While Droog is perhaps best known for quirky furniture, their recent endeavours have looked at different aspects of design. Today Agata Jaworksa spoke at Northumbria University about her own work investigating transportation for growing produce, and the Dutch design group Droog’s forays into dead stock and the grey economy.

Polish-Canadian-Dutch designer Jaworksa (“I’m Canadian today, as there’s another Canuck in the audience”) has a personal connection to Northumbria: she has worked with current PhD student Giovanni Innella on a number of projects in recent years. They both went to the Design Academy in Einhoven, where she did her thesis work on the potential for transport to do more than just ferry around ‘slowly decomposing’ produce. Inspired by such case studies as the UPS-Toshiba collaboration where the courier company not only collect broken goods, but actually service them, she looked into how transportation could help ‘make things in transit’. Her chosen produce was mushrooms due to the high harvesting cost. While the model won’t work at present as mushroom growing is still an art more than a science, the work has been carried on in other places and was awarded the 34th best invention of 2008 by Time Magazine.

Her work at Droog has included a number of projects. The main underlying theme that she and Innella brought to Droog was that of what industrial design would be without the the industry.

A project that came out of this was ‘Design for Download‘: an online tool that would allow people to make their own Droog objects within some curated boundaries. [The limits of what can be created reminded me of a presentation I saw about the Burberry site: where they will not allow you to make terrible fashion choices!] Another was Up, focusing on ‘deadstock’: taking unsold stock from various manufacturers and inviting designers to be ‘revivers’. There were some inspired results such as fused chairs and carpet shoes, but ironically the biggest selling item was a set of ceramics that no one wanted so were coated with blue silicon by the curators. When they attempted to do this with business partners, they got some other interesting results (e.g. magazines turned into pencils) but ran into an unexpected problem: businesses do not want to advertise that they have dead stock through repurposing it.

The Open House project attempted to transpose the ‘outsource everything’ grey culture of New York to the suburbs with results ranging from classes to a museum of the suburban house. Thanks to the support of one member right from the start (as well as a grant from the Dutch government and other partners in the US), the project was well received by the local community, if not by the New York Times. (Jaworksa notes that the Times’ criticism was that they didn’t address the necessary underlying structure, but believes that had they done this it might not have been news anyway).

The final project she talked about was inspired by a news item that income tax might be replaced by goods tax, thereby making materials far more expensive. The Material Matters show at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair was themed ‘Material Future Fair’ and included a number of provocations as to what a future with materials as a luxury might be like. The results included rented beds, dead animals being made into products, and “plastic is the new gold”.

She also made a number of interesting points about Droog. While the movement’s initial celebration of found objects for design made it appear to be all about nature and sustainability, the movement has made an effort to contradict this, ranging from a series based on plastics to one dedicated to high tech. For all of the wittiness, the movement makes an effort to remain accessible. Jaworksa does a lot of writing for the projects and has noted that any writing that becomes too academic is immediately rejected.

Vicky Teinaki is a user experience designer at Newcastle upon Tyne agency Orange Bus. She is also working on a PhD at Northumbria University about better ways of communicating design methods within the design industry.