In 2017, Bob Elzen had the role of strategic marketing director for the Busines unit Interiors &Transportation within Low & Bonar. His function comprised an inquiry into the current as well as future market activities of the company. It is from this position that the In4nite Project has been conceived, initiated and realised. This year, In4nite will be participating for a second time in the Dutch Design Week. At present, Bob has taken up the role of segment leader within Automotive at Low & Bonar, carrying responsibility over every aspect that concerns the automobile department. Additionally, he is also still strongly involved with the In4nite Project.
What does In4nite mean to him? In which achievements does he take most pride? And how does he view the company’s collaboration with the designers?
What is your current role within the In4nite Project?
The best way to describe my position at In4nite would be that of a supervisor. I spend a lot of time sparring with Soon Joo (current project leader) about the process and planning, and I provide behind-the-scenes support. For instance, I secure the contracts and main agreements with our various locations and partners. I also safeguard the planning, and I was involved in the selection process of the designers.
What inspired you to initiate In4nite, and how did you select the current collection of designers?
The composition of this group of designers occurred by happenstance. I know several designers personally, from private circles. Last year, when we began to renovate our home, I contacted a couple of these designers. Upon entering the HE Building, it first occurred to me how they work, what they’re capable of, and how the process of designing unfolds. I permitted myself to ask: “What if we were to provide you with materials: how would you use it?” Following many enthusiastic responses, the potential of this idea rapidly spread throughout the building.
Slowly but steadily, from what commenced as an open question and a vague plan, increasingly concrete plans and designs emerged. These designs turned out to be so interesting that we felt compelled to make them known to a wider public — resulting into a fantastic presentation at Dutch Design Week. We’d had our very first meeting in March, and already in October we presented the exquisite outcomes at Dutch Design Week.
Where did the name ‘In4nite’ originate from?
The name, ‘In4nite’, sprung forth from the idea that the world is in a state of transformation, value chains are changing, and so do our clients. In4nite represents the future and the boundless possibilities of our technical skills and our materials.
We are standing at the brink of a fourth revolution, and yet, many companies do not seem to be aware of this, let alone manage to actively engage in the process. As a matter of fact, I dare to profess that we are already in the midst of it. Just think about everything that is changing around us: the inquiries into new value chains, the urgent need to solve pressing issues such as climate change and the incessant desire for new kinds of materials.
As a company that produces such cutting-edge materials, it is imperative for us to understand what these new value chains might look like in the future. This piques the question: ‘How?’ How can we positively influence Product Design and channels of distribution that impact these value chains? I believe that an open attitude and a dedicated propensity to innovation form a solid base for our future.
In this sense, In4nite mirrors our present-day market and product combinations; In4nite began as an experiment, set into motion by the desire and necessity to unlock new possibilities for Low & Bonar. The thought that innovative designs and deep understanding of applications become more readily available through collaborations with designers is rooted in this.
What purpose does In4nite serve?
In evaluating the first edition if the In4nite Project, we grappled with the question: “What exactly is In4nite? What have we created with In4nite?” We came to the conclusion that In4nite functions as our ideation platform — at the advent of any innovation or development, the first step is ideation. It denotes a phase of unlimited ideas and imagination, which can eventually be converted into tangible product development, step by step. The ideation phase ideally generates as many new ideas and potential applications as possible.
By disseminating clearly who we are and what we do, we demonstrate our aptitude for innovation and change. In4nite testifies to the fact that as a company, we are capable to not only think out of the box, but also act out of the box; in taking on novel forms of collaboration, and taking serious our research into new chains of value. To underline this fact, we constructed a theatre that functioned as a platform for discourse and knowledge exchange during the presentation of In4nite I at Dutch Design Week. ‘Materials and the Future’ formed the principal topic for discussion.
The main purpose of this additional programme was to foster a continuous dialogue between our customers, designers, and existing institutional knowledge. As such, In4nite operates as a platform that supports open discussion in considering the ways in which materials can be applied, as well as questioning how we can bridge the gaps surrounding communication, knowledge exchange, and access to knowledge.
"In4nite proves to me what I actually already knew: nothing is impossible. I simply don’t believe in limitations. With In4nite, a stone was cast into the pond — the magnitude of its ripples are becoming apparent only now."
How does In4nite II differ from its predecessor?
This year, we want to pay more attention to the functionality of the material. In the previous edition, each of the designers have already had their share in this field of research; think about the exploration of Colback’s acoustic qualities; but also that of its strength, lightness and transparency. These fall in line with the functionalities that we’re interested in, as there is an added value to functional significance. For the forthcoming edition, we’d like to see the diverse qualities of our technologies highlighted in the final designs.
There is also a strategic element to the composition of this years’ group of designers and public presentation; the participants that will exhibit at Dutch Design Week have been selected for their professionality, their entrepreneurial experience, as well as their distinct fields of expertise. Participants are active within the fields of product design, graphic design, as well as industrial design. Consider MinusplusMinus, for example; I expect that their modes of presentation will allow us to develop our own techniques into an unprecedented digital direction.
The structure and general set up of In4nite II shall attend more to our target markets, allowing us to emphasize what is the essence of our expertise. We are, all in all, a technological company. By collaborating with designers and their respective fields of knowledge, we are offered the opportunity to shed light on the technologies that are responsible for our products.
Looking back at In4nite I, what are you most proud of?
It required incredible amounts of organisation to get everyone — the designers, Low & Bonar, and third party participants — on the same page; but finally this turned out splendidly. We really managed to make the most of it. The most satisfying moment is to meander at the opening, drink in hand, and oversee how the show simply unfolds; then realising that it is just right, it simply works.
As a company, we can take pride in what we have accomplished; also having provided me with the liberty to undertake this endeavour. I am proud of the designers, who really have buckled down in order to make this happen. I absolutely want to emphasize the fact that the designers are the heroes of this project. This includes last years’ designers who will not participate in In4nite II, whom we still support with materials, technical knowledge and our expansive network.
The first edition of In4nite and its subsequent presentation at the Dutch Design Week, marks the very birth of our platform. The attention that was generated for the designers and the designs has thus far not yet halted, as a matter of fact, it seems to only increase. Just recently we were featured in the KLM magazine, as well as in the Financial Times and Mint. We receive invitations to participate in design shows from London to Dubai. Attention from the design industry aside, it remains a source of joy to present our clients with the brochure that was printed last year, and to really talk about innovation for once.
In4nite proves to me what I actually already knew: nothing is impossible. I simply don’t believe in limitations. With In4nite, a stone was cast into the pond — the magnitude of its ripples are becoming apparent only now.