Droog Design: Sense and Experience

Master's Thesis


When Renny Ramakers, a Dutch design historian, saw the work by young Dutch designers who were using cheap industrial materials or found objects, like old dresser drawers and driftwood to create furniture, she felt it as a sign of the time and decided to bring some of these products together and present them as a common mentality. Remakers organized an exhibition in the Netherlands and Belgium in early 1992 in order to show to the world what she thought was a “clear break from the past”, a genuinely new approach to design. She sold so little she barely covered the costs. A year later, Remakers found out that Gijs Bakker, the product designer and professor at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, was planning to exhibit the work of his present and past students at the 1993 Milan Furniture Fair, she suggested that they collaborate on a joint show. They called the collection Droog Design after the Dutch word ‘droog’, which translates into English as ‘dry’ as in dry wit, unadorned informality, and ascetic irony. ‘Dry’ as that essentially Dutch inclination to ‘do normal’ and at the same time critically investigate what you are doing and the way you do it. Today Droog makes exhibitions, gives lectures, initiates experimental projects, carries out commissions for companies, produces and distributes projects, supervises the IM Masters course at the Design Academy Eindhoven, and runs a shop/gallery in Amsterdam and New York.
Due to its innovative contributions to the field, Droog is constantly featured in surveys of twentieth-century design. Another type of publication where Droog is prominent is in books of Dutch design. The Netherlands is one of today’s most important centers of innovation and experimentation in architecture, urban planning, industrial design, and graphic design, and both the government and the private sector have done an important job of promoting “Dutch Design” both as a label and as a platform for emerging professionals. Examples of this are False Flat: Why Dutch Design is so Good, Dutch Design: A History and the Premsela Foundation which is a design institute that produces lectures, debates, exhibitions and publishes Morf, the Netherlands’ largest design magazine. Droog’s designs and designers are featured in the discussion about the blur between art and design. These two disciplines are traditionally separated by just one word: function. Regarding ‘Design Art’ what should be put in a home and what in a design museum? Is it intended as a sculpture or a piece of furniture? Gareth Williams, the Senior Tutor of Design Products at the Royal College of Art and the former Curator of Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Furniture at the V&A Museum, in one of the key discussants of the integration of the practices of art, craft and design in contemporary design. Glenn Adamson’s Thinking Through Craft and Steven Holt’s Manufractured: The Conspicuous Transformation of Everyday Objects are important publications about the role of craft in today’s design and manufacturing environment. Droog is a prominent participant in all of these discussions. Writing and discussion play an essential role in Droog’s overall design project. For this reason, the design group has traveling exhibitions, publishes books and videos, and maintains a website featuring their products, projects, and experiments, in other words, their overall mentality. These publications have a heavy visual component but they are accompanied by text so that there is a story tied to the products presented. The head of all these writing projects is Renny Ramakers, a prominent art historian and founder of Droog. The fact that Droog’s most complete writings come from an insider adds an emotional, biased, and almost maternal quality to these texts. This is comparable to Barbara Radice’s role in Memphis. As Ettore Sottsass’ life-long companion, Radice, a journalist, was the principal voice of the design group. Seeing design through the lens of someone in love gives a very particular perspective on both the designer and the designs. I do not see this emotional component as an obstacle but as an interesting vehicle through which I can explore the value of the object for both the designer and the user. Most of Droog’s designers do not stay in the group for long, but move on to continue with their own design projects. Droog functions as a platform and marketing tool for young designers to gain a name at the beginning of their career. On the other hand, prominent designers who already have a name of their own are sometimes recruited by Droog for specific projects, but these designers have an agenda of their own that includes but also goes beyond Droog Design. Examples of this are Marti Guixe, Marcel Wanders, Hella Jongerious, and Jurgen Bey. Moreover, these designers have also seen an important potential in writing for the promotion of their designs. For that reason, the writings by these designers on the role of design are a crucial source to understand Droog. In this thesis I will compare and contrast Droog Design with the career of Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis design group of which Sottsass was a founder. Like the experiences and designs of Droog, the life and work of Sottsass in his Memphis years is now treated as paradigmatic of postmodernism in design by historians and critics. A careful examination of the contrast in the role of the designer, the relationship between objects and people, and the purpose of design evident in the story of Droog and Sottsass will help