Identifying Product Trends at Dutch Design Week

Understanding the relationship between designed object and cultural themes through trends.
Academic | 2017-2019
Based on a paper presented at the Academy for Design Innovation Management Conference held in London, Aug. 2019, from research conducted at Dutch Design Week in October 2017. Images shown are the of work of other designers, as cited. The surveying and photographing of work at DDW was undertaken with the help of a team of student research assistants. All analysis is my own.
Research Method
Instructions to student researchers:
  • Spend four days touring Dutch Design Week
  • Photograph projects that are interesting, outstanding, or relevant to you
  • Document who the piece is by, where it is shown, and what it is
  • Collect and analyze all images upon return from trip in a team drive
Analysis Method
Once all images were gathered, we worked with students to analyze in multiple affinity mapping sessions. From these affinity mapping sessions, we identified four primary themes, from which we extracted what we believe to be nine unique trends that define modes of discourse within contemporary design. For each trend, we worked with the students to classify examples from the work documented and examine potential influences and societal factors that could contribute to the trend’s motivation. We used this evidence to write our own definitions of each trend.
We attempted to define the observed trends by motivation, not topic, medium, or appearance; many topics were reflected across categories. Our interest lay in the responses designers formed that contributed to contemporary methods of designing, not the subjects currently in cultural vogue. For this reason, we thought of our trends as meta-trends working on a deeper level than more surface level movements.
Trend map
From our affinity mapping exercise, we documented nine distinct trends, delineated by how they both relate to and differ from each other. We noticed some trends looked to the reconcile with the past while others reflected similar ideas toward the future. We also noticed most trends were in conversation with one or more of four larger themes: identity, globalization, technology, and production. They also were often in dialogue with each other, with some projects able to fall into multiple categories.
Socially Engaged
Design prioritizing in consideration the social aspects of its creation, use, and aesthetic.
Image: IV Walk: graduate student Alissa Rees’s intravenous delivery system that can be worn, giving hospital patients more freedom to move around. Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven 2017.
Production Conscious
Design driven by its production methods, taking into consideration the economic, cultural, and ecological consequences of making and manufacturing to determine the final product.
Image: Light fixtures created from discarded ceramic plates by design studio Travel Agency. Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven 2017
Design for Agency
Design that pushes against standardization in order to bestow greater power on the user to determine the role a product best fills.
Image: printed instrument pieces shown by Kristaps Polïtis at Design Academy Eindhoven. Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven 2017
Material Innovation
Design that relies on new development of tactile or non-technological materials to create a product in an innovative way.
Image: Cow stomach leather purses by Billie van Katwijk shown at Design Academy Eindhoven, Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven 2017.
Humanist Design
Perhaps a derivative of socially-engaged design, but lacking the category’s solution-oriented agenda, humanist design focuses on connection and humanity in ways intended to foster emotional and cultural poignancy.
Image: To See a World in a Grain of Sand Exhibition by Atelier NL, Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven 2017, Photo Courtesy of Atelier NL
Humanity + Technology
More than now-mainstream user experience design asks how we interact with digital devices and interfaces, these projects ask how our humanity can be enriched and attacked by technological innovation.
Image: Dandelion fibers mix with LED lights in this piece by Studio Drift, Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven 2017.
Reinterrogating History
Design that reinterprets and questions previous trends and eras to draw from design history to create work about contemporary society.
Image: This chest by Kostas Lambridis combines various historical styles and states of decay, Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven 2017.
Speculative Design
Design driven not by function, but by the desire to make a statement or ask a “what if” question.
Image: Sweater knit from cat hair by Veerle Kluijfhout, Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven 2017.
Questioning Design Practice
Designs that question the constructs we use to define ‘design.’ These designs use the act of designing and the resulting objects (or lack thereof) to question the way we view and produce new work.
Image: Students participating in a sensory narrative experience from inside a morgue refrigerator, Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven 2017.