Rick has a background in engineering as well as in industrial and product design. On average, he spends about 50 hours per week in his studio, and more when big deadlines are coming up. His office resembles an urban jungle, with a variety of plants and wires, fabrics and designs draped over desks, and walls covered with drawings of new projects.
A conversation about the In4nite project with design explorer Rick Tegelaar.
I’m interested in Industrial design and materials, with a particular interest in materials that are highly functional but don’t have any emotional or aesthetic value. When exploring a new fabric, it is imperative that you abandon all assumptions; you may think you know how a fabric will react, but you don’t, you have to observe very carefully. This is my focus in the first phase of experimenting. When we do simple tests like cutting the material, we really study the cut. We take each step super seriously and then we focus and zoom in even further.
Before working with In4nite, I had never heard of the non-woven fabric Colback by Low & Bonar. Naturally we wanted to get to know the material, so we started to stretch it, burn it, sew it, and cut it while studying how it reacted. I wanted to fully explore the possibilities and do as many different things to it as we could think of.
This approach of getting to know a fabric is similar to getting to know a new person. When you meet someone new, you want to get to know a little more about their character; you want to get a grasp of what that person is like. The same principle applies to material use: what is the material like? How does it behave? By crossing over between different disciplines and processes you can create new techniques, which can be used on the material and yield a whole new range of applications and possibilities.
“Abandon all assumptions.”
I had previously bought a simple 3d printer to experiment with and experienced a lot of problems with the printing material sticking to the print head. I wanted to solve this with a layer of Colback by utilising the same techniques as used in its production process. Because the printer prints at 190° Celsius the Colback fibres’ outer skin fuses perfectly but the core is left intact. It worked beautifully! As an experiment, we then started printing with Colback itself, using the same principles as in the production process. By printing new connections, ridges and eyelets on the existing Colback fleece, we invented a completely new way of printing that utilises the qualities of the material. This represents a whole new niche of printing, which will be very interesting to explore in the future.
Dutch Design Week
Looking back, I think In4nite made great progression in the one-year time frame of the project. In the beginning we were just aiming to do some experiments, but then each of the designers had such a promising start that we all felt there was something more there than just exploring the possibilities of Colback in our studios. We decided to take the next step, so we continued experimenting on the material and let the results fine tune our creativity and designs. In the short space of twelve months we went from ‘just’ experimenting on a new material to a successful exhibition at the Dutch Design Week. I think it has been an amazing achievement, especially considering that we didn’t know each other or what to expect when we set out. In retrospect I think the result is something to be really proud of.
“In the short space of twelve months we went from ‘just’ experimenting on a new material to a successful exhibition at the Dutch Design Week.”
The success of In4nite had a lot to do with the commitment of the designers involved, but equally important was the bold and openminded approach of Low& Bonar to collaboration with the designers. I hadn’t expected Low &Bonar to be so involved and dedicated to making the project a success. There was- and still is- a perfect balance between the support and freedom that Low & Bonar gave us and the effort and determination of the designers. This mutual engagement and understanding of each party’s input in the project was crucial for success.
Although it is beneficial for a company to emphasize the qualities and challenges of a material and to suggest preferred areas of innovation, how the designers carry out their research and exploration should be up to them. I think the company should stay in the passenger seat. It is not driving, the designer is. The designer should be encouraged to take different paths as you don’t want to exclude possibilities that aren’t immediately apparent on the surface.
As a designer you need the right mindset to join a program like In4nite. If you want a collaboration like this to be successful, you have to have an intrinsic motivation to see it as an opportunity to work with new materials and grow your business simultaneously. You should be aware that your commitment could lead to the start of a whole new company.
The identity and activities of Low & Bonar, the company behind In4nite, are very interesting to me as a designer, because they are active in so many fields and work with a variety of interesting materials. Personally, I love manufacturing processes. I am fascinated by how products are made, and which techniques and materials are used.
The chance to work with these materials wasn’t the only great opportunity of this project. The scale on which Low & Bonar produces the materials also made it very interesting to get involved. They are a big company, which means it can be an opportunity to get to know the industry. If your innovation can make a small difference in the functionality or appearance of the material, it can make a big impact on production.
“If you want a collaboration like this to be successful, you have to have an intrinsic motivation to see it as an opportunity to work with new materials and grow your business simultaneously.”
If you compare the wish to run your own design studio to running a bakery, you will find the same challenges. But think about this: if you attend a bakery college you learn eighty percent of the skills you need to start and run your own business; while at a design college you only learn ten percent. The everyday reality is that I’m only designing ten percent of the time, the vast majority of my time is spent networking, contracting, ordering, producing and promoting my products.
Should schools focus more on business skills? Should they include running a business as part of the designer’s curriculum? I used to think so, but I’ve changed my mind over the past few years. Because most programmes only last four short years and to become a good designer in such a short time is challenging enough as it is. It is a personal profession, and to develop your skills in such a limited time is very hard. If you would have to complete a business training element during your studies, it is my opinion that it would reduce the development of other skills that a designer needs.
I think that if you want to open your own studio, a business mindset should come to you naturally or you should attain the specific skills needed in addition to your designer courses. If you have a problem with networking, for example, find a course to help you develop this skill.
“If we have an issue at the studio, we work together on a solution.”
I approach my business with a design way of thinking. If a problem arises, how can we fix it? If we have an issue at the studio, we work together on a solution. Sometimes it’s just about meeting that one person or finding that one connection. My advice to beginning designers would be: approach your business as a design.
Are you a designer in possession of a Rick-minded spirit? Would you like to explore the possibilities of a collaboration? Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out the contact form at the footer of the website.