Forward-looking spatial and conceptual design community D/Dock has been a mainstay in Amsterdam since 2004, later opening an office in Chengdu. The multi-disciplinary organization’s work spans nearly every sector of spatial design, tackling design, architecture, engineering, graphic design, product design, development services and design & build. As a result, the team has a uniquely broad scope.

We’ve turned to D/Dock director Thomas van Leeuwen and creative strategist Cris Bartels to spearhead a series of four workshops during Frame Awards 2020 next month. The intimate ‘campfire’ workshops, to be moderated by Froukje Jansen, will take place during our day programme and include special guests. Together, we'll dive into pressing, provocative issues impacting design today: the intersection of design and commerce, integrity of industry awards, what may be an over-emphasis on innovation and more.

Design fees are now based on the incremental value designers offer

Your workshop series will centre on the difficulty designers have with valuing their work. How does this issue go beyond individual studios/practices and affect the industry as a whole?

THOMAS VAN LEEUWEN: Whether it is about individuals, practices or the industry as a whole, we see a shift from cost to value. Practically this means that design fees are no longer based on hourly rates or percentages of investment costs, but on the incremental value designers offer.

Has social-media culture impacted the priorities of design? Do you think that the consistent exposure to others’ work has shifted how designers and architects perceive their practice?

TVL: In 2009 Facebook introduced the Like button. This was the start of a constant craving for validation. At that time it was primarily focused on our private lives, but it did not take long before Likes also started to drive corporate decision-making. The risk is that the priorities of designers and general perceptions are focused on Instagrammability instead of true quality.

CRIS BARTELS: Absolutely. I believe that character is what you do when nobody is watching. But in the age of social media, everybody seems to be watching each other all the time. Perhaps you could say that ego is what you do when everybody is watching.

Awards should encourage an intrinsic drive for sustainable impact

What role should awards programmes play in furthering innovation and constructive discourse in design? How can they best move away from the idea that, as one of the workshops is titled, ‘awards can be bought with money or influence’?

TVL: Award programmes should become a filter of quality, in a world of overkill in quantity. This means award jury’s should spend serious time to select and grade nominees. All award programmes where a jury does not take considerable effort to select and grade, are convenient for commercial reasons but nothing more.

CB: Following up on my previous statement, I think we should reward outstanding character and stop rewarding ego. Awards should encourage an intrinsic drive for sustainable impact.

At what point should designers step back from this ‘continuous drive to innovate’ and simply focus on delivering a high-quality project?

TVL: Designers should not step back from the continuous drive to innovate. But we should learn to enjoy it more, instead of being afraid to miss out.

CB: Focus is probably one of those struggles that we all deal with. Especially in a market that is as competitive as ours, focus is crucial. You set yourself apart by not only following your instinct, but by sticking to your guns. Especially when you go against the grain, you need the confidence to stick to what you believe in.

I don’t see a difference between art and commercial design. To me it is about being passionate

Why do you think that there is a resistance to regard design as the commercial business it is?

CB: Considering design as a commercial business, I have always had an artistic motivation to put more than a decade of blood, sweat and tears towards design. In my early years as a designer I have had my struggles with commerce, but I have learned to pick my battles as a purist.

TVL: I don’t see a difference between art and commercial design. To me it is about being passionate. That can be both in an artistic and commercial context, who cares? But I do see a lot of designers that still consider commercial context as the dark side. And that is exactly the reason for our company to organize the Frame Campfires.

Join our team and D/Dock at the forefront of spatial design – get your Frame Awards tickets here.