Klara Demyttenaere

Academic research could have been on the cards had Klara not been driven by a strong desire to ‘change things and make the world a better place’ hands-on. Product Development at Antwerp University seemed to offer the right combination of creative and technical skills she needed to do this. Then in the final year of her Master, and as an Aspiring Researcher, her interest in Service and Systemic Design grew. Eager to put theory into practice she joined Namahn in 2017.

Why didn’t Product Design tick the right box?

During my degree I realised that I was not interested in designing purely consumer products, things that destroy the world. I’m more interested in design that has less of an ecological impact or design that helps to reduce ecological impact and social design. As a designer, I think you need to ask yourself philosophical questions, such as what kind of a world do you want to design? If you don’t there’s a risk you will get stuck in one linear direction. I want to see things differently.

What is an Aspiring Researcher?

This is a very new field in academia and it offers aspiring final year Master students the opportunity to write a theoretical paper in addition to their normal course work — however, your subject must have a certain fit with academic research. You could see it as an introduction to doing a doctorate.

Why didn’t you continue further with research?

First I want to experience working as a designer. I love to learn new things and dive into strange new territories, teaching myself new skills. Design methodology is very broad and some Namahn methodologies are totally new to me. It’s so much fun putting them into practice! There is huge variety in the work we do.

What was the topic of your research paper?

The paper describes the first part of my research into how the lack of ownership in product-service systems, where users no longer own the product, changes the way people use and take care of products. This is a good example of rebound effects that result from changes made in a system without looking at how they might influence other parameters of that system. The paper itself is a literature review in which different insights from different fields that look into the product-user relationship were brought together. It was published by Elsevier in 2016 and I got to present it at a conference about Product-Service Systems in Italy. Today I would approach design research slightly differently, from a more conceptual perspective with real-life testing.

Why does Namahn appeal to you?

I was attracted by the way we solve complex problems. We focus on people, on what they want and how they behave. We touched on this at university but not as in-depth as Namahn. Designers are not gods. Whatever you want to achieve as a designer, you cannot impose or force change on people. Systemic Design is already a great step forward. It opens up so many opportunities to see and understand a system and how we work within it in order to create a positive shift. The Namahn Design Thinking approach focuses on getting multiple stakeholders with different points of view together and communicating without conflict. Policymakers are starting to see what this can mean for them and that evolution is very exciting.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

Not having bought any new clothes for three years! I try to be very aware of everything I buy, where it comes from and who makes it. I mainly buy second-hand clothing and I’ve also started making a lot of my clothes. I’m largely self-taught, plus the Internet is a great source of clothes making tutorials.

Other passions outside work?

So many to choose from! Apart from sewing, knitting and making clothes, I also enjoy painting and printmaking. I used to play the piano and would love to start again, plus any kind of dance (ballet, contemporary…). I need to be constantly challenged!

What would you most like to change?

I hope I’ll still be around when we once again appreciate what we have. Bigger is not better; I believe in quality over quantity. Of course, this is a very complex problem and I’ve not yet figured out how we, as designers, can contribute to this change. But I do what I can in small ways; for example, by sharing my attitude towards buying new clothes with my friends has already made them become more aware.

Your life motto?

Be the change you want to see.