Work Together, Share Everything and Think Pragmatically

The most exciting moment takes place in the exhibition space, when they open the boxes. ‘That’s when we first see the end results,’ says Sanne Schuurman, one half of the duo behind Envisions. ‘Some designers come up with a dozen more items at the very last second,’ adds her partner Simone Post.

At that moment suprème, they rely on intuition and mutual trust. They work like they talk: alternatingly, with Schuurman often quicker to respond and Post usually a little wordier. First, they distribute the big pieces over the space and then the endless shifting around of the other pieces begins. ‘We’re looking for new connections between the different designs,’ says Post. ‘That’s why we mix things. We don’t make islands of work by individual designers. We want the audience to see the interaction that has taken place during the process as well. By combining things we entice people to look at designs they’re inclined to walk right past.’

When they start to arrange things, everybody has to leave. The two curators have to be all alone for a while. This is in stark contrast to the period just before the exhibition. Then all the members of Envisions work together closely, sometimes for days on end. ‘Still, the finalization has to be based a single vision,’ says Schuurman, ‘or chaos will rule.’

'It'd be a shame to protect that knowledge and keep it to yourself'


Envisions consists of 15 designers that, like Post and Schuurman, graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven a few years ago. They share the same ‘commitment to go all the way’ and all ‘dare to think from different disciplines’. They work on projects in varying combinations, sometimes five of them, sometimes 12 of them. They all have their own studios, too. ‘That’s the only way to both distinguish yourself within the group as well as add something to it,’ says Schuurman.

Of course egos will swell, she admits. ‘But in Envision the collective is more important than the individual. We are all designers that realize that they don’t necessarily have to be the new Marcel Wanders. Our strength comes from exchanging and sharing. And by acting as one, we can also make more of a statement to producers.’

The Minced Meat of the Manufacturing Industry

So no prima donnas at Envisions. This applies to both the people and the output. An Envisions exhibition does not contain iconic products on a pedestal, but semi-finished products, samples, try-outs. And that is very deliberate. During our studies, Sanne and I already planned to go to the Salone del Mobile in Milan together,’ says Post. ‘But not with the umpteenth chair or lamp. Visits to the fair often left us more depressed than inspired. We wanted to change that.’

Envisions centres on the process rather than the product. And that brings a totally different dynamic. ‘If your point of departure is that you’re going to design a drinking glass, you start with what’s already there and end up with something that’s probably not that different than every other glass. But if you start by examining glass as a material and properties such as transparency or the combination of different types of glass, you can end up with dozens of different things. It’s a way to open up the process.’

‘At fairs, you often come across designers who present a completely finished prototype,’ says Schuurman. ‘If any manufacturer is interested at all, designers often have to make concessions. It’s either that or they decide to produce their own design in a limited edition. Since we present the outcomes of experiments that haven’t been applied in a prototype yet, we can develop the actual product together with the manufacturer. In our view, this creates much better results.’

The Envision approach is hot. After the debut in Milan in 2016, presentations followed in, among other places, New York and the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. Trend watchers pay attention to their work, educational institutes ask them to give workshops. Their last achievement is a collaboration with Finsa, a MDF manufacturer from Spain. Schuurman and Post are well aware that MDF is not quite the sexiest material to work with. It’s the minced meat of the manufacturing industry, a hybrid product made of wood chips and synthetic resin glue. Post: ‘At first sight, you’d say it was the uncoolest material of all. But if you do the research, you find out that it’s used in all sorts of things. You learn to look at it differently – and to look at who makes it differently as well.’

Finsa invited Envisions for an extensive visit to the factory, showed them everything and gave them carte blanche. The resulting experiments are on show at the exhibition Envisions x Wood in Process that will open at the VDMA during the Dutch Design Week. Aukje Fleur Janssen enriched sheets of MDF with strips of coloured paper to create patterns. Robin Pleun Maas combined the basic material with textile. And Thomas Trum hot-pressed wood chips in different colours to give the usually anonymous material a completely different look. ‘Most manufacturers commission designers because of their signature,’ says Schuurman. ‘The results of such collaborations are often predictable. When they work with us, they receive a wide range of signatures.’

‘We really want to change the industry this way. In major companies, change is often fraught with difficulties. In most cases, methods are not changed until there is evidence of financial gain. We want to show that starting very openly and taking the time can actually create interesting results.’

Today's Droog

As always, the Envision presentation is accompanied by a book. It unreservedly explains how samples have been created and describes processes. Post emphasizes Envisions’ fundamental ‘open source’ attitude: ‘It’d be a shame to protect that knowledge and keep it to yourself. You can’t stop people from imitating and copying your work. So we say: feel free to add something to our ideas. Let's make things better together.’

The introduction to their latest publication was written by Hella Jongerius. In her text, she recalls the early years of Droog Design. Whether Envisions is today’s Droog is hard to say. Schuurman: ‘There are similarities. We are also a group of people that inspire each other. But Droog consisted of people who made names for themselves individually.’
‘Our work and our methods are also different,’ adds Post. ‘Droog mainly represented small-scale production. During its heyday everything was possible and nothing out of reach. We’ve come back to the industrial sector, adding an experimental learning stage: How can we do things differently? Ours is a more pragmatic approach. But then again, we do belong to a crisis generation.’

Envisions De Designers:
Roel Deden, Roos Gomperts, Jeroen van de Gruiter, Aukje Fleur Janssen, Robin Pleun Maas, Iwan Pol, Simone Post, Sanne Schuurman, HenrietteTilanus, Thomas Trum, Vantot, Elvis Wesley.


This interview was published in our No7 issue still available here.