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Can digital design help contribute to a better world?

by Nicole Pickett-Groen

April 16, 2021

Together with New Dutch Wave, Dutch Digital Design invited six Dutch digital design agencies to share their thoughts, and relevant 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 very best in Dutch digital design. SXSW took place online, between 16-20 March 2021.

Meet Sebastiaan Scheer (Head of Design, MediaMonks), Amanda Boomstra (studio director, Fabrique), Nik Nieuwenhuis (co-founder and CEO, Code d’Azur), Margot Gabel (lead designer, Build in Amsterdam), Remco Dongor (co-owner Kapooow), and Tijmen Mulder (co-founder, Robot Kittens). They talk about how digital design and their industry can contribute to a better world - taking 2020 as a starting point. A year where issues like racial injustice, inequality, accessibility and the climate crisis, amidst a global pandemic, have only been amplified.

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

Definitely. All six agencies feel very strongly about these topics. From a personal perspective, but also from their agency’s perspective. This is why they are taking part in this discussion. It matters to them a great deal, and they would like to share how they can contribute to help make the world a better place.

To help with local and global initiatives. Sharing their expertise and knowledge but also their resource. Helping people and businesses communicate, but also spreading the word about matters like accessibility and inclusivity. Using digital technology to offer solutions to these complex issues, and making the world a little smaller.

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

First of all, Sebastiaan mentions that the pandemic has meant that lots of international businesses travel less. Not only has this been a consequence of the travel ban due to COVID-19, but it also had a great effect on businesses being more sustainable. It has made businesses realise that travelling is not essential. That working from home is possible, workable, and also acceptable.

All six agencies hope that 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 interaction, not just digital interaction, to create a physical energy that is necessary to be creative. So, a mindset change is necessary, but with a very important touch of real, physical interaction.

Nik agrees that human interaction is important but he believes that digital technology will continue to evolve, and help offer solutions that will further enable this human touch at a distance. For example, by using Augmented Reality (AR). Margo nods. She feels that digital technologies and agencies should be the drivers for innovation. To offer more innovative ways to reach an audience, and to explore how we can interject a multi-sensory approach that is able to evoke emotions. Also, at Build in Amsterdam they have focused the last twelve months on how to make the web more accessible through education, raising awareness and offering guidelines.

Remco feels that this pandemic has highlighted that there needs to be more room for mutual understanding. That technology can help create this feeling of togetherness, even if you cannot physically be together. He also adds that action is so much more important than words. We have kickstarted something now, and it is essential to keep going. They all agree.

So, how can and does digital design contribute to a better world? Would you like to share any examples of your own work or others that do exactly that?

Yes, digital design can definitely contribute to a better world.

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 inclusivity, rather than budget only.

One of the projects that MediaMonks have been working on is Amazon’s Climate Pledge. Amazon is committed to building a sustainable business for their customers and the planet. Amazon co-founded The Climate Pledge—a commitment to be net zero carbon across our business by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement. Not only has MediaMonks signed this pledge, they have also created the Climate Pledge digital platform.

Code d’Azur work on projects that concern mental health and racial inequality. They have also created the digital platform for Ocean Collective. An impactful Dutch initiative that consists of change makers and story tellers who set out to save beaches and oceans.

One of Fabrique’s focal points is cultural heritage. They helped the Rijksmuseum (a world renowned 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 enhance the digital ‘browsing’ experience. To make it feel like physically being in the museum. They also collaborated with the Ocean Cleanup - a Dutch non-profit organisation developing advanced technologies to extract plastic from the oceans. Fabrique were involved in the product design of The Interceptor - Phase II of the Ocean Cleanup initiative. The Interceptor prevents plastic from the rivers entering the world’s oceans. This was very much a technology-driven initiative.

Kapooow is all about action rather than words when it comes to diversity within the marketing industry. An industry that used to be rather closed. One you could almost only enter through a certain network of people. Remco believes it is essential to attract different talent to be able to actually become a diverse industry. This means looking at a different approach when looking for talent. Whether we’re talking recruitment ads, talking to schools or recruitment agencies. You need to talk to the right people. Kapooow would like to educate people how to get to the right places, using the right channels. By raising awareness. One project that they worked 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 hot spot for digital design. What are the strengths of Dutch digital design?

Nik sees Dutch digital design as one of the main Dutch export products, like cheese, tulips and football. But how has this happened?

They all agree that this is a combination of factors. The no-nonsense approach of keeping things simple. Being curious by nature. The Netherlands is a very small country that had to learn to understand the world in order to do business with the world. This has made the Dutch relatively open-minded. Which in turn has made the country and larger cities multi-cultural. Being multicultural offers 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 and graphic design to fashion. This has now also been translated into digital design.

What is the one piece of advice you would like to give when it comes to digital design being able to contribute to a better future?

Sebastiaan: ‘Never rest on your laurels. Feel uncomfortable. Challenge yourself. That 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, life and surroundings.’

Amanda: ‘Try to focus on the users. On those who own the problem, who feel the problem. We call this user-centered design. Design that focuses on the users and their needs.’

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

Tijmen: ‘Make time to focus on your passion. On what you love doing. What interests you. That’s the only way to excel in what you love doing.’

Remco: ‘Focus on the third culture. Not your own culture or that of your parents only. Focus on a mix of those cultures. This will give you different and new perspectives. Perspectives that are more relevant, and enable you to create a more receptive audience.’

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