Interview with Martijn Paulen, CEO of Dutch Design Week

Dutch Design Week takes place in Eindhoven every year since 1998 and is among the most globally renowned design events for its experimental focus and daring spirit

CEO of Dutch Design Week, Martijn Paulen took some time during his busiest week of the year to share some thrilling insights on what happens behind the scenes, the lines of thought leading this exciting event and his most anticipated design week, besides the Dutch one of course.

We did it all. We went in all the way. We jumped on our flight to Eindhoven and studied the map of the event above the clouds. We landed, grabbed a bagel, and ran to get our press passes. We explored the most remote corners of Dutch Design Week.

Craftsmen, visionaries, minimalists, performers, innovators, architects, students, researchers, people of science, art and everything in between: we met them all and these are the highlights.

On Sunday afternoon, we also co-hosted a talk about Architecture & Public Spaces, sharing the stage with some of the most prominent names in the field.

There was one thing left to do: talking to the man behind the wheel.

Dutch Design Week exhibition
Design Academy Eindhoven – Graduation Show, Campina Area – © Max Kneefel

Dutch Design Week is among the most globally renowned design events. What do you that think makes DDW truly unique?

Martijn Paulen:

“I think Dutch Design Week stands out in two aspects. The first is its future-oriented mindset. Dutch Design Week started with designers opening their workshop to the public to show their current work that would only be commercialized in the following years.

The second is the number of curated exhibitions on design projects from the best graduates of the design academy as well as other Dutch and international designers and studios that show their most current design solutions.”

Dutch Design Week installations - Interview with Martijn Paulen
‘What A Time To Be Alive!’, Central area – © Cleo Goossens

“If not us, then who?” was the slogan for Dutch Design Week last year, delivering a high-dose of responsibility to design professionals. This year the slogan evolved further to an urgent call: “If not NOW, then WHEN?” What are today’s designers’ entitled and required to be responsible for?

Martijn Paulen:

“The theme of this and the previous year reflects on the paradox of this moment of civilization where we have almost endless possibilities to act with new technology and new materials.

On one hand, there has never been a moment in history where we can deliver and or be more active as designers as today and on the other hand, we as a species have never faced such big problems, from what to do with the planet and with ourselves.

The enormous urgency to act creates an enormous responsibility to act. “If not us then who? and if not now then when?”.

I don’t think designers alone can save the world. Yes we need creative thinkers, yes we need design thinking and designers but we also need the coalition between politicians and big companies if we are to solve our problems and head in the right direction.

Nonetheless, designer today are becoming more aware that they are or can be part of the solution and I think they should step up and take this bold roll but maintain modesty and realize that to solve such a big problem they need to incorporate themselves into a much bigger and more complete equation.”

Dutch Design Week eindhoven - Interview with Martijn Paulen
Studio Rocco Verdult, Strijp T+R area – © Joan Knecht

What is the vision leading Dutch Design Week and what do you plan to achieve in the upcoming years?

Martijn Paulen:

“I believe we should focus on our DNA and maintain our future-oriented design week where you can see the process more than than the final solution.

It’s not so much about Dutch design but about the Dutch week of designing. I don’t think of the Dutch Design Week as a way to pat our own back and show off our Dutch talents but more as an international hub of designers looking to make meaningful connections with other designers and problems around the world and discuss the next steps of action.”

Dutch Design Week crafts
Studio RENS, Strijp-T area – © Britt Roelse

Your fair is very unique in the sense that it’s not focused on commercial brands and instead really focus on experimentation. Do you consider integrating commercial brands in the event?

Martijn Paulen:

“Research and development is our DNA and we are proud of it and try to hold on to that. Of course, marketing and sales are important in the field and it is possible to see it here and there during the Dutch Design Week but it’s not our core and I don’t think it will ever be.

When large companies ask for a place in Dutch Design Week, we invite them not to come with their market products but to come with their current process or what they are trying to achieve with it.”

Dutch Design Week installation close up
EXPO: CIRCULAR> MATERIALISTS, Downtown area – © Ralph Roelse

I was very happy to learn about the DDW Music Festival, is fascinating to see how design and entertainment can blend and influence each other. What do you think of these two disciplines coming together and affecting one another?

Martijn Paulen:

“We want people to watch and get submerged in great design stories but at the end of the day, we want people to enjoy the city, have a glass of beer, listen to great music and relax too.

Of course, there is an intersection between design and entertainment since we look for new ways to interact with the audience and audiences are people and people are, of course, the domain of design.

From sound design to stage design, there are opportunities for intersections and collaboration with outside, different fields, resulting in different and very positive experiences.”

Dutch Design Week VR experience - Interview with Martijn Paulen
Bart Hess, NRE area – © Nick Bookelaar

What is your personal most anticipated exhibition for Dutch Design Week 2019?

Martijn Paulen:

“I invite everyone to check all projects and its hard for me to say I have a favourite, but I can say one of my favourite parts of the event is the connections the week can create.

Just to state an example we had a conference called Antenna with the best design graduates from around the world: some top guests and I was very happy with the fact we were able to connect a Ugandan designer, working on a project related to soil erosion degradation, to a decision-maker in the United Nations, building a partnership between the designer and such an organization.

The project was ingenious, simple and applicable to mitigate African desertification. This is just one among other great projects and it’s exciting and inspiring to see this type of networking.

That’s why we do this event and that’s what we work all year to accomplish.”

Dutch Design Week food design
Giulia Soldati @ The Object is Absent, Strijp-S area – © Tommy Köhlbrugge

Other than Dutch Design Week, which upcoming design event in the world you cannot wait to attend?

Martijn Paulen:

“One would definitely be Design Indaba, taking place in Cape-Town, South Africa, during March. This year will also be the 25th anniversary.

What I find really exciting about this event is the different set of problems that designers have to deal with and the resulting solutions that they present when compared to the projects showcased in European design events.”


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