Winner Threshold Award Commercial Practices 2020
On December 9th 2020, Jesse van Maanen won the annual Threshold Award for the Commercial Practices with his graduation project Gekkenhuis. In this interview, we look back at Jesse’s time at WdKA and look forward to his evolving career.
What have you been up to since graduation?
While graduating, I already started looking out for possible jobs. We were in a massive lock-down and all around you, you hear stories about how companies need to cut costs. So, from that moment onwards I started looking, and four weeks before my graduation I received confirmation that I could start working at Megawatt Agency in Eindhoven. After graduating, I started working there as a concept creative, working on positioning brands, companies and designing campaigns, for example for Coca Cola Company. That’s what I am still working on right now, and I enjoy it so far.
Can you tell us a bit more about your graduation work and how it came about?
It all started when I was looking for a new apartment. I was moving in with my partner at the time, which is quite a different step than renting a room in a dorm. I noticed that my idea of space was changing. Enough living space suddenly became much more important, and I noticed how difficult it is to find a large enough living space. That made me ask myself what ‘sufficient living space’ means. The right to sufficient living space is a primary law in the Netherlands, while the country is struggling with a large shortage of housing.
Starting from these insights, I posed the research question: ‘What if the world population keeps growing but residential construction stagnates? How will we live?’ Then I began to look at the way in which designers generally respond to such issues. We tend to come up with design solutions, but I wonder if a solution is the right design for a societal issue. Maybe adapting to the issue would actually be the best design. This led me to the idea to explore what would happen if we would train ourselves to live in a different position.
For one week I changed my living posture. I made a lowered ceiling from construction sail, slats and a rope. This allowed me to change the height of my ceiling, and forced me to live in a different posture. Eventually, the height of the ceiling was set at 80 centimetres, and I had to do everything crawling. I asked 25 others to do the same for a couple of hours. I interviewed them and filmed their sessions, and that eventually became my graduation work.
Which urgency are you addressing in your work?
As I mentioned, the Netherlands—just like many other countries—struggles with a housing shortage. Each country in the world believes proper living space is for everyone, but I wonder how we can live up to that when space becomes scarce? The world population is growing, and construction plans are restricted by nitrogen policies, so this will become even more challenging in the future.
And what do you hope your work brings about?
What I noticed when interviewing the 25 volunteers, is that many of them experienced living in a different posture as unpleasant and sometimes even painful, but they barely mentioned this in the interview. Instead, they started listing possible solutions—such as using skateboards to move around the house or designing clothing with protective patches—without me even asking. Maybe one of the conclusions of this research is that our body seems to be designed to adapt, and that we are constantly designing solutions in our head. Often these are extensions of the body, tools. This shows just how solution-oriented human beings are, and that goes for many more topics. I think that by demonstrating this, I definitely brought about a change in the mindset of a certain group of people.
Maybe one of the conclusions of this research is that our body seems to be designed to adapt, and that we are constantly designing solutions in our head.
How did you experience graduating in corona times?
As we just concluded, I think humans are actually very solution-oriented. What I noticed now with Corona, is how incredibly fast people are able to act and adapt. We have all facilities we need—internet, computers, technology—to keep the economy going instead of sitting back and waiting for the storm to pass. That is pretty amazing to see.
How has your graduation work influenced your perspective on your current or future practice?
Not only my graduation project, but also my studies in advertising have influenced my perspective. Advertising is quite labelled or stigmatised, most people instantly think about commercials. But we are trained in such a way, that we are able to participate in many different conversations. The way I see it, we are more like idea-generators. Whether that is within the commercial field, for municipalities, for architects or for exhibitions. Idea-generators cannot be clustered by a single definition. I think that when you are a designer, you can apply your thinking to anything. The multidisciplinary view that the Academy passes on to their students is something pretty powerful.
What will you be working on in the near future? What are your next steps?
This is a topic I could see myself working on for another couple of years, even just to keep myself inspired and to something other than commercial work. I see so many touchpoints, for example on a psychological level, how our new living posture would influence the relationships we have with our pets, or how the design of our furniture would change. A next development could be something I call space for thougths, a physical space—maybe an exhibition—where all of these different facets are presented. That could include works by other artists, designers, architects, filmmakers or anyone else working on the topic. A place where speculative designs are presented, where thoughts can be exchanged and where things can be experienced. So my next steps would be to explore these ideas further, to design an exhibition and to approach exhibition spaces.
I see so many touchpoints, for example on a psychological level, how our new living posture would influence the relationships we have with our pets, or how the design of our furniture would change.
How would you introduce yourself as a practitioner today? What would be your ideal job title, if you could choose any?
As I mentioned earlier, I think it is really difficult to put a label on the multidisciplinary mentality I developed during my studies at Advertising. Besides, when you introduce yourself as, let’s say, a copywriter, you will still be that in twenty years. On the other hand, a general title like ‘creative’ does not say much either. So, idea-generator? I would rather say ‘untitled’, and that can change every year or so.
Where do you hope to be in a year?
In a year, I still hope to still be an untitled idea-generator, but with a bit more work experience in concepting. And maybe one step further with the development of Gekkenhuis, my graduation project. By then, I hope I can make a first plan with an exhibition space to execute the ideas I have for space for thought.
What is the future of your work field, in your opinion?
Right now, advertising and commercials are still distinguishable from daily life. But I believe that in ten years, the difference will not be perceivable anymore. By then, we can no longer see the difference between advertising and other content. A lot of today’s content is already being created- or paid for by brands, and I think that will only increase. Right now, many people hate commercials and advertising, but in the future, maybe we will grow to love them. Advertising is about telling a story, and that could take many different forms.