Joost Van Brug was the man behind Reluct– an excellent design blog that uncovered cutting edge design from 2003-2007. Although Joost is squarely a part of the Dutch design scene and frequently wrote about Dutch designers, his focus was international and his audience reflected this. Unlike many Dutch blogs, Reluct was published in English – and the majority of Joost’s readers were in the US. We sat down in with Joost in 2006 in Amsterdam to chat about Dutch design, design-blogging and sustainability in design. Hit jump to read what he had to say.
Inhabitat: So your original purpose for starting Reluctwas as a portfolio site to showcase your own design work. Now that it’s a successful blog, have your goals for it changed?
Joost: No, not really. I mean the blog has taken on a life of its own, and that’s why I got rid of the portfolio section. But I still don’t really want to start advertising on the site or trying to make it really big, because the main goal for the website is to promote designer’s work. I know most of the Dutch designers I post about, so it’s more helping out friends, getting their work out there.
Why did you choose to do your blog in English?
Joost: Well, as you know, it started as a portfolio website for my own product designs. And my idea behind the product design website was that I didn’t want to tell people where I was from, because if you say you’re from the Netherlands, they expect you to do “Dutch design”.
I just wanted to confuse people about who I was and where I was from. Then the blog became so popular that I decided to get rid of my portfolio and work on the website… Because some people thought that I designed everything I posted and it was confusing.
Inhabitat: I’m curious to know – because you write in English – how many of your readers are Dutch versus American, English or Australian?
Joost: Most of my readers are American. The Dutch come second. And then everyone else. It’s not really a high-traffic website.
Inhabitat: You say that but it seems to be very influential.
Joost: Yeah. And that’s the whole point. Other blogs may get more traffic, but my visitors are mostly designers and architects and curators. So I don’t really focus on stuff that you want to buy, I only talk about stuff that’s really interesting to me. If you’re shopping for your apartment, we’re probably not the website you want – because most of the stuff we feature isn’t even for sale.
Inhabitat: How much does the Dutch design community know about blogging? Do the designers on your site understand your readership and pay attention to what you’re saying about them on your site?
Joost: Most people who have been featured on my website know that it’s somewhat important for them. It’s slowly starting to pick up in the Netherlands. I know that some designers have been contacted by a lot of magazines after they are featured on Reluct. That’s when they notice that blogs are important! Sometime designers notice an increase in traffic to their website, but they really notice when journalists or museums start to call them… Like the MoMA – for example – apparently they check out my website every day.
Inhabitat: Oh, really? Wow. So how do you think the design community in Holland is different than the design community in New York for example? Or in America in general? I mean there’s something exceptional and unidentifiably Dutch about Dutch design, and its hard to put a finger on what that is.
Joost: I think that its the conceptual part. And the funny thing is I’ve spoken to a lot of U.S. designers, and most of them ask the same question. They’re also trying to figure out what’s the deal. They always think that the Dutch work very hard. We actually don’t. We’re the laziest people in the world.
Inhabitat: I thought the stereotype was that the Dutch work very hard..
Joost: The whole idea is also you don’t have to work too hard. It’s mostly about having an idea you come up with in five seconds – and you leave it with that. It’s the idea, and you try to keep it as close to that as possible. And maybe that’s what most Americans do differently – they work too hard. They come up with an idea and they think they have to improve it and work on it, for months and months, and constantly revise it, and get opinions and promote it. And they write up dozens of pages on it. Like the Maarten Baas burnt furniture — that’s probably an idea he came up with in five seconds. And that’s it. It’s no more than that.
(Maarten Baas burnt furniture)
Don’t get me wrong. Some people have to work hard! Like you see it in pop music. Some artists, if they didn’t practice as much as they did, they would never have success. Like Britney Spears, for instance! Because she’s all work and little talent. The same goes for a lot of Dutch designers. The Dutch are a real pain in the ass when it comes to talent. If you’re really young, or you just start out, you make five designs, and if people think you’re not very talented they will let you know. And they will even advise you to stop and do something different. We’re very rude when it comes to talent.
Inhabitat: I guess the word would be “frank.”
Joost: Yeah. It’s how you want to look at it. You really should read Un-Dutchables. It’s a book by an American writer and an English writer. They lived here for a couple of years and wrote the book about the Dutch. It’s very funny to read, even If you’re Dutch.
It tells a lot about how things work here, and the way people live. We don’t have dishwashers, and we live very small, like New Yorkers. When the Dutch buy something for their home – they keep it for the rest of their life. And a chair for example – they only get rid of it when it’s broken. Not when they think it’s ugly, but just when it reaches the point where you can’t sit on it anymore.
