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You and Identity
Workshop / Peru / July 2011
With 10 entrepreneurs from Peru, we have embarked on a very adventurous journey; the search for self. This may normally take a lifetime, but we have taken the first steps with them during a 3 day workshop in Lima. The exporters of home decoration and crafts in this class have one dream; to sell their products to the European market. During presentations on marketing and design we showed how important it is to have an unique identity. By exploring the backgrounds of these companies and studying their bestsellers, skills and passions we sketched the outlines of their identity. We gave them insights into the trends in the European home deco market. At this point the soul searching became serious business. How to be both unique and relevant in the market? That means these companies should not just have a clear identity, but also need to be aware of how others see them and react to them. Biggest challenge for participants was being able to see themselves in a very crowded market of competitors, partners and other players. At the very end of the workshop, each exporter made a mood board to kick-start product development. The results were stunning; each of the somewhat introvert entrepreneurs managed to make a bold statement on the identity of their company. We will continue our journey with these exporters, but left Lima for now with two words: Express Yourself!
Want to explore the wonders of Peruvian handmade products? Send an e-mail and we will keep you up to date on our project.
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Branding / The Netherlands / June 2011
Knowing I had worked on the developments of several sustainable brands and products, someone asked me last year if there is such a thing as ‘green branding’. I had to admit I was not sure if identity development and marketing for social, fair or green products really was different from other products. I decided to investigate, and interview several brand specialists on the subject. My former colleagues at Fair Trade Original told me about the stories attached to rooibos tea and why they developed fresh cream coloured packaging. Kees Bronk, founder of Branding in the South, explained why it is important for companies in developing countries to take branding of their products into their own hands. I shared my own experiences developing the Thai ceramics brand Bai Mai last year (also see under ‘projects’). And I studied several success stories in the market. It turns out the process of branding green products is not much different, but there is so much more in-depth information and history to be shared. Storytelling, therefore, is the most important tool in branding for sustainable products.
The article was published in Dutch in V-style 3, a magazine for a by female professionals in marketing and communication. ireneabcd-greenbranding-2010. Or order the magazine.
Photo of the branded Bai Mai presskit, a collection of miniature teapots, by Sjoerd Eickmans.
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In retrospect: Trends 2010
Salone del Mobile / Milan / 2011, flashback to 2009
Browsing my digital archives, I found an article I wrote for V-style magazine in 2009 on trends in design for 2010, identifying the following developments; Authentic & Personal, Sustainable & Fair, Sober & Original, Dutch & Glocal, Feminine & Creative. In retrospect, the foundation of these trends are still solid. Good to see the more positive and sustainable developments have influenced the entire industry. Click to see highlights:
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What Design Can Do!
Conference /Amsterdam / May 2011
Last week the activist conference What Design Can Do! was held in Amsterdam. An event with a ! in its title is always a +1 for me, so I was excited to attend. The emphasis was on doing, debating and coming up with answers. Doing good has been a popular mantra in the design world these last few years. With the many global crises we are facing, creative problem solving and design thinking have been applied to find solutions for a greater good. Designers are (or should be) able to unravel complex information, and come up with proper and solid answers. But as speaker Scott Stowell pointed out, design is not necessarily good; it should be neutral. That reminded me of the BBC doc I watched last week, showing design can also serve an evil purpose by creating effective killing machines. Stowell also remarked that design is often fixing many little things in order to make a big change. Michael Wolff said design should be humble. He told us to take our shoes off, listen and be realistic. He was not the only one; many speakers at the conference remarked designers should stop feeling superior and be real. Especially when it comes to Western designers working in emerging countries, as Adelia Borges stated. Designers can learn at lot from craftsmen, who possess enormous resourcefulness. If artisans are only seen as laborers, social design turns out to be a lie, she said. ‘Both designers and craftsmen should use their brains and their hands’. And that just sums it all up; design is doing. Having an idea is great, execution is hard work. So let’s roll up those sleeves and do!
Photo of Stadsschouwburg and the event’s in-your-face billboard, created by Designpolitie, a studio owned by Richard van der Laken, initiator of What Design Can Do!
