Renny Ramakers is this week’s guest editor of Jotta.com. Here is an interview with Renny by Millie Ross and Chloe Spiby-Loh.
Renny Ramakers is the co-founder and director of Droog, a conceptual design company based in Amsterdam. Trained as an Art historian, in 1993 Ramakers decided to initiate projects which have since stretched the borders of design thinking. In celebration of Droog’s design for German disco DJ, Tensnake’s new album, Ramakers talks to jotta about the progressive ideas that define a design company as renowned as Droog. In keeping with Droog’s democratic ethos we asked 4 designers of different mediums, illustration, product, architecture and graphics, to ask the questions.
jotta: How would you describe the Droog aesthetic?
RR: The Droog aesthetic comes from content. It is straightforward but not minimalistic. It is both less and more (less aesthetic extras and more content). The Droog aesthetic is always open to changing.
jotta: How does Tensnake’s music align with the Droog design philosophy, and how did you approach the design coneptually?
RR: It’s not a collaboration, it’s a client, so it is not necessary that the two philosophies align. It’s more important that we can add to each other’s body of work. Responding to Tensnake’s layered approach to producing music and his love of African pattern motifs, the design features a series of artworks of superimposed found African patterns. The outer cover has been cut and folded to into a geometric pattern based on the idea of reptile skin scales. Just as a reptile’s scaled skin allows bright skin to be concealed beneath the scales, the white cover offers only a glimpse of its blue underside and the artwork selected by the user beneath it.
Dave Cuvelot: In your opinion what makes design such a powerful tool?
RR: It can bring an unexpected angle to a problem area. Design always depends on other industries and expertise, which are just as important.
Dave Cuvelot: Design for Download connects designer and user together in a way that empowers the user to be a part of the production process. How important is the inclusion with users during the design process and how does Droog facilitate this?
RR: The Droog collection features products that can be co-designed by users via interactive digital tools. One example is Box-o-rama by EventArchitectuur: the user can drag, drop and scale boxes to essentially compose a storage unit. The program prevents user from creating something that cannot stand up or cannot be made, adding structural braces and adjusting construction details as necessary.
jotta: How did you work with the designers for Droog’s presence on the platform?
RR: We invited a team of designers to develop designs specifically for downloads. We also encouraged the designers to create a business model for themselves. Should the downloads be for free or should they cost something? Perhaps the designs ask for additional services? These were all considerations for designers.
For some of the products, software has been developed for downloaders to be able to customize the design. These design tools give users the possibility to change the design from a functional perspective. Customisation goes further than just picking from a standard set of colours or materials. The interface also makes it possible for ordinary computer users to change the design. User involvement has always been important for Droog.
Rachel Lewis: Your Open House event idea is something I find very interesting; the idea of sharing and co-existing, that nobody owns things anymore is emerging more, especially with cloud-based technology and music. Do you think that the traditional idea of ownership is ceasing to exist?
RR: Certainly new notions of ownership are emerging and becoming more popular due to new tools, intellectual property agreements (like Creative Commons) and consumer mentality. People are realising that ownership is not really what they are after, and what makes them happy, but rather access on an on-needed basis. The experience is winning over ownership. However, there will always be instances where ownership will continue to exist. Owning something can give one a different sense of security. It can also create a bond with the product.
Rachel Lewis: New is the new new focuses on re-appropriating and re-cycling things to be made into new products, which is something very in vogue at the moment within art and design (vintage, reclaimed) do you think our obsession with re-using and referencing the past is a passing trend in itself, or do you think it is now the only way that designers can justify creating more product in a world which (arguably) doesnt need it?
RR: Developments in design will never become only based on re-use or on the new. Both are necessary for different reasons. Droog has developed products with notions of re-use since the early nineties – it is not a new notion. The difference now is that we are aiming to develop business models that are based on re-use on a larger scale and to encourage companies to implement this.
Someday London: How to deal with the limited nature of recycled materials when developing a product line? One off = limited scale and growth?
RR: In Saved By Droog we used items saved from liquidation sales and other leftovers. These were limited editions because we purchased entire lots, and more were not available. In New is the New New, we aim to overcome this problem of limited quantities by collaborating with companies to establish a long-term system. We are approaching companies and inviting them to have their dead stock re-designed and brought back to the distribution cycle. We would like them to see this as a normal aspect of their product life-cycle; to see dead stock as raw material for creative reinterpretation. See our manifesto: “we create ongoing value” and “we redefine the lifecycle.”
Rachel Lewis: Collaboration seems central to everything that you do; do you find that collaborating can risk watering down the creative process and original ideas, or is it the key to creating something larger and more socially important than the sum of its parts?
RR: Droog uses collaboration to reach ends we would have more difficulty reaching, or would never reach on our own. We like fresh inputs, and to learn from others as we know that as a small organisation we could never accomplish on our own. We consider collaboration as one of our key forces moving forward.
Chloe Spiby-Loh: You say that Droog’s “focus has always extended beyond trends in design” – how will current trends within design affect the direction the group will go in?
Droog’s work is not driven by design trends, but by changes in society. We find it important to specifically look outside of the world of design for inspiration. That is one of the key methods of the Droog Lab, where we are working on a series of projects each inspired by people’s ways of living in various locations. We are looking for new inputs that can inspire the future of design.
Chloe Spiby-Loh: Droog is constantly pioneering new directions in design, where is Droog headed in 2011?
In 2011 we have launched New is the new new, Informal Mumbai and Belgium: Identity matters? and are working on projects in other countries. We are also establishing a venue in which visitors can encounter design exhibitions, a lounge, retail stores, and other events adjacent to our store in Amsterdam. One example is the current presentation of fashion by Salon.