Dutch Design Awards 2023 call for entries is open

A new edition of Dutch Design Awards just opened. Which designers will soon be on the highest design podium? And what kind of designers is the jury looking for? An interview with the chair of the Data & Interaction jury: Daniël Sytsma.

Jury chair Daniël Sytsma (right) with DDA22 project lead Frederiek Dijkstra (left) and Data & Interaction winner Noa Jansma (middle). © about.today

“Dutch Design Awards (DDA) helps bring hopeful ideas and perspectives into the limelight. There is a lot to solve, anno 2023. Today’s challenges call for designers who see the world with a combination of naive imagination and pragmatic determination. They must be able to make new connections between the worlds of art, science and business. It is incredibly important that new talents and voices are given a stage, and no stage is as iconic as DDA.”


“It fits with the zeitgeist, that designers are being confronted with bigger systemic questions. That doesn’t mean we should forget the power of aesthetics, or that business impact is suddenly no longer important. We just can’t ignore the fact that planet and people carry equal weight in the design process.”

“I think REX 2.0 by Ineke Hans and Circuform is a great example of what a DDA winner can do. On the surface, it might look like ‘just another chair’. Indeed, it is a chair that was designed 12 years ago as a practical chair for public spaces, like events, companies, governments, schools and hospitals. In that specific context, products are often discarded after a while. The new design was the basis for the first deposit chair: the value of the materials is fixed in a 20 euro deposit per chair. That looks like a simple innovation, but the whole system has to be redesigned, from the choice of materials, to accounting, to the production process that includes revising the returned chairs. Such a project shows that sustainable innovations require designers who can work together.”

New generation

“Specifically in ‘our’ category Data & Interaction, I am hoping for nice, round projects. Basically, as an expert jury, we reward designers in this category who design impactful systems with data and technology. These can also be solutions or projects that question today’s technology. Either way, it requires a broader definition of what a designer is.”

“Being a pure-play designer isn’t enough anymore when trying to tackle problems so complex and multi-dimensional. We are facing one of the most complex design challenges mankind has ever faced: a climate crisis that is made up of a set of multiple, interconnected challenges that each require specific design and engineering solutions. We need solutions for the plastic in our oceans, the smog in our cities, the fast fashion piling onto our garbage dumps and the inefficient food on our plates. Visiting Dutch Design Week last year, it was hopeful to see designers are proposing solutions to each of these challenges.”

Collaborate, and then some more

“Leonardo Da Vinci was a true polymath. He was a painter, sculptor, writer, poet, architect, anatomist, geometrist, geologist, a physicist and much more. He wasn’t just excellent in each of those disciplines, he was able to create powerful connections between them. While Da Vinci is often credited as the sole contributor to his works, he actually learned how to work in a team during his apprenticeship in Verrochio’s studio and collaborated ever since.” 

— ‘The next star designer is not a single person, it’s a coalition’

“Complexity requires collaboration. The next star designer is not a single person, it is a coalition. Design as a narrow discipline is only one piece of the puzzle, we need to look around and put the pieces together with experts in adjacent fields. The world doesn’t need another chair, unless it fixes the issues around its materials and distribution. If designers feel inclined to take on a bigger responsibility, they need to form cross-disciplinary coalitions and follow through beyond the provoking idea or prototype. Design is powerful if it can be scaled –– from  couture to confection ––which is really, really hard. We need to rethink how we scale, so that we think about profit, people ánd planet. A lot of projects presented at Dutch Design Week last year demonstrated that sense of responsibility. Few showed the perspective of sustainable scale, though.”

Cars who clean up their own mess

“One project I came across during DDW22 was Reverso, an accessory that can be installed on top of public and semi-public vehicles to act as an air filter. Reverso was designed by Fransisco Lara, a student who took on the challenge of finding a way to reduce car emissions. Many people don’t know that electric cars still emit a lot of harmful particles. The majority of particles that pollute our air come from friction on the tires, asphalt and brakes. The device, that looks a bit like a ski box, consists of multiple filters that are able to trap and remove those particles from the air and needs no additional power or connections. Simple to manufacture and easy to use. While Francisco is the designer who came up with this idea, it was a collaboration with experts in fluid dynamics that helped him to implement what is called the reverse venturi effect: causing the air to slow down as it travels from narrow to wider parts so that the filters work more efficiently. And to make this idea a reality he will need a lot of partners, working with him to achieve adoption at scale. The product will have to be marketed towards cities and governments, but we know everything depending on governments goes at a different pace. Still, I believe that a simple idea like this can make huge impact in our cities and the air that we breathe.”

— ‘If this is what the future will look like, I want to live in it’

Robots That Build

“Design is not exclusive to design schools. A visit to Robots That Build at the Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e) what the future of architecture will look like when we start making use of robots in the building process. Exploring different techniques, from 3D printing to brick laying, or constructions with fibers, all lead to different types of sculptures we could not have imagined before. Why is this important? The buildings we live in could be less boring of course, but the bigger issue is that the built environment generates nearly half of all annual global CO2 emissions. So, we need to rethink how we build and what materials we build with. Building with robots is allowing for new material use. The students at TU/e show we can create new imaginative structures from fibres, clay, wood, reed and other materials that can be produced sustainably. Now if this is what the future will look like, I want to live in it.”

Innovation beyond the art academy

“To solve our biggest design challenge ever, we need all hands on deck. The projects I mentioned show that it’s not only great aesthetic or conceptual design that will get us there. It’s the combination of design, engineering, and business that we need. How can we further accelerate this? Well, I think our education system would be a great start. Designers go to the academy; engineers join their peers at the technical university and our future business leaders enroll in business schools. How can we bring those disciplines together earlier? Let’s take design out of the straitjacket of traditional art academies and design schools and give designers the toolbox and network to collaborate on radical innovative solutions for the many issues we face today.” 

“In that spirit, I think it’s a great development that, starting this year, Dutch Design Awards has let go of the requirement of a diploma, also for the category Young Designer. Talent has many shapes and forms and anyone could be the new Da Vinci. So bring it on, those applications.”

Daniël Sytsma (39) is an independent design consultant (formerly Chief Design Officer at Dentsu Creative & Isobar) and has been the chair of the Data & Interaction jury for Dutch Design Awards since 2020.

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