A conversation with Dieter Van Den Storm

A journalist, a curator, a communication expert – Dieter is everything-design – except for being a designer himself. We asked him to imagine what our post-covid19-world will look like and what role design will take in this new era.

How do you experience the corona crisis on a professional level?

“After the anxiety and uncertainty that came over me in the first week, there came a certain calm. As a freelancer, I am used to being flexible with assignments. The long-term planning – meanwhile – fell apart, but paved the way to more instant assignments. I also discovered that I am quite good at crisis communication, which helps in periods like this. Feeling the vibe of the moment and putting it in the right message is key!”

How do your clients deal with this?

“The creative industry sector is a fragile sector. Before the outbreak of Covid19, an economic crisis was already hanging over many like a sword of Damocles. One company is more armed against an additional crisis than the other. That certainly has nothing to do with the size of the company, but with its flexibility and resilience. I am fortunate to have clients who belong to that first category. Not that everything is going very smoothly, the crisis brings the necessary challenges and shifts for everyone.”

You specialize in design. Do you see opportunities – possibly even missed opportunities – for the design world at the moment?

“As far as sales are concerned, the design sector is now also forced to go even more online. We were already lagging behind in Belgium anyway. This catch-up move is now being forced, but will only benefit in the long run. The momentum also makes you think about communication, marketing and production. In a global world we are going to return to the local, especially in terms of production.”

Are there things they are trying out in your industry that would otherwise not come up? (Eg. Online auctions? Heavy discounts?)

“What pleasantly surprised me are the spontaneous actions that arise and that respond to the situation. We launched a call with the Vitra Circle, the permanent shop of showroom models from the furniture brand Vitra. Those who needed a good and ergonomic office chair to work from home could borrow one. The available seats were out the door in no time.”

Any ideas that were already on the table but are suddenly gaining momentum?

“The Finnish design company Artek is more topical than ever with their slogan Buy Now Keep Forever. Their  incentive on Conscious Consumption was already devised last year, but is now called for. Being more aware of the things we are doing is also something that applies to the Biennale Interieur. If all goes well, it will take place at the end of October. Responding to the zeitgeist and changing approach is something that the Biennale has learned through trial and error in recent years.”

How do you see the future of design?

“I sincerely hope that the time is here for truly innovative designs. Trends that follow each other at breakneck speeds and are released to engage consumers every season are killing the industry. I’ve heard it a lot lately: the world does not need more objects, but designs that help us further, that are useful and bring added value. Conscious consumption – and I’m not just talking about design – is becoming essential.”

What do you think about showrooms? Are these still necessary if a large public now visits museums and galleries virtually?

“Just like in art, nothing beats the original in real life. Accessories can still tempt you online, but you still want to test, touch or look at large design pieces such as a sofa, a cupboard or a chair. The idea of the traditional showroom has long been outdated. It should become a physical experience space with an additional elaborated digital section where the experience can be continued. In this way, you offer the customer the option of also placing his or her purchases online. I strongly believe in a mix of things. A recent example is CUP in Ghent, a project by Dift: a sporty place where you can exercise, have bicycles repaired, follow workshops and drink coffee.”

> Stay in the loop. Check out Dieter’s instagram here.