Inhabitat: Do do you think that people then are much more careful about what they buy? Or is it that they just want to hold onto things?
Joost: Basically, they’re just cheap!
Inhabitat: If that’s the case, do people pay for all the expensive designer furniture that is produced in this country?
Joost: No. If you want to make money as a designer, you don’t see the Netherlands as your market. Because the Dutch just don’t buy it. They buy some of it, but you can’t live off the Dutch when it comes to design.
Actually, that’s why we’re so international probably. Because if you want to sell your work in Amsterdam, you can’t live off it. There’s just enough money. I know a lot of pretty famous Dutch designers who still live in tiny squatter apartments.
Inhabitat: So my big interest, as you know, is in environmental sustainability in design. It seems a lot like there’s this underlying environmental consciousness in Dutch design, but it also seems like it’s not very overt. Like Dutch designers don’t really strive for environmental sustainability, but efficiency just seems to be an inherent part of Dutch design. I’m wondering if this is something people really talk about much here?
Joost: Not really. I’m sorry to say this, but its only because we’re cheap! [Laughing]
The students here don’t have enough money for high standard materials, and Dutch companies don’t like to sponsor young students because it costs them money. And so you have to use recycled materials and be efficient with what you do. I went to art school and I painted on everything: recycled metal, scrapwood…so it looks like it’s a concept, but it’s actually not. It’s just no money! That’s the concept: no money – and no time. I hope this doesn’t disappoint you!
Inhabitat: No, I think that makes sense. Trying to be economical is not a bad thing. But – what about all the wind power and bike-riding and such?
Joost: Do you know what petrol costs in Holland? That’s my point – we are cheap – we ride bikes to save on petrol. Any environmentalism is purely by accident.
The price of gas in Italy is exorbitant, one of the highest in Western Europe with no reasonable explanation except for taxes and middle man markups as its distributed along the peninsula. Notwithstanding, Italy has the highest number of cars per capita in Western Europe. >1 car per person. I'm sure you'd see more conservation in the U.S., but I don't know that it would be THAT great!!! The idea of being cheap may also be explained in another context, but I think that Joost gets his message through to people who earn in economies where there isn't much liquidity like in the U.S.: salaries are LOW here. People can't afford designer anything, so they focus on necessity first and wants last, unless they are Italian and live at home until they are 40 and even afterwards and have their parents subsidize their lifestyles. In the U.S. you can work hard and find disposable income. In the U.S. a Maarten Baas Clay Furniture piece costs $8400 at Moss. That's almost 40% of the average annual salary in Italy, and there are few if any upward prospects... Europe developed secondary credit markets way after the U.S., debt is relatively new. People save money here and save resources because they have lived through wars and have a conservationist mentality from the get go. The U.S. is only now starting to get a glimpse of how the rest of the world lives... I thought Joost's interview answers were great.
CKE. The Dutch are not cheap. That's not what I tried to say. We rank one worldwide when it comes to donations. And you're right that our laws are a lot more flexible than most, although I doubt that has anything to do with being cheap. We pay a lot of tax too. Much more than most countries. Besides that, we also prefer to save every euro we can. We just hate to 'waste' money. For the Dutch, buying luxury products (most good design is) is a total waste. So please read this interview in the context of design not politics. And you're right. Being cheap isn't bad at all, but it does make us different.
The Dutch are cheap!? So they get the wind to reclaim & drain their country from the sea. They don't want to spend lots of money on legislating & enforcing unimportant morals. So they let you go ahead and patronize hash bars or red light districts. If sexy TV ads are a cheap way to sell your products, they think its fine for you to air them. They don't want to waste money on civil servants legislating gay/lesbian/etc rules, and want to use their money instead to pay for public health & services. Maybe being cheap is not so bad.
Here's my afterthought: Of course Joost is a very good-humored and self-effacing when it comes to explaining the unique qualities of Dutch design. However, I certainly don't think that the quality of "cheapness" (as Joost describes it) is unique to the Dutch national character. Regarding our last conversation around sustainability, (i.e. the Dutch ride bikes because they are cheap) - I can't help but think that if the cost of gasoline were more expensive in the U.S., (and if the US government didn't subsidize the cost of oil), then a lot more Americans would be inclined to ride bikes, put up windmills, and as efficient with material resources as the Dutch. Cultural differences aside, I think all people around the world have a tendency towards doing whatever is easiest and cheapest, and that's why we need good government policies and incentives in place to encourage people to do what is best for the future of society.
The last sentence is so interesting. But I think something may be more meaningful, is that, once it is recognized and realized, it could be developed increasingly. So accidental thing is also very brilliant starting.