Can digital design contribute to a better world? | Dutch digital design | Open mic

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Together with New Dutch Wave, Dutch Digital Design invited six Dutch digital design agencies to share their relevant thoughts and projects, in line with this year’s SXSW theme: A New Urgency. New Dutch wave is a platform designed to inspire, connect and generate new business for Dutch entrepreneurs, including creatives, start-ups and artists. Dutch digital design is a collective sharing and celebrating the best of Dutch digital design. SXSW took place online, March 16-20, 2021.

Meet Sebastiaan Scheer (Head of Design, MediaMonks), Amanda Boomstra (studio director, Made), Nik Nieuwenhuis (co-founder and CEO, Code d’Azur), Margot Gabel (principal designer, Building in Amsterdam), Remco Dongor (co-owner Kapooow), and Tijmen Mulder (co-founder, Robots kittens). They explain how digital design and their industry can contribute to a better world – taking 2020 as a starting point. A year in which issues like racial injustice, inequality, accessibility and the climate crisis, in the midst of a global pandemic, have only escalated.

Looking at the topics mentioned above, as an agency, do you feel the need to contribute?

Absoutely. The six agencies are very attached to these subjects. From a personal point of view, but also from the point of view of their agency. That is why they are participating in this discussion. It means a lot to them, and they would like to share how they can help make the world a better place.

Help with local and global initiatives. Share their expertise and knowledge but also their resource. Helping people and businesses communicate, but also spreading the word on topics such as accessibility and inclusiveness. Using digital technology to provide solutions to these complex problems and make the world a little smaller.

It has been an unprecedented year. How have you seen the way the world is changing represented in your work, or within the industry?

First, Sebastiaan mentions that the pandemic has caused many international companies to travel less. Not only was this a consequence of the travel ban due to COVID-19, but it also had a significant effect on the sustainability of businesses. He made companies understand that travel is not essential. That working from home is possible, achievable and also acceptable.

The six agencies hope this way of thinking is a permanent change. That this will be the new normal. Although Amanda adds that working from home all the time is not sustainable either. That we also need human interactions, not just digital interactions, to create the physical energy necessary for creativity. So, a change of mindset is needed, but with a very important touch of real physical interaction.

Nik agrees that human interaction is important, but he believes digital technology will continue to evolve and help deliver solutions that further enable that human touch from a distance. For example, using augmented reality (AR). Margo nods. She believes that digital technologies and agencies should be the engines of innovation. To offer more innovative ways to reach an audience and explore how we can inject a multisensory approach capable of evoking emotions. Additionally, at Build in Amsterdam, they have focused over the past twelve months on how to make the web more accessible through education, awareness and offering guidance.

Remco believes that this pandemic has highlighted that there must be more room for mutual understanding. This technology can help create that feeling of oneness, even if you can’t be physically together. He also adds that action is so much more important than words. We have started something now, and it is essential to continue. They all agree.

So how can and digital design contribute to a better world? Would you like to share examples from your own work or others that do just that?

Yes, digital design can certainly help make the world a better place.

At Robot Kittens, they believe that campaigns and projects will become smaller and more personal, in order to make them more impactful. And that agencies should help steer their clients towards creating campaigns / products that focus on accessibility and inclusiveness, rather than just budget.

One of the projects MediaMonks has been working on is Amazon’s Climate Pledge. Amazon is committed to creating a sustainable business for its customers and the planet. Amazon co-founded The Climate Pledge, a commitment to be net zero carbon across our business by 2040, 10 years before the Paris Agreement. MediaMonks not only signed this pledge, but also created the digital platform Climate Pledge.

Code d’Azur works on projects that concern mental health and racial inequalities. They also created the digital platform for Ocean Collective. A hard-hitting Dutch initiative made up of change agents and storytellers who aim to save beaches and oceans.

One of Fabrique’s strengths is its cultural heritage. They helped the Rijksmuseum (a world-famous Dutch national museum dedicated to arts and history, located in Amsterdam) move their collections online when museums had to close due to COVID-19. They researched how they could improve the digital “browsing” experience. To give the impression of being physically in the museum. They also collaborated with Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch non-profit organization that develops advanced technologies to extract plastic from the oceans. Fabrique participated in the design of The Interceptor – Phase II of the Ocean Cleanup initiative. The Interceptor prevents plastic from rivers from entering the world’s oceans. Much of it was a technology-driven initiative.

Kapooow is all about action rather than words when it comes to diversity within the marketing industry. An industry that was once rather closed. The one you could almost only get in through a certain network of people. Remco believes that attracting diverse talent is essential in order to truly become a diverse industry. This means considering a different approach when looking for talent. Whether it’s recruitment announcements, schools or recruiting agencies. You have to talk to the right people. Kapooow would like to teach people how to get to the right places, using the right channels. By raising awareness. One project they have been working on is + PlusOne. An initiative that helps attract and educate black and Asian talent within the creative industry.

The Netherlands and Amsterdam seem to have become a hotspot for digital design. What are the strengths of Dutch digital design?

Nik considers Dutch digital design to be one of the main Dutch export products, like cheese, tulips and football. But how did it go?

They all agree that it is a combination of factors. The pragmatic approach of keeping it simple. Be naturally curious. The Netherlands is a very small country that had to learn to understand the world in order to do business with the world. This made the Dutch relatively open-minded. What made the country and the big cities multicultural. Being multicultural opens up new perspectives on all aspects of life, including design, marketing and business.

Margot adds that the Dutch also have a great design heritage, from architecture to graphics to fashion. This has now also translated into digital design.

What advice would you like to give so that digital design can contribute to a better future?

Sebastiaan: ‘Never rest on your laurels. To feel uncomfortable. Challenge yourself. This way you will learn the most. By being outside your comfort zone. ‘

Nik: ‘Use your creativity. Creativity is a great tool for finding solutions. It also has a positive impact on your work, your life and your environment.

Amanda: ‘Try to focus on the users. On those who own the problem, who feel the problem. We call this user-centric design. A design focused on users and their needs. ‘

Margot: ‘Always design for a wider audience. Not just for yourself. It’s all about inclusiveness.

Tijmen: ‘Take the time to focus on your passion. On what you like to do. What are you interested in. It’s the only way to be good at what you love to do.

Remco: “Focus on the third crop. Not your own culture or that of your parents only. Focus on a mixture of these cultures. This will give you different and new perspectives. More relevant perspectives and allowing you to create a more receptive audience. ‘


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