For quite a while now (twelve years) I have been stuck in the limbo that is post-secondary education. As far as I can tell, I am still a mostly sentient and living creature, but I also continue to be a design student with greater ambitions of being an artist. In 2010, I was part of the team that attended the ItaliaDesign field school and, with two other teammates, made the film Emotion in Material, about contemporary design and craftsmanship in Italy from interviews and film footage collected on the trip. In 2011, I attended the Dutch Design Field school and my intent is to make another film in the same way, and make another attempt at defining the culture of design in a particular region of the world.
Design is a hard thing to define. It means something different in every field it affects, and for every designer that definition becomes even less clear, as they have determined what they do based on opportunities and philosophies that are particular to their lives. When I attended the ItaliaDesign field school, I felt I had in some way begun to define what my role as designer may be, and what design really means. This seemed even more solidified for me as I had made a film afterwards that was an attempt to describe how to understand Italian design and craftsmanship, and to connect some philosophies and practices of Italian designers and artisans in a meaningful way. It has become clear to me after completing the Dutch Design field school that my personal definition of design, its purpose, and its applications, requires further adjustment.
While the radical design of Italy from the 1980′s had a huge impact on Dutch design and thinking, the Northern European world of design has been affected and created out of circumstances and philosophies so utterly different from Italian design that it is almost impossible to even consider them in the same way. While Italian design was at one point considered more radical and critical, it has returned to more classical roots in its current undertakings, where quality, beauty and functionality are its main focus. However, outside of its basic use for sitting on by people, a new Italian chair is in many ways quite different from a new Dutch chair. Every aspect of the Dutch chair has been considered and designed with a mind for humour, criticism and innovation in process that has a deeper relation to the world of contemporary art than the more poetic high-quality and beauty that is the focus of contemporary Italian design. While humour and criticism still exist within the Italian design paradigm, a Dutch design is often made more as a statement than as a truly useful product. By spending an extended amount of time among the Dutch, and by interviewing such a large number of successful and hard-working designers, one gets an idea of how this rather unique world of design can come about and thrive and, in many ways, support a country’s economy.
By attending these two field schools, I have been able to see and evaluate two different worlds of design thinking. I now feel that I am better able to determine where I may be able to live and work as a designer. What I might be able to contribute to this world already saturated with products, systems and technology is also a little clearer at this point, even if that may mean to produce something as ambiguous as artwork or ideas or criticism of existing things. The Dutch Design field school has contributed to my murky and personal definition of design and purpose in a way that no other experience could: through personal experience of another design culture and the myriad studios and minds in which it has grown.