HELLA JONGERIUS

The Design Issue

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The Human Factor, Essay by Alice Rawsthorn

By the early 1990s, when Jongerius graduated from the design academy Eindhoven, it was evident that the environmental and human price to be paid for sameness was unacceptably high. Some of her peers responded by tackling the environmental crisis, and devoted their work to designing objects, systems and spaces that can help the rest of us to be more ecologically responsible. Jongerius chose to address the human factor, by using her role as a product designer to develop mass-manufactured objects, which combine the practical benefits of standardization with the richness, complexity and ambiguity that we have traditionally associated with lovingly handcrafted pieces and cherished antiques.

Jongerius began her experiments with these methods in limited-edition pieces, but they took on a new significance in her designs for mass manufacturing…. Another trick is to create the illusion that a brand new, impeccably engineered product is as precious and fragile as a family heirloom. Jongerius has achieved this by programming what look like flaws or signs of ageing into the production process.

Hella Jongerius

Colored Vases

 

By designing her objects to look aged, flawed, eccentric or artisanal, Jongerius disguises their sameness by making them appear quirky and idiosyncratic. As a result her industrial products offer us the functional benefits of sameness – strength, resilience, affordability and precision – without the monotony. They seem so charming, quirky and distinctive, that we assume they are also meaningful and memorable.

Yet Jongerius has also found ways of animating industrial products that are neither oppositional nor illusory, by imbuing them with sensuality. One method lies in her use of colour.

Jongerius’s love of colour can be read as another attempt to subvert Modernist convention, and to some degree it is. One of the myths of the Modern Movement is its indifference to colour. This isn’t entirely correct, but is so pervasive that visitors to that early Modernist totem, the Bauhaus dessau, are often astonished to discover that its monochrome palette is enlivened by splashes of vibrant hues. Nonetheless many twentieth-century rationalists disdained colour, along with anything else that they suspected of being unnecessary decoration. Jongerius believes that, as a result, today’s industrial designers aren’t taught how to make the most of colour, and tend to make lazy, ill-informed choices.

Rigorous though her research is, Jongerius’ approach to colour is essentially joyful, visceral and intuitive. the same applies to her love of unusual textures, finishes and, even, her manipulation of decorative elements and historic allusions, not least because her designs are always beautifully composed. Her work as a designer proves that the same industrial system, which, for better and worse, has efficiently delivered millions of identical monoblocs, can embrace playfulness, sensuality and pleasure too.

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