Netherlands

Should current technologies motivate and dictate new innovative designs or can concept designs inspire novel technologies? Which one is better, wiser, more advantageous in a long run?

I have just returned from a trip to Netherlands, the land of tulips and windmills.  The first one representing an outgrowth of our humanity’s adoration for beauty of nature, and our ingenuity in refining it to the outmost perfection. The second, a product of design projecting humanity’s pragmatic inventiveness when faced with a need for a solution and solving it through design thinking, this at the core of my mission there. 

But prior to embarking on the genuine topic of this reflections, I shall indulge myself by sharing with you some of the imagery one can associate with Netherlands, and in a way with many of the Europe’s cities.

Its many and truly romantic canals are a joy to the eye and soothing to the soul, mainly to a traveling one.

Netherlands has another claim to fame as the homeland of two great artists: Van Gogh and Rembrandt.

 

Amsterdam represents a traditional European city that projects, especially in the old parts, charms that we associate with the “old culture” of an “old country”. From what I gather, Netherland’s success can be attributed to its role as Europe’s transportation hub and people’s skills in engineering construction and electronic industry. This is the crib of the Phillips, a former giant of light bulbs manufacturing. It is also a formerly rich country which has played a considerable role in trading and brokering of diamonds.

As it is the case of the most of the European old cities, Amsterdam is rich in tradition and the old. Yet, this country was known for its liberal approach drugs, attracting people from the rest of the continent. However, due to pressure from the other governments, Netherland now reserves such freedoms for its own citizens, those who choose to indulge in chemical, or the naturally cultivated forms of such artificially stimulating joys. While I visited the city several years ago I was shocked by the contrast between the wonderful old main city square and the number of addicts sprinkled against its ornate building walls. Now, they are gone, or at least not seen as they used to be back then. Now, one is able to focus on the beauty of the old architecture, even though much of it is now commercialized in somewhat jarring ways.

But not to be too negative, below I offer some of the impressive human achievements.

And here is a couple of truly uplifting structural designs, and mind you, this is written by a proper atheist.

                                    

These days, just as most of Europe, except for the hard working and determined Germany, Netherlands is experiencing economic downturn. While doing economically better than its Belgian neighbor, its cuisine is far inferior to it, and its claim to fame in beer is represented by Heineken. Do I need to say more…? No wonder that, when asked for a truly satisfying, rich, heavy beer, one is served the that which is brewed and imported from Belgium. I guess, we, even countries, can not be great in everything we do, can we?

I was graciously invited there to present my ideas, my kind of metamorphic animated short storytelling as well as “gravity free & reality free” approaches in conceptual design, for interactivity within mixed reality, to students and faculty at a university dedicated to and renown for its achievements in Industrial Design.

Having looked at students’ projects and spoken to several of them after my presentations it did not take too long to ascertain that the focus of this institution is on Design from the perspective of Technology. This is not surprising, given that the school represents an integral part of the Technological University.

The Industrial Design school practices a self-taught approach to education. In it each student is required to acquire the skills and knowledge which would qualify him/her to become a professional and practicing designer, ready for the demands of the external world. I admire this attitude siince it empowers students to design their own curriculum. It, in turn, educates a self-motivated student who becomes responsible for the choices each of them makes, cultivating graduates who can become different from all the others.

Back when I was working on design at the university art school in Singapore, I too chose to offer students the freedom and power to shape their individuality via choices they will make in designing their own path of education, and thus self-discovery, instead of prescribed and imposed from above paths and molds.

Thus, in this self-defined system I was not hearing and learning about, each project expects each student not just to conceive and research the various aspects, applications and eventual outcome of an individual design but also to execute it to the point of a working prototype. This makes sense and is also admirable.

However, this also puts burden on a student to insure that his/her concept is reined in by realism of time given to execute and the execution skills acquired till then, instead of indulging in what some refer to as too far reaching or unruly dreams of what might be only if we allow our imagination to fly and explore. Such an approach has two opposite, conflicting benefits, as well as disadvantages, at least in my opinion.

During the Q & A following my presentations, students, clearly surprised by my conceptual designs, were questioning pragmatism of my approach to design, expressing certain envy for my ability and willingness to invest my thought, time and energy in designs some of which, due to the state of current technology, may not be executable, or at least not yet, at least not without development of new technologies which can then propel them into the roam or reality. On the other hand, and rightfully so, students pointed out the somewhat unrealistic stance I have been willingly and consciously electing and committing myself to.

