Dutch Design? Cosmo Design!

By Tarek Atrissi

TypoDag 2008 Design symposium in Amsterdam, under the Theme “freedom of the designer”. The day included a dedicated track featuring presentations by “foreign” designers in The Netherlands.

Anyone who lives in The Netherlands would know how much the country has been changing, particularly in its social and cultural essence, over the last decade. Holland is no longer the same, the rapidly growing multi cultural society has brought a lot of changes and challenges, positive and negative ones, and has changed for good some of the basic definitions and perceptions of the country. And suddenly, out of no where, the heated debate on the reality and co-existence of the multicultural society has moved to the design sector.

Understandably. Design is a discipline rooted in Dutch culture and history, and Dutch Design is highly regarded worldwide. Which is what made Holland for long a leading design destination: Designers from all over the world came here to study or to gain an international experience- and many of them settled here as practicing professionals. But international designers living and working in Holland were for long indirectly “casted aside” and not really seen as active players in the design local scene. I recall when I decided to open my design office in Holland, two remarkable (and funny) statements that were addressed to me from people I highly regarded. The first was “Holland does not need another design studio”. And the second was “You will never be a Dutch designer!”.

But the change witnessed resulted in the last two year in more reflections on the changing landscape of Dutch design and its relationship to a more cosmopolitan society. Conferences and discussions started gearing towards the topic, and the influences and presence of international and multi-cultural designers in Holland became of significant interest. Questioning how Dutch is Dutch design nowadays and if it is an international language or if it is actually representative of the cosmopolitan society became significant design debates.

Dutch design remains a very distinct language, highly observed worldwide. influential, avant-guard and innovative. Because design has always reflected the political, social, and cultural reality, Dutch design is adjusting to the changes of the New Holland. Dutch design remains very Dutch, but the definition of “Dutch” itself is changing, changing with it the status of design, which is getting a new flavor reflecting its new surrounding multicultural society. There is a growing interaction between different design cultures- leading to a cross over design culture, a creation of new fusions which are becoming typical characteristics of Dutch Design. Other cultures are no longer seen just as an inspirations. They are “part of the game” in the content of design, in the target group defined, in the communication needed, and in the nature of design problems that need to be solved.

Will I ever be a Dutch designer then? probably not, at least not in the traditional way of looking at what Dutch design is. But as a “nieuwe nederlander” and as a designer living and working in Holland for a growing majority of local clients, and for a cross cultural society and audience, I certainly am a Dutch designer in the new definition which Dutch Design is taking.