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Designer craze for global crafts
Salone del Mobile / Milan / Apr 2011
Visiting the Milan furniture fair is quite an experience. The amount of products and presentations is overwhelming. I felt like an archeologist having to dig through layers and layers of average stuff to stumble upon precious finds. Keeping an eye on handmade design products, I made some amazing discoveries. In unexpected corners of the globe, designers have been creating handmade design products with craftsmen. BCXSY created a range of woolen rugs with Sidreh in Israel, working with bedouin craftsmen. The beaded vase on the picture was made in cooperation with the women of the Siyazama Project in Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa. Design studio Front made a range of vases with these women, too. Each object literally telling the personal story of its maker.
Design Academy graduate Lenneke Langenhuijsen took on the challenge of creating flexible wood. She worked with craftsmen from Tonga, beating the bark of a Mulberry tree to a pulp, and reinforcing it by having the fabric embroidered. She discovered this type of wooden textile can be easily shaped, and made the cutest little stools.
Handmade products made of rich materials by skilled makers with stories attached really appeal to people. Having worked with craftsmen all over the globe myself, it touches me to see these products finally upgraded from tourist trash to designer goodies.
Also read my piece on handmade design products in Milan in Dutch on Stylink
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Sobriety is the new luxury
Trendwatching / Berlin / Jan 2011
Last year I came across a blogger who asked ‘What is post recession luxury?’ That question really stuck. So for the last few months, every product, ad or environment that caught my attention was measured on a scale of ‘new luxury’. Surprisingly, the things that I found interesting would not have been called luxurious a few years ago; rough paper poufs by Essent’ial, re-used firemen’s hoses turned into bags by Feuerwear, and handmade wooden screens by bcxsy. Hotel Michelberger in Berlin, its rooms featuring bare necessities, but with a lively, comfy and inspirational hangout in the lobby. Sourdough bread from Le Pain Quotidien, eaten at the communal table. All these products and experiences are basic, bare, sustainable. Materials are pure, designs are pared down and details are crafted with great care. People really are looking for simplicity and quality. These products offer exactly that, and satisfy the desire for exclusive, handmade products that have a timeless aesthetic. Consumers are changing their attitude; from little and often to fewer but better buys. That means there are great opportunities for brands offering hi end, small scale products with a minimal look, and hidden luxury. So go wash off that glossy layer and reveal the core of your brand, product or story. Get naked now. Sobriety is true luxury.
Photo taken in the hangout of Michelberger hotel
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All your brands are belong to us
Consumer Attitudes / The Netherlands / Dec 2010
Looking back on 2010, for me this really has been the year of social media. It sure has changed my life, my habits and my behavior. Earlier this year, I ended my newspaper subscription, and I hardly watch television anymore. Comments on TV shows on Twitter are often more fun than watching the show itself. I found massive amounts of in depth information online, and shared links, ideas and thoughts with people I would not have met offline. I loved shopping online; the experience has improved so much, it is hard to beat that in brick and mortar stores. Why ask a shop attendant if you can find all information and your friend’s comments online? Recommendations of friends on products, brands or services is giving a new dimension to marketing. Sharing user experiences and consumer ratings is nothing new, but what increasingly happens is that consumers are demanding a conversation. They want to talk about the brand, but also to the brand. And are expecting feedback. This means brand owners not just need to be aware of what is said about their product, they also need to answer questions and share information, and above all, be open and personal. These engaged consumers are eager to give feedback and try to improve the brand or product. They really expect influence. And they actually do have influence; they represent communities online that are very savvy and have great insights. And possibly understand the values and identity better than the brand owner itself. If a brand image only truly exists in the minds of people, who really owns it? That is why I think people will demand influence or even brand ownership in the near future. Isn’t that an exciting thought. Happy Brand New Year!
Photo taken in Soho, NYC
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Cycle of life and light
Dutch Design Week / The Netherlands / Oct 2010
On one of the darkest days of the year, I took the train to our very own city of lights, Eindhoven. Dutch Design Week is an event which evolved around the graduation shows of the Design Academy. So I headed straight to De Witte Dame to see what design students are fascinated by. With all departments centered around one core; the human being, it is no wonder students focus on the big questions of life and our lifetime. Many designers had been thinking about life stages. Brigitte Coremans made a string of beads, hanging from a clock. Each bead representing the egg of a woman, Every month, the clock makes a slight turn, and one bead ended up on the other side of the string. A very touching visualization of the fertility of women. Many students thought about the last stage of life, and death. Some designed coffins or cloaks. Others ways to remember a love one, how to keep artifacts and sometimes even remains. Storing things and ideas and simplifying life has been a focus for design students the last few years. Many thought of solutions to retreat, to be disconnected or to have a shielded identity. This surprised me; I think what people really want is ways to deal with information overload, transparency and being part of a human connected crowd. And what role technology can play in that process.
