Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dutch Design Week 2013 Highlights


According to Dezeen Magazine it's more interesting than New York and London's Design Week, and it all takes place in a pretty small post-industrial town that over the past years has been evolving into a vibrant, multifaceted and well interconnected creative community. We're talking about the Dutch Design Week 2013 which, as always, took place in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and hosted exhibitions by the Design Academy, Eindhoven University of Technology, several museums, as well as work by many other Dutch designers. Here are some highlights, categorized according to the 'trend' they belong to.


Technology that is worn on the body or integrated into our clothing might go mainstream as soon as within five years, according to various reports. At the Dutch Design Week it became clear that the world of fashion and the world of technology are coming closer and closer together.

Some explorations by fashion or textile designers showed an inspiration or even integration of high technology. Philips has teamed up with a few designers in order to create a dress that integrates thin solar panels that may deliver enough power to charge the devices that you carry along with you. They also showed a new textile based on an integration of wool and fiberglass, which reminds a bit of 'space-age' design but now with a modern, intelligent, organic flavor. Also on display at Strijp-S was Iris van Herpen's magnetically grown dress concept, in collaboration with Jolan van der Wiel.

Several graduate students and young designers also reflected the influence of high-tech in their work. They incorporated metals, rigid elements, or simply a technology-influenced aesthetic into their pieces.

Perhaps the most interesting work around wearables came from the students and researchers of Eindhoven University of Technology, who managed to integrate aesthetics, manufacturing technology as well as meaningful interactivity into their work. At the Designhuis we saw a dress that has vibration motors integrated into it for the purpose of vibration therapy. It also has areas that sense the wearer's hands so the vibrations can be adjusted in a more direct and intuitive way. My own project, Flowtime, was on display at the Eindhoven University of Technology. It is an interactive system consisting of a yoga top with breath and movement sensors as well as vibration motors, that together with a software system helps people to practice yoga at home. Another interesting project was a hand prosthesis designed by Jeroen Blom. It has touch and bend sensors integrated as well as vibration motors, which allows amputees to get a better feel for the artificial limb and ultimately make it a more naturally integrated part of the body.

Product Design

It actually surprised me how little work was being done around small, handheld products such as smartphones, remote controls, or tools (as well as in the area of mobility by the way). One nice example is Dave Hakkens' Phonebloks concept, a modular smartphone of which you can upgrade or adapt each individual component, such as the battery, display, GPS, CPU, camera, or wi-fi modules. This can make the product more individualized as well as long-lasting, although it will probably cost a lot more to develop and produce.

The Eindhoven University of Technology displayed some products developed especially for the context of a prison, for which the designer spent some time in jail himself. This resulted in three product proposals, of which one is a doorknob that takes away insecurities and possible tensions by clearly making visible as well as tangible whether the door is open for the guard or for the prisoner.

Above you see some freestyle, organic form explorations applied to purses and furniture.

At a new DDW location called 'Kazerne' there were some interesting works on display, such as pieces made of a translucent, wax-like material that we could categorize in the 'immateriality' movement within product design, perhaps currently led by the work of Tokujin Yoshioka. There were also a few works with vibrant lights, working towards an almost psychedelic effect.

3D Printing

Some developments in 3D printing were shown, such as low volumes and prototypes of products made with low-cost 3D printers, its use in workshops where children were able to print out simple customized objects, new developments in materials at Shapeways' booth, and the improvements in quality in filament extruders such as the Ultimaker. Also noteworthy is Oce's new 2.5D printing technology, which simply works like an inkjet printer but can now print multiple layers on top of each other up to several millimeters high. This can give rise to very interesting graphical effects and relief-like prints.

Redesigning nature
In this category falls the by now well-known Next Nature Nanosupermarket, which again showed its far-future concepts based on emerging technologies such as nanotechnology and tissue engineering. One concept by a TU/e student showed an amulet that is hooked into the wearer's bloodstream and uses it to nourish and grow meat.

Some other projects of a similar provoking nature, but perhaps making a bit more societal sense, were on display at the Designhuis' exhibition 'de Gezonde Mens' (EN: the healthy human). One of them showed three proposals for how we could in the future design our own organs that we want to add to our bodies, such as a system for people with too much mucus that directly sends it to the digestive system, or an organ with cells like that of an electric eel, that can restart the heart in case of cardiac arrest. Another artistically inclined project was one where babies could be modified to have superior capabilities, such as added skin lobes to the head to regulate brain temperature better, or an extra intake organ behind the ear that allows for rapid absorption of medicines into the bloodstream. Perhaps now such concepts are quite far-out, but I can definitely see such things happening in the future - say 20-30 years from now.


An ever-relevant topic not to be overlooked, and also this year well-represented on the Dutch Design Week. In terms of remaking products into something else, an area where we rarely see something beautiful, there were some gorgeous chandeliers made out of used bike chains.

There were also a few exhibitions with bio-materials such as bioplastics, which in my view have the future. Materials and composites on display incorporated biological materials such as cellulose, potato starch, yute, hemp, kenaf, grass, flax, palm leaves and even vegetable and fruit peels.

Then an upcoming theme seems to be local manufacturing. There were a few guys who had custom-built a small manufacturing machine such as a vertical clay extruder or an injection molding machine, that allows them to cheaply create unique products. This can be the start of a true local manufacturing revolution, where every streetcorner so to speak will have its own little minifactory where people can create or order unique products. And with the internet and the cloud in our hands, the sky is the limit.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Robot galloping at 16mph

"WildCat" is the latest work of Boston Dynamics, and the successor of their cat-inspired "Cheetah" project. Where Cheetah was tethered and could run 19mph, this one runs free at 16mph. So, is it mostly creepy or mostly cool? Watch it in action and decide for yourself:

I do suggest that this device needs some 'humanification', so it appears more friendly at least. Creating some vacuum formed shells for it won't be that expensive. In the end, once its use expands beyond the military, it will become more explicitly part of the social fabric and will have to have some capabilities for social communication as well, and possibly could also act to spread information. I'm not saying that it needs to have a face, it just needs to at least be able to communicate its intentions so that people will accept it as part of the social world. Robots are going to look strange, but I think it's easier to accept that when their intentions are known or even better, felt.