In response to such thought provoking questions, I reminded them of many other individuals who have made similar risky choices. Leonardo Da Vinci, for example, and I am not comparing myself to such an unquestionable genius, conceived of designs which were approximately 500 years ahead of their time. Yet, eventually, they were realized, inspired by an incredible foresight and his visionary design ideation.

Clearly the two perspectives question sensibility of the other. Students questioned whether it is wiser to graduate as a well versed designer capable of handling the entire process of design, but yet at a cost to greater vision and dreams, resulting in them missing on the opportunity to imagine the future, and shape conceptual designs which probe possibilities independently of the current technologies and its limitations?

In other words, should current technologies motivate and dictate new innovative designs or can concept designs inspire novel technologies? Which one is better, wiser, more advantageous in a long run? But is the choice black and white or could students be offered some, or the best of both worlds of occasions? Should educational systems, most of which are motivated by the need to differentiate themselves, this in order to compete with other similar in objectives schools, be also willing and capable of electing the more comprehensive and more globalized, Renaissance like approach and philosophy towards their education?

We have been, and so have the technologies we invent, evolving with an accelerated speed. Currently we are, as it should be, at the stage of development that is the most advanced thus far. Technology is a true “magic wand”. It makes us more powerful then ever. This is likely the most exciting time to be a creative individual or an artist, or a designer, or even an engineer or technologist or inventor. Borders between all disciplines are dissolving before our eyes. Interdisciplinary fusion is lighting up the path to exciting future.

While specialization is safe and thus more profitable, there is much to admire about those who instead elect to think big and wide, to “reach for the stars”. Where would be without such “lunatic” dreamers?

In a presentation I was asked to conduct for the faculty, a couple of interesting and thought provoking discourses aroused. The first one was questioning whether technology is the most potent, as I propagate, when transparent and invisible, and yet bringing to life amazing ideas human ingenuity is capable of? Or is technology so wonderful and amazing that is ought to be seen and admired for its own sake, its state of technical ingenuity? Not surprisingly, I was not able to convince the opposition of my attitude being the preferable one, and vice versa, I would never bow to technology for its own sake. But then does one view needs to surpas the other? Are they exclusive? Maybe the balance between the two would be best?

Another topic was triggered by the topic of my concept designs probing and propagating new freedoms of interactivity within the space coalescing reality with virtuality, some call it “augmented reality”. A very interesting discussion aroused, it questioned whether we ought to not protect the tactual reality, within which we have live in till now, from the incursion of the virtual and digital dimensions? There were those who propagate the two perspectives and yet, I asked, do we have a choice? Can we stop the inevitable progression? Look at our children, where would they spend more time, if allowed to by the grown ups, in the real and organic reality or rather in the virtual dimension, one that liberates them from the restrains of reality, a space I refer to as “gravity free and reality independent”? Well, this is a rhetorical question. The Genie has already been liberated and will not be forced back into the “magic lamp” or maybe rather into a “Pandora’s box”? As to which is it, or will be, only the future will answer, whether for us or for those who are fortunate enough to be there and see with their own eyes. This is given of course that we still have the physical bodies as we now know now and are so constrained by, at least in my opinion.

The future is exciting and it will, hopefully, be shaped by those with visionary imagination, as opposed to pragmatism. And yet history has proved to us that the wild spirits, untamed ideas and visions can propel humanity into exciting and truly ground breaking discoveries that advance humanity, but also potentially dangerously volatile spaces. And yet where would humanity be without such? On the other hand, where would humanity be if determined by those who are tamed, resistant to change, protective of the known, proven and safe? Once more, is one better then the other, or exclusive of the other? Is it not best that they balance and even contradict and question each other? Would we not be best served by a fusion of diverse perspectives, an amalgam that offers us all the choices, as opposed to just one, or even none? 

Now, as I am about to depart for presentations and other similar activities in China, a blog on which I am certain to develop upon my return. Now I shall end these reflections, but first, I would like to wish you all a fusion of traditional Animated Holidays and a totally non-traditional but innovative pixilated New Year.

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