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Designing designeducation, interview written by Alasdair Thompson from Smowblog

As part of the festival DMY Berlin has hosted a one day workgroup looking at design education. It goes without saying that the fact that DMY Berlin has staged such an event is interesting. And so to learn a little more we caught up with project initiator Lucas Verweij, and started with the obvious question; how did the event arise?

Lucas Verweij: Design education is a booming business. In western Europe Masters degrees pop-up everywhere every day, while in India, China or Eastern Europe the number of Bachelor programmes is also exploding. Which means there is currently a global explosion in the number of design graduates, and I don’t think its a temporary explosion, rather the indications are that the numbers will continue to rise and rise. In 20 years probably everyone will study design!
And not only is the number of courses rising, but ever more subjects connect themselves with design, for example, communication studies, marketing, technical subjects, they have all started design departments or at least design courses, obviously in areas relevant to the main subject.

(smow)blog: And in your opinion what’s the driving force behind this explosion?
Verweij: On the one hand design is expanding. “Social Design”, “Open Design”, “Design Thinking” are terms which didn’t exist five or ten years ago, they are emerging fields. As society evolves and changes the fantastic thing with design is that design changes with it and explores what it can contribute to these new areas. For example, when print started declining graphic designers just switched to online design, almost as a natural, automatic movement. With designers the process is relatively quick. Architects are in contrast very static, can’t adapt so well to changes.
So on the one hand as society changes, design goes there. And then due to the popularity more and more students want to study design, education has become a business and so the majority of schools take as many students as they can facilitate.
(smow)blog: Is that not something one needs to control? Is there not a risk that we start selling the youth unachievable dreams, and that when they graduate there are too few jobs for them all?
Lucas Verweij: I don’t think there are necessarily fewer jobs.  I believe design is becoming more an attitude. Slowly design is moving away from being a craft to being a mentality. And so in 20 years we’ll all be designers because a huge part of society will adapt to new ways of thinking. Later comes the question in which craft or in which field are you active. I know designers, for example, who run restaurants or are business consultants and who apply their design training and design thinking to the new environments.

(smow)blog: In that sense is a design bachelor a good idea. Is it not better to study, for example, architecture or art, and then do a design masters?
Lucas Verweij: I’m a believer in design bachelors, but less so in design masters. I think the master is more of a problem. If we accept that design is a mentality, then that is better suited to a bachelor – before your mentality or ways of thinking become corrupted.
In a healthy design school you have to fight for your place, and not just during the initial entry process. I also think its healthy when students fall through modules or even fail to graduate. I think that’s a vital component for a school. But with the majority of masters degrees it is the case that if you pay, you get in, and once your in you graduate.
(smow)blog: When we speak to young designers, one thing we often hear is that they wish they had had more business education. Is that a problem. Is there too little business education in design schools?
Lucas Verweij: Yes, business should be taught more. I really like what they do at the KAOSPilots school in Aarhus, which is half business-half design. It’s much more entrepreneurial than a design school and there when you have a plan you also have to figure out how to realise and fund it. And then actually do it.
If design is becoming more a mentality then we need to encourage not only the free-thinking side but also the entrepreneurial side.
(smow)blog: This is the first Designing Design Education symposium. How does the future look, are you planning to make it a regular event?
Lucas Verweij: Mostly I don’t make long terms plans, but this time I have! Since the beginning the idea has been to make it an annual event. I’m not sure if that will be in Berlin or not, that is still open. As a concept it suits Berlin in many ways, and Berlin is currently a very interesting location for such an event. But it may be that we have or want to hold the next meeting somewhere else. But we will definitely continue, because for such a subject once is not enough.

Hella on Rotterdam

Hella Jongerius interviewed by her husband about their previous hometown Rotterdam 

Hella Jongerius worked for sixteen years in Rotterdam, at two places in the old west part of town and two places in the district ‘Cool’. We are now speaking in her studio, Jongeriuslab, on Kastanienallee in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district, where she has worked for half a year, after moving to Berlin with her family a year before that. 

