Dutch designer and author Jeroen van Erp turns the pages of his book to number 16: ‘Beware of Purple’ it reads. “There are no purple buildings and no purple cars. The hypothesis is that purple is not a colour you see often in nature. It’s unable to express style in a durable way, so approach it with caution,” he says.
Think Like a Designer, Don’t Act Like One (BIS Publishers), by its very name, is aimed at a niche audience, but anyone remotely interested in the ‘how’ of pop culture will find the book a delightful read. Coupled with rare photographs and nuggets about products, practices, people and places, Jeroen brings together lessons that he has gathered over the years as a professor and Founder-Creative Director of the multi-disciplinary design firm, Fabrique.
Be it the story of how a toilet brush got its name, Excalibur; how a chocolate company showed its customers what unequal wealth distribution tastes like, or how a crashed lemon tart can be a work of art, there are 75 lessons to be learnt from the book. Jeroen was in New Delhi for its launch at The Netherlands Ambassador’s Residence on April 24, where he spoke of how design is not what you see but what you do.
“As a designer, you are creating interventions that are aimed at change but it comes with a responsibility. Designing is a matter of choosing, and to choose you must know who you are and why you want to get there,” says Jeroen. At Fabrique, for instance, from designing museum websites to empathetic healthcare and passport control, he has been advocating the need for designers to “question reality, embrace complexity and come up with solutions that bridge conflicting interests”. Jeroen illustrates the idea through his work on Schiphol Airport’s automated passport control system. The idea of moving “from a criminal check to the warm welcome of a shopping zone” meant turning intimidating immigration counters into places of visible access for passengers and giving them the benefit of trust through self-service of scanning their own passports.
With architect Sourabh Gupta of Noida-based Studio Archohm, Fabrique collaborated on Agra city branding. The idea was to optimise the cultural assets of the city and make it a brand that everyone, from the tourism department to the hotelier or an autowallah, could embrace. They created a graphic of the Taj Mahal dome within the capital letter A, thus making the rather minimal design a symbol of the city. In 2011, when the Indian government invited Dutch experts to review design education, Jeroen travelled across the country and discovered that besides a lack of design schools, there were no design role models who internationally represented India. “I think you will be valuable to the world if you can tackle challenges and direct processes,” he says.
As the elections rev up in India, Jeroen shares a concept that his think-tank, Redesigning Politics, came up with in 2012-13. The idea that gossip supersedes long-term vision during election campaigns, and that the system rewards lovability more than capability led him and his team to come up with a solution to make democracy more creative and collaborative. “What if instead of voting every four years, you get to vote on your birthday? So then, every day is election day. It works like this. A few days prior to your birthday, you get a postcard or mail from your prime minister, saying it’s time to vote. You can visit a website which has all the ideologies and vision statements of the different political parties and then cast your vote. And after four years, it’s counting day. This will ensure you don’t vote for a political party based on their two-month rhetoric but their consistent performance through their term. Such a system will make voting pure again. We received a lot of reactions; everybody loved it except the politicians. It means changing the rules and the world, but it certainly can be imagined,” says he.