[ Dutch Design Week 2022 – a report from the largest design fair in Northern Europe ]

When it comes to innovation and foresight, there are few nations in the world that look as strongly to the future as the Dutch. If you base the ranking published in 2022 by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the 17 millionth Netherlands is only ahead of four countries in terms of innovation: 1) Switzerland, 2) the United States, 3) Sweden and 4) Great Britain.

It is not surprising then that it is in industrial Eindhoven where one of the most interesting design fairs in Europe are held because here such recognizable brands as Philips and DAF, as well as Design Academy Eindhoven and Eindhoven University of Technology are headquartered.

Design that changes the world and solves specific problems

Dutch Design Week, the first edition of which took place in 2002, during the week gathers thousands of visitors and exhibitors from all over Europe and the world (in 2018, before the pandemic, it was 355,000 participants). The event is not only a show of modern design and products that cannot be purchased in wide distribution, it is primarily asking important questions and reaching out to what interests us as people. It is looking into the near future and looking for solutions that will help us cope with the clutter of technology, data surveillance and human stupidity that has led us to where we are stuck as a species.

Each year, the event is accompanied by a different theme, which the organizers try to choose in terms of the current leading trends and challenges faced by designers. This year, the main slogan of the event was the following message: Get Set… We’re on a mission!

This is what Miriam van der Lubbe – Creative Head of DDW22 says about the topic of this year’s fair:

“The theme for this year’s DDW is: Get Set. Get Set means we – as designers, as citizens – must get in the right mindset. It’s where we are now at this moment. But we have to brace ourselves for what is coming. We’re facing enormous challenges like the climate crisis, the war in Ukraine, inequality, and many other social challenges. To make changes together, we must get set for the right mindset!”

This year’s message was reflected in specific exhibitions, where topics related to the management of urban space, mobility, transport, natural resources and the production of consumer goods stood out. And also in products made of innovative materials of natural or recycled origin (e.g. the exhibitions “Drivers of change”, “Dutch Design Awards”, “Beyond Billy”).

Beyond Billy: art made of flip flops thrown on the beach.

There were also more speculative projects that tried to set new paths and directions, and not only maximize sales. Among them, the themes of migration, artificial intelligence, data management, environmental pollution and the future of the human species (for example, strongly influencing the imagination, “Reproduction Otherwise”, “Manifestations” or “RetroFuture”) were in the foreground.

A creative dialogue between the designer and the recipient is the hallmark of DDW

DDW is a kind of platform for the exchange of thoughts and ideas, where not only artists but also the visitors themselves interact with the exhibitors. You can meet here extraordinary people and designers from all over the world who are not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions, provoke and at the same time – for the most part – are open to interaction with visitors and share their knowledge.

For anyone who works at the intersection of trends, new technologies and design, it is extremely inspiring to have a look into real workshops and art studios where the presented products are made (some of the exhibitions are arranged in real ateliers or in offices and warehouses where creative hubs are located on a daily basis).

The best example of this is the “Graduation Show” exhibition, where the works of Design Academy Eindhoven students are presented (this year over 200 projects!). During the exhibition, students are exposed to the first line of contact with the consumer and at the beginning of their professional career they learn that good design is never created in isolation from the recipient and that you need to be able to present its advantages and talk about it in a convincing way.

Post-industrial space finds a new use

Literally all of Eindhoven lives on the event during DDW. You can see and feel that this is an event that the Dutch wait for all year round and come from all over the country to consciously take part in it and shape its character. At the exhibitions, you can observe both young people in the vicinity of 20-25 who explore the exhibitions in groups of friends, as well as people aged 65+ who ask questions, go deep into the topic and discuss lively with the exhibitors.

Eindhoven’s approach to promoting the event and adapting the post-industrial district of Strijp-S to the event’s needs is also extremely inspiring. The part of the city that once housed Philips factories has now been adapted for a new purpose and has become a center of Dutch innovation that attracts designers and creatives from all over the world.

Dutch Design Week: Graduation Show 2022.

All these elements make DDW a must-see event for everyone who works at the meeting point of trends, new technologies and consumer needs. It is worth returning to this place from year to year for new inspirations and for a chance to follow the development of the most interesting trends and projects.

Very often, from post-industrial Strijp-S factories, they go directly to top designer warehouses and store shelves, changing the life, work and everyday space of thousands of people.