Co-creation is central to Renny Ramakers’ understanding of design, particularly for solving the complex issues that bedevil the world today. “If you want to tackle big problems, it’s not possible to work alone,” says the co-founder of Droog in this video interview with Design Indaba.

Ramakers was brought out to Cape Town by the government of the Netherlands to participate in its programme for World Design Capital 2014. The result – a combined effort of co-creation – was the Department of Design, a three-week pop-up space in Gardens, Cape Town, to incubate new partnerships and foster collaboration between Dutch and South African designers, businesses, academia and government.

Ramakers says she was struck by the creative applications of waste she encountered in Cape Town, particularly in resource-challenged areas such as Khayelitsha.

"Even with the most dreadful materials ­– with waste – you can make a beautiful environment," she says.

A case in point is the headquarters of Department of Design, which was conceptualised by Studio Droog using recycled materials such as planks, crates, egg cartons and bicycle spokes. “We had no idea how it would turn out,” she says.

The Dutch designer is a strong advocate for balancing beauty and functionality, both in her own work and for the design industry as a whole.

“I never liked the idea of designing something just because it’s beautiful. I am pleading more for beautiful things, but I am also pleading for beautiful things that make sense,” she notes.

Design must improve people’s lives, she says. Droog’s latest project typifies this ethos by looking at new ways of marrying people’s needs with innovative technological solutions. Called “Desires and Design, Desires and Living, Desires and the City,” the project involves interviewing people to see what their needs and desires are. This is in reverse to how most urban infrastructure currently comes about. “Most cities are built in a top-down strategy. We want to see how we can connect the dreams of people, with the help of technology, to their environment,” Ramakers explains.

Now almost a veteran of the design scene in the Netherlands, Ramakers sees a lot for the new generation of designers to engage with in the world today. “If I were a young designer, I would take the challenges that this world is now offering and see how you can deal with it in a creative way and collaborate with others to make it happen.”

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