective practice thus coincides with the development of the entire discipline. The fixed principles of traditional design disciplines, such as fashion, design and architecture, are explored and enriched through new tools, techniques, materials and platforms. By now, everything is mixed up: street, museum and website; cartography and aerosol; witchcraft and 3D printers. These talented designers respond to social developments and leave their mark on them, thereby shaping tomorrow's society, which is the ultimate proof of the necessity of talent development.

Text: Jeroen Junte