‘The design discipline has lost much of its discipline’
Text by Annemiek van Grondel
Photo by Daphne Kuilman
Ann Maes (1952) founded her own agency in 1980, after being educated at the AIVE (now Design Academy Eindhoven). With Ann Maes Design she proved to be an innovative and award-winning industrial designer, but she has also made her mark as a design consultant, producer, lecturer, curator, author, editor, promoter and initiator of various events for architects and designers.
Where was this picture taken? Which of your designs is seen in the photo?
The picture was taken at the Materia Inspiration Center in Amsterdam. I am wearing one of my watch designs, and the blowpipe I am holding is part of my ‘Mace-Line’ fire irons. I designed these tools in 1977. The fire irons have become a design classic, with more than 30,000 sets sold. This allowed me to define my place amongst my male colleagues in the profession, and to always deliberately invest in innovative designs.
How would you describe your identity as a designer?
I have always been a minimalist, a modernist and a functionalist, but also a strong proponent of sustainable thinking and doing. ‘Less always produces more’ is my motto. It is a pity that few people understand the richness of minimalism. ‘Less is more’ should be everyone’s paradigm. It would save us many a crisis. We now must try to get more out of ‘less’. It’s the only way to make progress.
Is innovation an important criterion of good design?
Innovation and ‘improvement’ are the most important criteria to justify the use of energy and materials. Things that are relevant and needed are those I devote time to. If designers and suppliers would think more seriously about the necessity and footprint of products, we would enjoy a very different society. On the other hand, affordability of design for both industry and user is important as well.
What do you consider the biggest changes in your profession?
In many cases, designers and manufacturers have grown apart. The industrial design profession has been diluted to superficial conceptual thinking about everything that needs designing. It has become a non-committed occupation, leading to – with some excellent exceptions – innumerable useless products that increasingly add to our waste mountain. The design ‘discipline’ increasingly seems like a fleeting expression of applied art for the individual, rather than a service to industry allowing for the production in series of products that are affordable and accessible to many.
Society would benefit greatly if the design profession and its principles were redefined and if the many windbags in the field were no longer subsidised with public funds. It presents the wrong image for our profession and its more earnest members.
I miss the solidity, depth and service vs. the volatility and superficiality of today. The typical ‘service’ character of the old school method presumes a much humbler approach than the ‘intrusiveness’ of the star designer. A rich society is a wasteful society. Take a critical look around, and you realise society has lost its way, has derailed. Andrea Branzi said in the seventies, ‘We must return to basics in order to get out of the jungle.’ I’m afraid we are still living in a jungle.
What advice could you give young designers?
Think first: does the product or service you are designing really contribute something to society? Then consider that the smaller the footprint, the better it will be for nature. And we need nature to survive.
This interview was published in Connecting the Dots #7 for the Milan Design Week 2013.
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