Interview with Eberhard Schrempf
What makes design valuable? Answering this question is one of the core tasks of Creative Industries Styria, the networking organization of creative industries in the Austrian state of Styria. Since its inception in 2007, CIS has implemented numerous initiatives aimed at raising the awareness of companies and, ultimately, everyday citizens, to design and the added value that designers can bring to the economy. Their largest and most important event, the Design Month Graz, takes place every year in May. In 2023, the annual event will take over the Styrian capital in accordance with the provocative motto ‘Revolution’. This is not a call for the violent removal of those in power; rather, it is a call to react more quickly to the urgent problems of the present. “What we mean is an upheaval, a change. We are thinking of a multitude of revolutions, like those in the field of artificial intelligence or in the world of employment, where everything is changing. There is a green revolution and obviously a digital one. But as far as climate goals and the associated social changes are concerned, things are actually progressing way too slowly. And that’s why revolutions are needed,” explains Eberhard Schrempf, General Manager of Creative Industries Styria.
Schrempf is certain the creative sector can play an important role regarding the current challenges, clarifying that, “We don’t mean glossy design for the elite here, but rather a design that determines our everyday life. It’s about communication, culture and how we live our lives ‒ in such a way that it has a positive effect on people and the environment.” The way many designers, especially young ones, see themselves has changed in that regard. “Designers ‒ those who are still in training and those who have completed it ‒ no longer see themselves as service providers for the industrial sector; rather, they see themselves as sparring partners who have a say in why something is done and how much of a footprint it leaves behind.”
Bringing design to the people
In addition to the complex main theme of far-reaching change, which was underpinned with so-called revolutionary speeches during the opening evening of May 5th and was followed by a symposium the next day, CIS sees its most urgent tasks as bringing design to the people, reducing fear of the unknown and establishing access and networking opportunities. One initiative that accomplishes this in a fairly unique way is the Design Clinic – a point of contact for design emergencies. Since its inception for the Design Month Graz 2022, this humorous approach to design improvement has been further developed for 2023. “Following last year’s success, we wanted to add a special ward for digitization. The Digital Clinic is opening this year. We are looking to lower the threshold again and make it clear that designers are not gods standing atop pedestals, waiting to be called down by the masses, but rather, that designers are part of the ecosystem in which we all live. We must succeed in making it clear that design is something that determines our everyday lives, and quite extensively at that. Everything is designed: the only question is whether it is designed well or not. And unfortunately, there are more badly designed things than well designed ones,” complains Schrempf.
Design in the City
The Design Month Graz is a mixture of informative, exhibitive and festive events. One initiative that breaks down barriers is Design in the City. National and international designers present their works in shops with an affinity for design that are situated around Graz. The shops benefit from this because people can casually visit the premises of their businesses. Simultaneously, the creators get to see the benefit of having their pieces embedded in an environment that today has a high level of acceptance among the local population, as well as an appeal even beyond Styria. “We are approached by shops interested in design that want to take part. And then we say, okay, here we have, for example, Martin Mostböck, who has created a champagne cooler that fits perfectly into the Kastner & Öhler champagne bar. Then there is a meet and greet with the designer and so on. This brings audiences into shops that might otherwise go unnoticed. It lowers the threshold. And we also offer guided tours on Fridays and Saturdays,” Schrempf advertises. Pieces by Spanish fashion designer Eder Aurre are on display in Karin Zinganel-Wintscher and Susanna Ahvonen’s assembly showroom. French designer Guillaume Crédoz is presenting his minuscule lights at Teppichgalerie Geba, and Florian Blamberger‘s award-winning R9 TASK LAMP can be seen at digitalis. These are just a few examples of the 30 participating shops and cooperatives in Graz.
“It’s an umbrella we’re putting up.”
Made in Styria
In Styria, there are 4,800 creative companies, and around 17,500 people work in this sector. “With a share of 10%, the creative sector is strong in Styria. This is a similar percentage to Central Europe as a whole. There are many more service providers than direct marketers. This has to do with the really good situation regarding orders – mainly in industrial and product design – but also in service design and consulting. Styria has many mobility and green tech companies that invest heavily in research and development and that also understand the importance of involving design expertise at an early stage of product development or change processes,” explains Schrempf.
Creating awareness of design
The CIS network promotes and supports companies in the creative sector, and since its inception in 2007, it has made a lot of progress toward the acceptance and appreciation of design in society. “It certainly didn’t happen on the scale we would have hoped for. We may have increased and broadened the general public’s understanding by about 10-15%, but we haven’t taken the big step. It’s a slow process, and I understand that now. That’s why, some time ago, we intensified our efforts to approach the public more directly ‒ precisely during the Design Month. Of course, we are primarily concerned with affiliates of the creative sector, our members. It is for them that we try to strengthen the bridges between business and industry, that way, local designers receive commissions instead of design agencies in London or Hamburg,” says Schrempf, specifying the direction CIS is taking.
Circling back to the original matter at hand, here are some answers to our all-encompassing question of what makes design valuable? Designers ensure that things work well, that services are offered in a user-friendly way or that newly established brands have a strong presence. But they can do even more. In the areas of strategic design and social design, they actively contribute to improving the world. Last but not least ‒ and here we go again with aesthetics ‒ they make our lives more beautiful.
The Design Month Graz has a budget of around EUR 400,000. One third of this was raised by CIS itself, one third by the State of Styria and one third by the City of Graz. This is supplemented by sponsorships and other streams of income.
Interview by Markus Schraml /Formfaktor