Since I am her husband and this is our first interview, the conversation feels strange. I had always thought it would be impossible for me to interview her, but soon I find this is not at all true.

How do you look back on Rotterdam and the climate of the city? 

Rotterdam has a certain “barren land” where weeds and rare flowers can grow well. There is still plenty of room there; lots of physical but also mental space that has always attracted creative people. I was able to work within that lovely creative shelter, developing my own stories and samples without distraction. The availability of workspace was and still is crucial for every designer, and Rotterdam still makes good on these opportunities. I have rented good places in the past: a former laboratory, a former butcher shop, and a monumental mansion. Each had some problems to play around with, but that character fits well with my own.

How has the city influenced your work?
Rotterdam is more of a pioneer town: there is simply less infrastructure for culture and the mentality is harder. Germans would say the city is less “etabliert”-less established. But this also applies to Berlin anyway. Rotterdam is not a comfortable city where everything comes to you. You have to get yourself out there and build a network. You don’t simply relate to the city. It’s a city where the street culture is not yours-a city of men and women with balls. This mentality and work ethic have given me ambition like oxygen. An important theme in my work is the celebration of imperfection, which is also recognizable in the city of Rotterdam. 

Then I found out that we both consider 2001 as a highlight of our Rotterdam years. In 2001 the city was the European Culture Capital. 2001 marked the midde of our Rotterdam stay. 
For the first time the city showed itself to have cultural ambition. Of course we had already experienced its more macho ambition of being a “big port city,” but this was something different. They wanted a cultural consciousness, and were willing to invest in it deeply. There was a buzz around the city, it was being called a ‘social and cultural laboratory’. New places, initiatives, and organizations popped up, and you recognize more creative people in the streets. That was the first time I felt like Rotterdam was really on the radar. Designers and artists were attracted to the city. You can still see the wave of them that came then, even long after 2001. 

We differ in opinion about the end of 2001. I use the metaphor of a collapsed soufflé, because the climate would have collapsed, specially after 4 years of populism- and conservative politics,” but Hella disagrees. 
No, the benefits of such newfound cultural capital were the people who decided to come to Rotterdam. That is the residue that is still there after ten years, proving that the venture was successful. It is logical that the cultural buildings are being torn down and project organizations are shut down. It was certainly ‘colder’ during the populist and conservative admistration, but the battery was charged. This is always the wave dynamic of an imperfect city. The only thing really harmful to the creative sector is that the city has lost its generosity. 

It’s a bit strange to ask my own wife this question, but why did you end up leaving?
I wanted to have the feeling of being a beginner again, a pioneer, reinventing myself and my work. We also wanted to work abroad to gain a larger perspective, and it seemed to be the right moment. Since leaving, I find I’ve become milder in my thoughts about the city and its creative politics. They are not quite consistent and generous, but they do come from a mentality that fits with that of the city. Rotterdam is just a stubborn place: that is both its strength as well as its weakness. 

In Dutch: 
We spreken elkaar in haar Atelier aan de Kastanienallee in Prenzlauerberg, Berlijn. Sinds een half jaar werkt ze hier met de studio, Jongeriuslab. Samen met het gezin was ze al een jaar eerder verhuisd. Hella Jongerius werkte 16 jaar in Rotterdam, op twee plekken in het Oude Westen en twee plekken in de wijk Cool. Het gesprek komt vreemd op gang omdat ik haar man ben, en dit ons eerste interview is. Ik heb altijd gedacht dat ik haar daarom niet zou kunnen interviewen maar al snel merk ik dat dat niet waar is.