Good to see many artists have embraced technology and how it interacts with people. At the Design Huis, works of Daan Roosegaarde were shown. He works with LED light and makes it interact with people. Dunes, an installation of stalks with LED lights in them, reacts to people when they walk past, sensing their movement, heat and perhaps energy or emotions. By playing around with technology and exploring ways to make it part of our lives, it becomes natural again. It sure did give me digital goosebumps.
Photo of Fragile Future of Lonneke Gordijn
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Democracy of design
Maison et Objet / Paris / Sept 2010
Being a designer of home accessories, I know my products. I create them, develop them and send them off to see the world. Good chance they are being sold on the Maison et Objet fair in Paris, finding their way to the market via manufacturers, importers and retailers. When I started out, a product always needed to reflect a certain style; romantic, modern, trendy or whatever. This really was a representation of consumer target groups. Trade fair halls were dedicated to a certain style.
Wandering the halls of the Maison et Objet, I was surprised to see a new hall dedicated to design products. I think this reflects a new attitude towards consumer products. People (you know, that species formally known as consumers) are demanding better experiences; both as a user and as a believer. Design can deliver both great function and imagination. But it has taken my species (you know, designers, or actually myself) a while to figure out it is really all about the consumer and how they value a product.
Design as we know it has come a long way; in the Seventies, design was often seen as crafts. Small scale, skilled piece of creative craftsmanship, bought by few. In the Eighties, design was often Art. Displayed in galleries and understood by a small in-the-know crowd. In the Nineties, design hit puberty, exploring all kinds of business and artistic arenas. It was still highly conceptual, and often a very personal statement. This lead to a boom of Designer celebrities in the first years of this century. Superstars such as Marcel Wanders designed products for the masses, understood by all, affordable for all. But now a new generation of designers are working on products that offer more to people. Products with function, meaning and pleasure. They are offering a deeper experience, beyond style or function. They engage more with their audience, allowing for a conversation. And, in return, people are getting more and more interested in the stories behind design products and their makers. This, I believe, is true democracy of design.
Photo taken in the new studio-cum-shop of Piet Hein Eek
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A softer state of mind
Inspiration trip / New York City / Aug 2010
Lower Manhattan, that one square mile that has dictated the news and our lives in the first decade of this century. Walking past The World Trade Center site and the Stock Market on Wall Street I wonder whether New York and its people have changed in the last few years. The sharp suits and the power dressing girls are definitely a thing of the past. New York has always attracted young people, trying to make their hopes and dreams come true. But they always seemed to be living up to older people’s standards.
This time, in neighborhoods like Williamsburg and the Lower East side I spotted a new breed of twenty-somethings with a very open and easy going attitude. Many areas have a village feel, with small specialized shops and restaurants offering organic food, handpicked vintage goods and eclectic designer wear. Even in the high street shopping areas, in shops like Anthropologie and ABC Carpets and Home, a very comfortable, homely atmosphere was created. Handmade, patterned products, with a hint of nostalgia or a fifties freshness. Surprisingly, European fast food concepts are becoming very popular; the UK organic food take-away store Pret A Manger is all over New York, just like the Belgian Pain Quotidien. The farmer”s market on Union Square is another example that small scale and local produce is very popular. Right there on the same square is Wholefoods, a huge organic supermarket. The want and need for green is also reflected in the creation of High Line Park. An old train track has been turned into an urban park, saved from demolition by a couple of people from the neighborhood. Its a wonderful place to be, with great views of the Meatpacking District.
I think New York has changed. For the better. Still, there is that thrill of opportunity in the air. Still, there is room for hopes and dreams. Still, there is no need for sleep. But at this moment New York is adjusting the scale of things, taking a more human perspective. Understanding a city is really made of its people, it has turned into a community. New York has proved to be able to reinvent itself. While still breathing that buzz of excitement, it now reflects a softer state of mind.
Photo taken at The High Line NYC
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