Working for a better world requires a holistic view

8 February, 2023

Together with Secrid founder and industrial designer René van Geer, we look back at the first edition of the Secrid Talent Podium. A conversation about a world in balance and the importance of supporting sustainable design talent.

In the world of product design, making sustainable choices is more important than ever. Instead of focusing on mass production and growth, we need to focus on products that are structurally better, more sustainable and more valuable. But how do you design those? And how do you build a business with them? More and more designers are aware of their responsibility and want to make a difference. Yet the right help and knowledge on sustainable product design are not easy to find. Dutch wallet label Secrid is an experienced expert in this field. To pass on their knowledge and skills to the new batch of design talents, they founded the Secrid Talent Podium together with Dutch Design Foundation and are global partners of the ‘Make It Circular Challenge’, a design competition run by What Design Can Do.

Stimulation platform

Their shared belief links the collaboration between the three parties that good design can contribute to a better world. They are joining forces to support and encourage designers to work towards this necessary change. The first edition of the Secrid Talent Podium consisted of an exhibition, a lecture and two scouting tours. Participants also received a cash prize. “Encouraging design talent is really part of DDF’s DNA, says director Martijn Paulen. We are, therefore, very happy to have partners like Secrid. Designers can learn a lot from their vision on design, but the concrete opportunity to take the DDW stage and present their work is also valuable. That support really forms a flywheel for talent.”

© Nick Bookelaar

Industrial Evolution

In October 2022, the first batch of design talents from the Secrid Talent Podium was presented at Dutch Design Week. The selected designers work from different disciplines (from construction to healthcare and from textiles to homeless shelters), but share one vision: they create applied products or materials that contribute to a better world. They lead by example, looking beyond one aspect. Taking a holistic approach, they weigh sustainable choices at all levels of their business. Secrid summarises this way of working as the Industrial Evolution, a set of principles that forms the basis of the Secrid Talent Podium. On this approach, participant Ermi van Oers (Living Light) looks back positively: “It was an honour to be part of the Secrid Talent Podium. The exhibition shows that bringing together a group of designers who are very different from each other can create a powerful collaboration. A great example of how the design world is transforming into an ecosystem, where we join forces, work together and create a symbiosis.”

A world in balance

This holistic way of working is also at the heart of Secrid’s design vision. Founders and designers Marianne van Sasse van Ysselt and René van Geer explain: “It’s about a world in balance. That balance is now disrupted. The search for recovery consists of several components. Using circular materials is important, but at least as important is thinking about extending a product’s lifespan. And this does not always go hand in hand. It is also essential to think about how they are used because products are extensions of ourselves.”

Trial and error

That weighing up all these aspects is no easy task, René and Marianne know from their own experience. Secrid may be successful now, but it did not happen without trial and error. After graduating, they started an industrial design agency and worked for several clients. But the high turnover rate of products and the way they worked started to backfire. The credit crisis in 2008 also left them in a bad position. “We had gigantic debts, and the tax authorities would seize our house,” René says. A low point that they managed to get out of in the nick of time thanks to help from friends. Because of this experience, they knew: the course had to change. They opted for their sustainable principles and making one good product. So with Secrid, they started again from scratch. Step by step, they built it into the company it is today, inspired by Taoism and feng shui. Because, as Rene explains: “Everything is connected, and everything affects each other. You have to be able to see things in a bigger picture. When you’re working towards a better world, looking holistically helps enormously.”

Professional approach

Now that Secrid is firmly on this foundation, it is time to pass the baton and share experiences. Unlike when they started, there is now much more awareness about the impact of our production and consumer patterns on the planet. For some time, Secrid has been helping designers on an individual level to make sustainable, holistic design choices. The corona pandemic made them realise it was time to take a more professional approach. In DDF and WDCD, they found the perfect partners to scout exactly the design talent working from this mission, allowing them to increase their clout. This also helped Vivian Erdtsiek (Circular Material) move forward: “Through the Secrid Talent Podium, I got in touch with a broad network in the design industry. That helps me to introduce more designers to my material and thus expand my sales market. Above all, it has provided a good and personal connection with Secrid as a mentor.”

Looking ahead

With the first edition behind us, it is time to look ahead. The enormous interest the Secrid Talent Podium received during DDW confirms that there is demand for such an initiative. Therefore, the second edition will have even more time to talk to the selected designers and find out what they need. René: “Those conversations are valuable, that’s where we can make a difference. Furthermore, we are looking for designers with drive, who really want to go for their product. And who are willing to go the hard way. With the Secrid Talent Podium and the Make It Circular Challenge, we focus on the effect of a product, on the innovation and the making process. It is not a design award, but the design vision should be inspiring.” This is how Secrid, DDF and WDCD are giving the new generation of product designers a big push forward. Based on the conviction that this group can really make a difference.

Want to know more about the Secrid Talent Podium? Then contact programme manager Justine Kontou.