Hoe kijk je terug op je Rotterdam en het klimaat in de stad?
Rotterdam heeft op een bepaalde manier ‘schrale grond’, waar onkruid en zeldzame bloemen goed kunnen groeien. Er is nog altijd veel ruimte, veel fysieke maar ook mentale ruimte, dat trekt creatieven altijd aan. Ik heb in die luwte heerlijk kunnen werken. Ik kon zonder voorbeelden en zonder afleiding een eigen verhaal ontwikkelen. De verkrijgbaarheid van werkruimte was en is nog altijd cruciaal voor elke ontwerper. Rotterdam staat er nog altijd goed op met haar mogelijkheden. Ik heb goeie plekken kunnen huren, een oud laboratorium, een oude slagerij en een monumentaal herenhuis. Die hadden allemaal een bepaalde jeux, een karakter dat goed paste bij mijn handschrift.
Hoe heeft de stad je werk beïnvloed?
Rotterdam is meer een pioniersstad, er is nou eenmaal minder infrastructuur voor de cultuur, en de mentaliteit is norser en harder. Duitsers zouden zeggen de stad is minder ‘etabliert’; ‘minder gevestigd’. Dat geldt voor Berlijn ook trouwens. Rotterdam is geen comfortabele stad, waar het allemaal wel op je af komt. Je moet er zelf op uit, zelf een netwerk opbouwen, je zelf verhouden tot de niet eenvoudige stad. Een stad waar de straatcultuur niet de jouwe is, een mannen stad en een stad voor vrouwen met ballen. Deze mentaliteit en de arbeidsethos die in de stad hangt hebben mij mijn ambitie van zuurstof voorzien. Een belangrijk thema in mijn werk is het vieren van de imperfectie, dat is ook herkenbaar in de stad Rotterdam.

Ik kom er achter dat wij 2001, het culturele hoofdstadjaar, beide als een hoogtepunt van Rotterdam beschouwen. Het was ook ongeveer het midden van onze Rotterdamse jaren.
‘Voor het eerst toonde de stad een culturele ambitie. De meer macho-ambitie van de grote haven kende we natuurlijk, maar dit was een andere ambitie. Men wilde er cultureel toe doen en was bereid daar diep in te investeren. Er ontstond een buzz rondom de stad. Een sociaal- en cultureel laboratorium werd het genoemd. Nieuwe plekken, initiatieven en organisaties kwamen als paddenstoelen uit de grond, opeens herkende je creatieve mensen op straat. Voor mijn gevoel stond Rotterdam voor het eerst echt op de radar. Dat heeft ontwerpers en kunstenaars aangetrokken om naar de stad te komen. Je kan dat duidelijk zien: er is een hele golf van na 2001.’

Over de afloop van 2001 verschillen we van mening. Ik gebruik de metafoor van een ingezakte soufflé, dat het klimaat ingestort zou zijn met als dieptepunt de ‘Leefbare Jaren’ Maar Hella is het daar niet mee eens.
Nee, de structurele winst van Culturele hoofdstad zijn de mensen die besloten naar Rotterdam te komen. Dat is het residu, dat er nog altijd is en daarmee is het geslaagd. Het is logisch dat de Calypso’s daarna gesloopt worden en projectorganisaties opdoeken. Het was zeker killer tijdens Leefbaar en Fortuyn, maar de batterij was opgeladen. Het is de golvende dynamiek van een imperfecte stad. Het enige wat echt schadelijk is voor de creatieve sector is dat de stad zijn genereusiteit verloren is.

Het is vreemd te vragen aan mijn vrouw maar: Waarom ben je vertrokken?
Ik hou ervan een beginner te zijn, te pionieren, mezelf en mijn werk opnieuw uit te vinden. Wij wilden ook graag vanuit het buitenland werken, een groter perspectief, en dit was het moment. Ik merk dat ik milder ben geworden over de stad en haar creatieve politiek. Het is allemaal niet genereus maar wel consequent en ook vanuit een mentaliteit die strookt met de stad. Het is nou eenmaal een weerbarstige stad, dat is haar kracht en haar zwakte. Je zwakte is trouwens altijd je kracht, of was dat een Amsterdamse gedachte?