Friday, October 23, 2009

Designer of the Month: Droog

Week 4: irony

One of the hallmarks of Droog designs are their humor and playfulness. As a design collective named after and founded on the ideas of witticism and simplicity, it's no surprise that some Droog designs would also focus on irony.

Flower bulb packaging "Bolle box," by Andreas Möller, 1994. Compressed cow dung. Courtesy of Information Inspiration.

So what is irony anyway? While it's hard to write about humor, it's even more difficult to try and discuss irony. According to Ed van Hinte in his essay on irony in Droog design, irony "presupposes understanding the invisible."[1] An object can be said to be ironic in the same way that a situation can be ironic: it plays on our expectations in some fundamental way. Take, for example, Andreas Möller's "Bolle box." Made from compressed cow dung, the idea behind this object came from the problem of the Dutch manure surplus; the excess could be sold as packaging for tulip bulbs.[2] The consumer plants the entire object, package and all, which is not only biodegradable, but fertilizes the bulb as well. So while, yes, this design suggests logistic efficiency, and while it is an interesting and humorous solution to an unusual problem, it is also an unrealistic and rather smelly one.[3]

Dare to UNLABEL, by Claudia Linders, 2003. Dress made of used design labels, 66 m ribbon. Courtesy of Droog.

So, what types of irony are explored in Droog designs? Irony is dependant upon its audience, and just as an object can hold different meanings for different people, so can irony change depending on the viewer. As Ed van Hinte explains:
Since irony presupposes a certain amount of knowledge the clues offered work differently for different audiences. The inner circle of the design community becomes partner in ironic crime concerning design itself. Designer perceive reflections on their own work, use of materials, conventions of production, the essence of beauty comments on the context within which they create new things. The general public may be more inclined to be surprised by the ingenuity of ideas.[4]
Just as the audience's views can help change the meaning of an object, the viewer is also occasionally asked to become an active participate in the creation and interpretation of a design, such as with Claudia Linders' Dare to UNLABEL dress. Linders creates her dresses by sewing together 1700 labels that visitor's take out of their clothing, replacing the old label with an UNLABELED tag.[5] As the Droog website explains, "This project questions the influence of branding and the way people want to see themselves in the reality of daily shopping. Do they choose for a brand, for its image or for its reputation or are they actually looking for quality?"[6]

50 differently priced bags, by Simon Heijdens and Untiled Statements, 2003. White synthetic felt, sticker. Courtesy of Droog.

As Droog has grown over the years, the types of irony on display have changed as well. At first, there was mainly the version of presenting ironic alternatives for designs, with a bent towards sustainability.[5] While sustainability is still a major focus in Droog designs, more recent products have focused on either the types of irony that lightheartedly reflect on culture, such as with the "UNLABELED" dress, or towards the darker, more cynical side of irony.[6] In general though, irony works well in design when it raises questions that help feed doubt and open new ways of thinking, something that Droog designs strive to do regardless of the product.[7]

And that's it for week 4. Normally, this would mean that's it for our Designer of the Month. This time, however, as there's an extra week in October, we're going to spend an extra week looking at all of the fun products that fall under Droog design. So, instead of exploring another designer next week, I'm going to share images of my favorite Droog designs that haven't yet made it onto this blog. So check back next week for more Droog!

Ed van Hinte, "Irony," Simply Droog: 10+3 Years of Creating Innovation and Discussion, (Amsterdam: Droog, 2006), 107.

[2] Ibid., 106.

[3] Ibid., 110.

[4] Ibid., 110.

[5] Droog online, "Dare to UNLABEL by Claudia Linders" October 21, 2009).

[6] Ibid.

[5] Ed van Hinte, "Irony," Simply Droog: 10+3 Years of Creating Innovation and Discussion, (Amsterdam: Droog, 2006), 110.

[6] Ibid., 110.

[7] Ibid., 112.

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