Bridging the gap between design and urban transformation

HR Design Academy Eindhoven Raf De Keninck Nick Bookelaar 06216

Bridging the gap between design and urban transformation

Eindhoven proudly refers to itself as the design capital of the Netherlands. One of our flagship institutions is the Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE). How does this internationally renowned academy perceive its role in local developments? And how do we connect young design talent with the city? We asked Raf De Keninck, DAE's Director of Education, Research, and Organization.

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How do you view the field of design in Eindhoven?

"Eindhoven embraces design. You can see it in the city's numerous designers, incubators, studios, and events. Increasingly, more connections are forming between the design field and the city. Design and the cultural sector already have close ties, but other sectors are also discovering and embracing the power of design. I'm very pleased with that. Of course, there's room for improvement. I'd like to see an even stronger connection between Eindhoven’s main pillars of technology, design, and knowledge (TDK) and for that connection to be better integrated into daily practice. People, knowledge, insights, and opinions should come closer together."

Why is that so important?

"I sometimes jokingly refer to this era as 'the century of the designer.' We face significant challenges on various fronts, such as aging, climate, and social issues. Eindhoven is growing and undergoing a major urban transformation. Initially, this might not seem related to the design field, but designers can play a substantial role here because they have a unique ability to approach challenges in innovative ways. Solving a challenge effectively begins with framing the right questions, and that's one of the core competencies our designers learn at the Design Academy."

‘‘We want to be an active partner and contribute to the developments and challenges of Eindhoven.’’

Are organizations already seeking DAE out for that?

"You can't sit back and expect the rest of the world to come and ask what you have to offer. That's why we actively seek that connection with the outside world. We engage with the city's issues proactively. It hasn't always been like this. The Design Academy is very international, with over 80% of our students coming from abroad. Consequently, our focus on the region has been somewhat lacking in recent years, but we aim to change that. We want to bring all our international strength to the region and further enrich our own environment. The academy is eager to establish a close bond with its surroundings. In this way, we want to be an active partner and contribute to the developments and challenges of Eindhoven."

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Outside Dutch Design Week, Design Academy Eindhoven appears quite closed and mysterious. This doesn't seem to align with the connection you aim to establish with the city. How do you see this?

"I completely agree. Currently, we don't have a space on the ground floor of the Witte Dame. There's no storefront or a place where people can just walk in. As a result, the academy is like a closed box. People have some idea of what we do, but it's shrouded in mystery. We're searching for a new location to foster a connection with the city, perhaps with a meeting space or an exhibition area. I envision something like the cozy coffee corners you find in bookstores nowadays, a welcoming place where everyone is invited to soak in the atmosphere and view students' work. This would clarify what we do and how to reach us."

How do you ensure that you can play a role in regional developments?

"From the academy, we actively seek collaborations so our students can intern or work on practical projects. We don't expect everyone to make time for us. Collaborating with design students is still relatively new and abstract for many organizations. However, I believe the business sector, government, and the design field ultimately share the same intentions. Our mutual connection will naturally improve if we keep the ball rolling. It may sound a bit naive, but I like to remain optimistic about it. For instance, we have friend programs where we collaborate with various companies and organizations in the region and beyond. This includes the municipality of Eindhoven, water authorities, mental health organizations, and companies like IKEA, Brabantia, Philips, and ASML. And we're gaining more new 'friends' over time."

‘‘The combination of a compact city and numerous opportunities here is unique.’’
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Are international students interested in engaging with the development of this region?

"We have a unique 'testing ground' here. In Eindhoven, you find a wide range of successful industries and significant scaling, yet it's like a large village. Projects here are often simpler because the city is compact, and people are more connected, leading to shorter communication lines. It's certainly not an 'insider's club'; you still need to make the right connections, but the combination of a compact city and numerous opportunities is quite unique. It's a learning experience for students and also beneficial for the region. Addressing local or regional challenges helps to retain international students in the region, which, in turn, keeps more talent here."

What else is needed to retain young design talent in this region?

"The region and the local design field are already very appealing for young talent. After their studies, international students easily find jobs in studios like Nacho Carbonell or Kiki & Joost. Some even start their own ventures in one of the many incubators. Only some people leave right after graduation. But we can certainly take steps to make it even more enticing for young talent to settle here. In my opinion, it starts with addressing basic needs. Housing is a real challenge in Eindhoven. Without a fixed address, you run into complications when arranging your residence permit, bank account, insurance, and so on. Many 18-year-olds suddenly face significant challenges here, making Eindhoven far from feeling like a warm welcome. If the city meets their basic needs, I truly believe that a lot of talent would want to stay. Additionally, it's crucial that we keep enough space available for starters in places like Sectie-C, Plan-B, and Strijp-S."

‘‘Balancing technological advancements with art and culture is essential. Yin needs its yang.’’
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Does the municipality have student housing and affordable workspace issues in its sights?

"I believe they do, but the city's expansion brings numerous challenges. It's not just about housing students; there are so many other people. Those people also need comfortable living conditions, as well as efficient transportation options and schools for their children, to name a few. We at DAE consider student housing crucial, but we understand that it's just one part of the city's massive challenge. It's essential to keep technological advancements in balance with other aspects, such as arts and culture. Technology is one of the major driving forces in the region, but yin needs its yang. Design can contribute to that balance by involving designers in thinking about the city's social issues or climate challenges. But also by intertwining design, knowledge, and technology more effectively."

How do you ensure your students integrate into the region's technological ecosystem?

"We now offer more technology-related education, such as the Transdisciplinary Design Networks module. It's quite a mouthful, but this module teaches students how to apply digital tools in interpersonal communication, such as metaverses. By incorporating such elements into our education, we provide our students with a broader skill set and ignite their interest in tech, which enhances their connection with that sector. Furthermore, we've revamped our curriculum. We no longer have traditional departments like food design or industrial design. Students create their own curriculum using a modular studio system, allowing them to become the designers they believe they should be. Design no longer revolves solely around objects and products; it has expanded considerably, and our new curriculum aligns more with all design aspects. We also aim to collaborate more with Eindhoven University of Technology and companies in the technology sector."

Do you have a message for businesses and organizations in the city?

"Make room for imagination. Keep asking questions. Don't assume you've always found the right question. Designers excel at thinking about the right questions and, of course, the answers as well. If you're interested in collaborating or want to know more about what we do, the coffee is always ready!"

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