In-house collaboration is the way forward

Droog Design is an interesting concept (see feature, page 16). Not a group of designers, but a collection of products, the Dutch enterprise turns on its head the cult of personality popular on the Continent, where the designer’s signature is prized in a way rare in the UK – outside of fashion design.

Droog has its personalities in founders Gijs Bakker and Renny Ramakers, but their creativity is expressed more through their extraordinary art direction skills rather than by designing objects themselves. They aren’t looking for safe options, extending the products already in the collection into ranges. They’re not looking just at the bottom line. They simply want to be “astonished”, says Bakker.

Their intellectual approach appears at odds with commercial practice. But, Droog is not just about abstract ideas. The designers it engages are genuinely concerned with exploring form, materials and production processes.

So too are the manufacturers it is working with. Companies as diverse as Eindhoven-based domestic appliances giant Philips and German ceramics firm Rosenthal have called in Droog to help shape their future, seeing customer expectations as key. They don’t want to impose a style, but to tap into people’s emotions.

Droog is an obvious contender for this type of work, but it and its manufacturing clients are not the only ones taking this route. Take Wedgwood, sister company to Rosenthal, but a traditional British craft-based firm. Lines such as its blue and white Jasperware sell worldwide, but this success hasn’t stopped it looking to change its approach. The collaboration between Dale Russell of Cambridge consultancy Russell Studio and Wedgwood creative director Jill Sharrock promises to create a new range, while shaking up the company’s image (DW 31 July).

Companies set to make a mark in the new millennium are already testing new ideas. Designers have a key role to play in this, especially in interpreting customers’ desires. But the initiative lies as much with the client as with the design consultancy. Don’t underestimate the influence of the likes of Wedgwood’s Sharrock or Philips design director Stefano Marzano. They decided to bring in Russell Studio and Droog, respectively.

Designers tend to think in-house design is inferior to consultancy, but that view is becoming as outmoded as traditional production methods. As clients look for radical change, collaboration between in-house designers and external groups will underpin the biggest shifts. We therefore need to start building mutual respect by bringing in-house teams more closely into the design industry fold.

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