Croatian Designers’ Impact

Nobody needs product designers.
For last 60 years, Croatian product designers have been trying, without much success, to convince Croatian – or, then Yugoslav - industry that it does indeed need them. (True, the specific economic and politic situation, i.e. low-income society and protected market, did not help support the argument.)
These days though, the situation seems exponentially worse: Croatia is plagued by 20% unemployment rate; its industry is in collapse (with EU open market ante portas); country is submerged into a deep crisis that transcends mere economic problems. Furthermore, all the acknowledged issues that have been eroding the western civilization (consumerist mentality, destruction of natural resources, dehumanization of the environment) are even more pronounced - and far more dangerous - in a country which has not yet developed proper social self-defense mechanisms. In the situation that discourages any productive (or production) initiatives, product designers seem quite irrelevant.
However, there is a bright side to the story: nobody needs product designers.
Left to their own devices, Croatian designers are doing it by themselves. Free of industry demands, they have taken the freedom to explore different paths.
Designers need to create. They are social barometers – they have no choice but to react to the environment. When at their best, they design because they need to improve, to solve, to question or simply comment on their surroundings.
More Croatian designers have been joining the ranks of the initial few: in absence of national design strategy or methodical development, Croatian product design grows organically.  The initiative of one designer provokes others to action.  The media is taking notice, the public is becoming intrigued.
At first glance, state of affairs is quite bizarre: Croatian industry has never been closer to its deathbed; Croatian product design has never been more alive.
This year’s theme of Posti di Vista event at Milan’s Fabbrica del Vapore – sensible design – seems almost to be tailored to Croatian designers’ output;  particularly, if we define Sensible design as grounded in reality, sensitive to needs of others, and perceptive to local and global issues.  In a way, the theme is a continuation of recent global effort to rehabilitate product design. Thus, it offers a possibility of critical and ethical reevaluation of design and the part it plays in negative social and economic trends.
Projects presented at the Croatian Designers’ Impact venue are sensible by necessity. They all use an empirical, Do-It-Yourself design method – because it’s the obtainable one. Designer’s hand and his/her bursts of spontaneity are still visible in finished product. Exhibited objects are simple in execution, straightforward and honest, without being bleak. On the contrary, the pieces are rather playful and experimental, making most of materials and techniques available.
Furthermore, the designers try to extend DIY method to the users themselves. They promote active participation of the user in interaction with the product. This insistence on intellectual stimulation of the user is in direct contrast with much more common quick and superficial consummation of the product. Multipurpose projects like boomerang or One is many depend on user fulfilling his end of bargain: only full-time immersion in the object can demonstrate its comprehensive list of possibilities.
The use of local materials and techniques presents not only an economically sound choice but an ethical and ecological one.  High quality local wood sorts like Slavonian oak, walnut, or locust (boomerang, FKY, Kaktus) ensure long lasting products, low transportation costs and use of local manpower. The local, small quantity production provides opportunity to collaborate with local manufactories, which are, by nature of things, more flexible in their manufacturing process. The empirical method of designing invites experimenting with production process and materials (floor lamps Model). Thus, recycling the industrial waste or discarded objects gives opportunity to create new products (Hotflat, Hula hula, Symbiosis Mitosis).
Every attempt at reevaluating the old assumptions on (the only possible) method, meaning or material liberates the space for new interpretations. Questioning the inevitability of accepted method or material results in unexpected but perfectly functional solutions. Such experiments and the resolve to look at the old problem with new eyes bring forth new systems, methods and typologies.  Thus, a piece of boomerang-shaped wood becomes a key building block for whole array of furniture; a piece of rope becomes the table’s fastening element (table KT); a piece of clothing becomes a whole collection (One is many).
What also catches the eye at the Croatian Designers’ Impact site is the number of so-called temporary objects.  Nomadic furniture, easy to assemble and then take apart, caters of course to the long-present global trend. However, it also has roots in the recent regional crises, and points to an uprooted society.  And while we are at this short attempt of social analysis, then perhaps Numen’s hectic looking shelf shows an optimistic outlook: a chance to create order out of presumed chaos.
The “alternative” kind of product design has been steadily gaining popularity in Croatia, and that’s another reason for optimism. Design and society always develop side by side. Good news for design: Croatian new democracy is finally testing its right to think.  Brave, socially conscious audience is instrumental for development of brave, experimental, alternative design.
Because, most of all, sensible design needs sensible public.

Koraljka Vlajo

Project concept: Ksenija Jurinec, Koraljka Vlajo i Nikola Radeljković
Curator: Koraljka Vlajo
Project coordinator: Ksenija Jurinec
Press and communication: Tatjana Bartaković for Narativ
Graphic and web design: Roberta Bratović