Thoughts from Riga

From the 7th to the 12th of November, in Riga, the MakeDesign Riga – Dutch Design made in Latvia workshop took place, getting together students from the Design Academy Eindhoven and the Academy of Arts of Latvia to collaborate in projects with different craftsmen from the country. It consisted of an intense week of collaborative work in order to deliver several products and projects, to be exhibited the last day on a pop-up exhibition on the the Birza Museum, which also served as a working space for the diverse working groups during the week.

Dutch Design?

The first surprise of the week came just few hours after landing, on a dinner hosted by the Dutch consul in Riga, and who expected the ‘dutch designers’ from the Design Academy and got visibly surprised when noticing that none of the participants was dutch. But the implications of this went further than the surprise, for it made us think about what did it mean to represent dutch design without being dutch and how could this collaboration work evidence that mark.

No time to think… just to make!

On this short-time-format workshops, there is no much time to think or analyze about the question, but to experiment in the making to find the answers in an empirical way. This was the case of the workshop, for there was no time for stopping to think, or if you did, then you would be left behind. Some may argue that I am treating the thinking and the making as separate entities, while we should consider the making as a way of thinking (and the thinking as a way of making), and I would agree; the practical way of research we applied in the workshop, reflects the idea of the thinking and the making as an integrated entity in the process of design, rather than individual issues that require different contexts. (Rick Poynor said that making is a form of thinking and Heidegger that thinking is a craft, so there is a relevant background on design theory and philosophy around it).

The importance of collaboration

Another fact that got highly reinforced in the workshop, was the importance of collaboration with different stakeholders. Working, both with the students from the Academy of Art from Latvia, the craftsman and the different groups of students and tutors, gave intense feedback to every project, permitting them to grow exponentially from the state where they were at the beginning of the week. In my case, I had some vague ideas of what I wanted to do, also with some presumptions of what Riga and Latvia were; but it made a huge difference when I started to understand the reality of the locals by guidance of my Latvian team mates, and evolved the project (which passed from being my project, to being our project). But the collaboration with the craftsman was also crucial, specially in my case, in which I was working with the proactive Vilnis Vincevics, who participated in every stage of the process of our project, from the thinking to the sketching and making.

So, bottom line, if I had been said at the beginning of the year that I was going to Riga at the end of the year I would have not believed it (and also would have asked, where is Riga? -sorry Latvian friends, now I know much more than that!); but probably that is the most amazing part of all the experience, for you do not know what to expect of something that you do not know much about, and you usually get surprised. In this case I did got gladly surprised, specially by the human beings that where around the whole workshop and did not let us feel us cold as the thermometer said. Many thanks to all.