Designer Hella Jongerius created quite a stir in Milan. In 2015 at the annual Salone furniture fair, Jongerius and scholar Louise Schouwenberg jointly released their “Beyond the New” manifesto in the form of newspaper broadsheets, which visitors saw at design showcases and exhibitions all over the city during the week of the fair. The manifesto rejected the idea of creating new designs “for the sake of the new.” Marketing and spectacle, the writers argued, had motivated industrial designers to create wasteful and derivative designs that were not addressing real problems.
An expansion of production techniques and material technologies is just one factor that has led designers to generate “egocentric” designs predicated on innovation and blitz rather than designs to serve the actual need of a user. Instead, they say, designers should rely on the power of craft to understand their own voice and user’s needs.
Jongerius and Schouwenberg put forward Bauhaus ideals as an example of a successful set of parameters around which designers could create productive designs—an “interweaving of cultural awareness, social engagement, and economic returns.” For them, research fundamentally equates with cool designs. The time spent understanding not only history, but also the user’s needs, becomes the foundation on which a designer can build their own ideals.
With Jongeriuslab, Hella Jongerius’ design firm, she produces furniture, housewares, and textiles. But, with some of her projects, Jongerius knows when to take her own ego out of the equation to elevate good design that had been created before her. She respects the craft and patient work of other designers — she doesn’t need to reinvent the classics. For example, in her redesign of the interior of the United Nations Delegates Lounge in New York City — a cocktail bar for U.N. diplomats with views of the East River — Jongerius included chairs of her own, but also peppered the space with classics that have stood the test of time. Her Vitra East River Chair sits next to Hans Wegner’s Peacock Chair and Gerrit Rietveld’s Utrecht chair, among other designs. In this way, the chairs with different design styles developed over years of craft sensibility, personify the many U.N. diplomats who embody many pluralistic cultural differences. Each is different, proud, and radiates a strong sense of identity.