For designer Joris de Groot, materials and techniques are the key sources of inspiration for designing. Joris obtained degrees in both industrial design and product design. Whereas product design departs from the material, industrial design focuses on engineering; the combination of the two studies fits Joris like a glove. By using his vision and knowledge of materials, Joris combines aesthetics with new techniques in his designs.
Joris: I start with the materials, and gather knowledge about the production process and the techniques that are used by visiting the factories. In that respect, In4nite is a great opportunity because it fits my design approach perfectly: we started the project with a tour of the factory, providing the necessary insight into all the techniques and materials available.
Materials and techniques.
I love to explore new techniques and to examine the properties of materials, asking myself the question: “How can I use it in a different way?” There are so many different and special techniques, most of which are exclusively hired by factories. You rarely get the chance to just go there and delve into the possibilities. When In4nite invited me for a collaboration, they literally opened a new door, offering a wealth of opportunities to gain new knowledge.
I felt really supported by the Low and Bonar company. They encouraged us to explore and research their material. For example, I’ve worked with three factories to complete my design: the laminating factory, the pleating factory and the Low and Bonar factory. All three factories were big resources in material use and techniques.
“I rarely make a drawing at the beginning of a design process: my starting point is the material itself, I need to see it and feel it. ”
I do not get my inspiration from social media or books. What gives me the most inspiration is to just visit a new company where they use materials and techniques I haven’t seen yet. I contact those companies and, if possible, pay them a visit. I find production processes incredibly interesting. When I'm in a factory for a day, I sense and see the possibilities; I know immediately what kind of design I want to make and how I’m going to accomplish it.
After the first visit to the factory of Low and Bonar, they explained the production process of Colback and gave us booklets with information. I found information about the air filters Low & Bonar produces and it intrigued me; air filters are built from layers that differ in softness and strength, but also the pleats are different. That special technique of pleating and the use of layers in the material triggered me to research these particular aspects. The first idea was to make some new pleated textile which can be used in carpets, for example. I made a lot of different samples with various shapes and strengths. Eventually I focused on designing a pleated chair in which I could combine the pleating techniques as well as experiment with the strength of the Colback material.
However, it was challenging to find a factory that wanted to collaborate in the pleating research. You can imagine why: generally speaking, the machines are set to fixed values, producing thousands of meters of the same kind. But I wanted to examine the material’s strength depending on varying lengths and forms in the textile, which meant that the machines had to be set for every few meters. In order to do so, we needed to rent almost an entire factory.
Fortunately, I found a factory in Berlin. I received a lot of technical support from the filtration department of Low & Bonar; they were the ones that brought me in contact with the pleating factory in Berlin. And they conferred on the heat and speed of the machines, as well as the pleating process: when I needed certain materials, they produced them especially for me. Because of the technical expertise of Low & Bonar, I had the opportunity to extensively research the material, the techniques and the design. For a designer that’s a very convenient way of working.
Craftsman in a factory
I did four years of industrial design and I graduated as a product designer at ArtEZ Arnhem, The Netherlands. Product design is focused on vision, working with your hands and starting from the material. “How can I connect my vision with techniques and materials?” That’s the design way of thinking. The industrial study I followed was more concerned with production processes: “We need 10- products in a few days: how do we make this possible?”
Because of this combination in education I like to work with the machines in the factory as a craftsman would; I want to explore the possibilities of the materials and techniques.
I try to design in advance, but usually all plans are off the table after a visit to the factory, which is when I start over again. For example, I already designed a bench for In4nite in the first instance and I was struggling with how to accomplish this design and how I wanted to shape it. But then I visited the pleating factory and experienced how the material can bend and how it ‘plays.’ This rendered my initial idea irrelevant. Hence, I really work from the material.
When I start, I first research the original use of the material: “What is normally made from this material? How is it used? Which techniques are applied?” Then, I focus on one aspect: “Why is it made in this way? Could it be done otherwise? How can I enhance the properties of the material?” I want to show the origin of the material, what its original use is and how it can be applied in multiple ways. I take the existing techniques and the material as a reference and depart from there.
'The factory is my playground, searching for new possibilities with the tools I can find'
When I was a child, I made my own furniture, which I used in my room. And I put quite a lot of effort in making small circus attractions, such as an actually functioning carousel. I was so into engineering and crafts that I attended a technical course for kids on Friday afternoons. I remember how enthusiastic I felt as a kid when the staff of the workshop helped me out with my designs. Now I sometimes feel like a big kid, doing the same things on a bigger scale.
When I travelled to the factory in Berlin to work out the design and experiment with the strengths of Colback, it suddenly became so real. I really was going to make a pleated seat! The project became even more serious when we decided to go to the Dutch Design Week and present our design in an exhibition. At the Dutch Design Week I really felt we gave it all. There was such a good energy and a great buzz for the first time in this In4nite project. We received a lot of attention from the press and influential magazines.
Looking back, the Dutch Design Week was a good starting point. Because of the effort and hours of research I put into the Pleated Seat, I want to focus on developing the chair further, doing more research and attending more fairs. I want to focus on researching the material and pleating techniques, combining different layers and playing with various strengths. I want to know if the stability is good enough, and how the material will react on actual use.