Joseph Grima

Joseph Grima, born in France in 1970, was trained as an architect in London, worked as the editorin- chief of Domus Magazine and has curated many design exhibitions. He is now acting director of the Triennale Design Museum in Milan besides his job as creative director of the Design Academy Eindhoven, which he took on in 2018. WOTH interviewed him about new tendencies in the design scene and how the Graduation Show exemplifies the Eindhoven school’s shift in orientation towards the future.


What differences do you perceive between the Milan design tradition and the model of the Design Academy Eindhoven? For instance, how do you see the relationship between design schools and industry? ‘Whether design schools should follow industry or industry should follow design schools is an interesting question. It’s a misconception to think that the Italian model is about factories cranking out all sorts of objects and that the designers then come in to make these more attractive. For many years it worked exactly the other way around. As new technologies emerged, designers thought up new ways of using them and making them relevant to everyday life. You could say the same about the current design from the Design Academy Eindhoven. It is more oriented towards the future than to the past. We are less concerned with manufacturing techniques and more with new economies and new ways in which design touches the lives of people. This is not always based on the production of objects but can also be related to completely immaterial processes.’


‘It’s always easier to look at the past and to project that perspective onto the future. It is much more difficult to look at innovation while it is happening in front of you and create the right conditions for it – something the Design Academy Eindhoven has proven to be good at. But it’s not enough to keep replicating the existing program and so in 2018 we moved the Graduation Show from the school’s own building to the former Campina factory. This was important because schools always look like schools – there’s no way around it. We wanted to emphasize the content itself, without the school being a distraction and a constant reminder that these are ‘only’ student projects. We wanted the projects to be evaluated on their own merits rather than being viewed through the lens of an end to the students’ youth. We want to see the academy as a group of professionals learning from each other. Going to the Campina factory helped us to define and enhance that way of thinking. The next step was to rethink the organization of the exhibition space. Should we present the work in clusters related to the departments or should we present it in a way that made the ‘The role of the designer inevitably reflects the reality of the market. There are very few designers who can make a living from designing chairs, tables, etc. Our role as an academy is to design design. To think about the way in which designers can be relevant and useful to society in the future. To find new purposes that may impact the lives of people. This may be through material things, through social design, or a combination of both. Most probably it will be less about the rather primitive act of giving form to objects and more about connecting networks and thinking about the full level of complexity of modern supply chains and new economic systems. Designers have to find new opportunities at that level.’


Since its conception in the 1990s, Dutch Design was typically driven by subsidies and therefore depended on government support for its promotional output in the form of exhibitions and books. Maybe learning to combine creativity with an entrepreneurial drive should be part of the Eindhoven design method? ‘Yes, I think you are right. It has been a very specific and very interesting set of conditions that have defined the Dutch Design scene over the last decades. I think government investment has been a very important aspect of that. It did a lot of good to the economy and really brought new relevance to design from the Netherlands, which is a very small country after all.’


‘The Dutch Design Week is a good example. It is the only event apart from the Salone del Mobile that carries any weight globally. It’s tempting to look for financial markers or gross domestic product, but the real impact is what you see in Eindhoven today: an unbelievably successful design-driven city. And not only through the Dutch Design Week or the Design Academy, because there are also hi-tech companies such as ASML. Eindhoven’s success is the best possible outcome of a post-industrial transformation. It is a place that offers extremely affordable rates for renting and has work spaces in abundance. After graduating, students can take the risk of opening their own studio. Droog Design was a very small group of people, but now we are starting to see the emergence of post-Droog studios and there are many. They run their business in the city, which proves that it is possible to run an economy on the added value of the work of designers. That is interesting to apply at all levels in the city and goes far beyond more traditional understandings of design. It can be the basis for a masterplan for the city, for thinking about questions of social integration, etc. It has huge potential for incorporating design-driven solutions in all aspects of life.

This interview was published in WOTH issue No15 still available in our shop.