Hella Jongerius at Design Indaba 2015

The iconic designer expresses how she keeps a holistic human touch in the mechanical world of industrial design


Dutch industrial designer Hella Jongerius has been a design force to be reckoned with for decades, known for both her own products and the work she’s done for companies such as Maharam, IKEA, Vitra and more. One of her latest projects was creating the interiors for Dutch airline KLM’s new 747 and 777 planes, which let Jongerius give her handmade, holistic design approach a new home in the skies. Jongerius spoke of this new project at this year’s Design Indaba conference, as well as talking about her general design ethos. Stating that there’s “too much shit design” being created today, she believes designers have a social and environmental responsibility, and that both consumers and producers need help to get away from the pull of constant newness.


“I look at the food industry and how many people are eating healthy now, all the foodies that you have, and hope this trend will spread to garments,” Jongerius says. “That you’ll only want a few things, but that the things you do buy matter, and you keep them for a long time. Luxury, but on another level, taking care of the planet. I hope that will happen, and as a designer I try to make that happen. I try not to make a lot [of products] and to only make something that doesn’t already exist, or where you can really push the boundaries—to aim for a high quality and to be critical of myself, because I like to create a lot. It’s my profession. It’s important to say no.”


At Indaba, Jongerius explained that her design mentality is focused around five steps. First, to design the materials yourself and second, to have a hands-on design process. Speaking of her project for KLM, she pointed out that it’s “important when you’re surrounded by industrial things to recognize yourself as a human being.” Jongerius’ third tip is to celebrate the imperfections, something she herself has done since the beginning of her career. Fourth, she recommends working with your archive to refine things already created, and finally, to have a signature aesthetic as a designer—advice that has clearly served her well.


For Milan Furniture Fair this year, Jongerius is making good on her own design advice by going back and reinventing an archive piece, her Polder sofa. Unlike other things she has created where the design can’t be changed—like the Eames chair, which she made in new colors for Vitra—the Polder will be completely remade. “It will look the same, but the ergonomics will be improved. There’s another angle of seating and we changed the shape, so the ergonomics are much nicer. We’ve also designed new buttons, and I couldn’t find the right textiles, so we designed new textiles especially for the Polder,” she reveals.

Jongerius continues to create work that advances this idea of a more holistic design approach, believing that design should appeal to the imagination of the viewer and that what’s important is the relation between the object and the human being.

Lead image courtesy of Design Indaba, all others courtesy of Jongeriuslab