identify and clarify both what is common to Postmodernism and what is distinctive about Droog. The first chapter presents Ettore Sottsass and the design group Memphis as the paradigm of Postmodernism. This designer’s journey transformed the design profession thereafter. When Droog came into being, they had Sottsass’ fifty years of thought and reflection on the purpose of design. Sottsass journey begins as a designer for industry, trying to express the new democracy in material form. His design for the valentine typewriter took office equipment outside, inspiring young men and women to write poems among nature. He then had the need to get away and reflect on the purpose of constructing. He studies the relationship between objects and people, and in an exhibition at MoMA he argues that possessions weigh as down, a theme that continues to be explored by the designers that followed him. Memphis strives to make objects that are instruments of communication; their emphasis is on the present, and storytelling and the liveliness of objects are essential characteristics. Ultimately, Memphis embraces consumption and tries to design objects that are true to their time so that there is a realization of one’s existence through the senses. Challenging conventions, storytelling, and designing a sensorial relationship between objects and users are Sottsass’ most important lessons to the design profession. The second chapter introduces Droog and a series of definitions of creativity in the Postmodern world based on designs by this group. Creativity is no longer a matter of making, but a reorganization of what already exists. The six different definitions of creativity are ironic reproduction, reusing and reworking, reflections of the everyday world, recording, redemption and receptivity. In the Modern Era, the way designers envisioned their role and their place in the cycle of production and consumption shaped their understanding of creativity. The modern designer would strive to distill an object to its purest form, so that industry would produce it and it would last forever. Inspiration is abstract and there is never a specific user in mind. Creativity is an issue in this essay because of the way it changed with Postmodernism. Disappointed with industrial design at the end of his career, Ettore Sottsass proposed “deep simplicity” as a key aesthetic principle of objects and Droog became one of the followers of this mentality. In connection with this, I will explore the value of the normal and how, when one is conscious of it, the everyday becomes extraordinary. Renny Ramakers says she saw a “clear break from the past” when she saw the work by young Dutch designers, bringing her to the creation of Droog. This chapter, however, explores how Droog is also a continuation of Ettore Sottsass’ reflections on design. The third chapter argues that craft in the Postmodern world is a way to work with modernity as opposed to resisting it. Unlike the Arts & Crafts Movement, Droog believes there can be a complimentary relationship between craft, industry, and technology. Problem solving and problem finding go together in the experimentation with materials, since designers not only discover new possibilities but also open new questions as they submerge themselves in a material. It is a process where intuition leads the way. This opens up the possibility of criteria for evaluating design that goes beyond the formal and the functional. Like handling materials, the experience of the final product is not entirely rational. A designer can trust his/her intuition to decide what is the most natural, comfortable and familiar way to engage with a product. This chapter also presents two views on decoration’s comeback during Postmodernism. On the one hand, decoration can be understood as shallow and external and as a space where any style or combination of styles can coexist. On the other hand, decoration can be the most vulnerable representation of the essence of an object. The fact that both of these definitions are “Postmodernist” shows the ambiguity and multiplicity of this movement.
The fourth chapter explores the potential of designing less. Taking into account what is already there and its inherent qualities can lead to the most enjoyable designs. The role of the designer is to show an unusual point of view in order to highlight the everyday and the mundane. The designer creates relationships and experiences, as opposed to objects, so that his/her creations become a second nature to the place. It is a discovery of the potential latent in things. Finally, on the theme of decoration and its existence exclusively on the surface or beyond, I present a design by Joris Laarman where the decoration truly comes to life. This essay is an attempt to understand two particular labels: Postmodernism and Droog. The role of the designer, the meaning of decoration, the definition of creativity, and the importance of objects in our lives, are the themes that will lead to this understanding.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-04122010-161519

Author Camila Escallon
Advisor Dennis Doordan
Contributor Kathleen Pyne, Committee Member
Contributor Robin Rhodes, Committee Member
Contributor Dennis Doordan, Committee Chair
Degree Level Master's Thesis
Degree Discipline Art, Art History, and Design
Degree Name MA
Defense Date
  • 2010-04-24

Submission Date 2010-04-12
  • United States of America

  • Ettore Sottsass

  • Postmodern Design

  • Droog

  • Netherlands

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

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