This morning we’ve been discussing the environmental friendliness of Dutch design. Like Tejo Remy’s rag chair (shown above), a lot of Dutch design uses reappropriated objects and recycled materials, challenging users to think about waste, materials, and consumption. However, very few Dutch designers approach their work from the framework of environmental activism. Instead, what seems unique to Dutch design is a passionate concern for engaging the user emotionally and intellectually. It is, in fact, this concern for human interaction which makes much of Dutch design so engaging – and what often also makes it eco-friendly by default.
Maartje Steenkamp’s Highchair, for example, begins as a long-legged chair for young infants, allowing the child to sit eye-to-eye with their parents. As they grow older, the chair’s legs may be shortened at specific intervals to accommodate a growing child. A simple wooden design, the chair is an ideal example of the Dutch designers’ consideration of product lifespan and engagement with the user, both actively and emotionally, who must do the actual leg-trimming in order for the piece to remain relevant and size-appropriate. The users, both parent and child, literally age with the chair.
Similarly engaging is the Do Create series, whose products would not be possible without the user’s initial activity. The Do Hit chair by Marijn van der Poll arrives as a hollow metal cube with smashing device, requiring the user to channel his pent up aggression and literally hammer the chair into shape. Jurgen Bey’s Do Add Short-Leg chair is incomplete without a user’s books, magazines, or other stackable material to transform the sad looking, three-and-a-half-legged chair into a fully functional seat.
Such products are so engaging, so clever, that they have an almost anthropomorphic quality. Their personalities are palpable. Their life spans are long, and their aesthetic friendly. We are aware of and genuinely enjoy their presence. And isn’t that the mark of good (and sustainable) design? To not only serve the user’s needs, but to provide interesting and dynamic elements in our physical environment? To be sustainable not only in their materiality, but in our active and long-term commitment to them as users?
As poetically put by Gils Bakker and Renny Ramakers, two of the Droog pioneers, “Now it is the turn of small stories, rooted in everyday reality. Stories that tell of products capable of aging fracefully and allowing the user to bond with them, of the value of things that already exist, of personal ecology, of uncertainty, dreams, passion, and pleasure.”
If you are interested in Dutch design, make sure to check out our most recent interview with Reluct’s Joost Van Brug – all about Dutch design, design blogging and sustainability.