Dutch Design Week 2021: Envisaging a better world

type - big idea
Big Idea
category - design
category - future city
category - society
This year’s Dutch Design Week reveals components to construct a better society, from preventative care techniques to nature-inclusive solutions

Self-led care

In a bid to alleviate pressures on global healthcare systems, designers at Dutch Design Week examined the shift from curative to preventative health, with projects that shun wellness fads in favour of alternative healing techniques.

While recognising that there is a pill for every health problem, Miruna Bărbuceanu asks if we really need them. Instead, she proposes a sensory suit for people, supported by audio-guided meditation. By collecting body biometrics when it is worn, the suit allows the wearer to regain control of their health.

Moonseop Seo hopes to bring the healing benefits of nature into the home. He has developed a mechanism that enables water droplets to fall onto a model lake, mimicking rainfall onto open water. The project suggests how we can embrace the calming powers of the natural world, as opposed to relying on synthetic aids.

Elsewhere, Laura Deschl explored the therapeutic potential of clothing. She combined knitted acupressure garments and a yoga-based embodied movement practice for emotional healing. The project indicates how categories such as textiles could also provide opportunities in preventative care, as opposed to relying solely on science and medicine.

Symbiotic solutions

Many designers at Dutch Design Week 2021 (DDW) observed the evolving relationship between humans and nature. As one of the show’s ongoing artistic projects, The Symbiocene Forest displayed work that explored the interconnectedness of living things and how humans' future existence will be in balance with nature. Projects from Dutch Invertuals and The Future Laboratory’s Objects for a New Kind of Society explored similar themes.

Highlighting how connected humans are with nature, Symbiopunk, a conceptual bioreactor, demonstrated how human faeces could be transformed into fertiliser with the help of mushrooms that act as a natural purifier. In similar vein, Fillip Studios proposed converting waste material from sewers into sculptures that are designed to counter the effects of nitrogen deposits in nature. Also exploring the idea of intertwined eco-systemsThe Butterfly Effect is a renewable energy system that restores natural connective routes. Its ultra-light web, which is made of solar-connected materials and designed to cover large-scale roads, acts as a level crossing for wildlife, making human travel routes nature-inclusive.

While these projects highlight the power of collaboration between humans and nature, some creatives explored power struggles between the two. Eating Death presents a ritualistic tasting experience of potent, botanical toxins. The project is a provocation, highlighting how humans undermine and miscalculate nature’s strength, while helping to heighten our respect for it.

Published by:

15 November 2021

Author: Livvy Houghton

Image: The Healing Imprint by Laura Deschl (https://lauradeschl.com). Photography by Iris Rijskamp


Left: Antishape by Anna Resei (https://annaroro.com). Right: Nature and Money by Sina Grebrodt.

New values for design

The role of design practitioners is being called into question at a time when people's need – and desire – for more products is changing, in line with purchasing habits that seek to be more sustainable or environmentally conscious. Now, designers are under immense pressure to start creating era-appropriate goods that preserve nature in their making. At DDW, Daniëlle Ooms proposed a post-humanist movement called Life-Centered Design. Her research focuses on reducing the risk of unnecessarily harming nature and offers considerations for both the design process and the design outcome.

Outside of environmental concerns, another major threat for designers is automation. Anna Resei explored the role of a designer in a world in which automation becomes commonplace. Through a series of objects designed using the principles of neural networks, she asks: ‘Is a machine capable of creativity and what are the implications?’

While views on the purpose of design are changing, so too are practitioners' views of the craft itself. Various creatives at DDW addressed the repetitive nature of creativity. Shun-Chih Chang materialised his own experience through a series of interwoven rope sculptures that communicate the continuous nature of the creation cycle. Si Young Yang hopes to normalise copying as a legitimate creative methodology. Her project, Post-Replica, Post-Image*, suggested that copying is unavoidable and developing existing objects using newly relevant materials and techniques should be justifiable in the design world.

Xander Cummins’ proposed project, Myth Mystery Magic, hopes to tackle any barriers in the creation process with a new research method. It starts by identifying something to explore (Myth), followed by the unfolding of the unknown (Mystery), and culminating in a revelatory insight or fresh perspective (Magic).

Environmental capitalism

DDW also played host to projects examining how environmentalism fits into capitalist societies. Qiaochu Guo and Chongjin Chen submitted their project to the annual GEO-DESIGN exhibition, which this year considered how budget airlines and their operations affect everyday life. The pair explored EasyJet’s decision to support emission reduction projects outside of aviation in order to purchase the right to emit CO2 as a business.

By distributing and encouraging the use of improved portable cooking stoves to underdeveloped regions, EasyJet is able to fly people around the world for significantly low costs. In theory, the small-scale fuel-burning that powers daily meal preparation in some of the world's poorest regions is forming a supply chain with the large-scale fuel-burning that powers jet engines operated by some of the world’s most powerful businesses.

Elsewhere, Sina Grebrodt attempted to re-align local environmental goals with the monetary interests of governments and corporations. Nature and Money is a board game that rewrites the rules of the current system – the value of the currency tokens is directly linked to a shifting sustainability index. The more players who collectively invest in sustainable measures, the stronger the currency becomes and the greater their purchasing power. By stepping into the roles of citizens, CEOs of large corporations or politicians, players can use their moves to influence and better understand the sustainability index collaboratively.

‘Research usually involves identifying a problem, then defining a process that leads to a solution. That narrow approach proves inadequate in the creative fields’
Xander Cummins, designer

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