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Designing Development

Text: Emily van Leemput Media: Bart Bolluijt Graphics: Rosalie Oomen

Sitting on Strijp-S, enjoying the sun on a February afternoon, we find ourselves discussing design with Meike Fleskens. For the past five years, beginning in the start-up phase, she has been working at Manus VR. The Eindhoven based company focuses around gloves for virtual reality applications, bringing your hands into the virtual space.

After an initial decision for a study Fashion Design at ArtEZ, she found the focus too heavily on the aesthetic aspect of design. Moving on to travelling, followed by a study Concept Development and Imaging, this led to an internship focusing on wearables, textiles, and trends. Ending up working with TextielMuseum in Tilburg, things started getting in motion. This also brings us to our first topic of discussion:

How do you see design as a job?

“Right now, I have two jobs. Both revolve around design, though they are very different. At Manus, the main focus is on finding solutions and bringing those into the product – all while still considering the aesthetical aspect of what you are doing. Functionality and comfort are what you’re working towards. Because you’re working in a team, you rarely make decisions completely on your own. It is about reaching those solutions together. In my own company, I mostly work on concept development. This puts the emphasis on the aesthetic value and the story behind it.

While they differ, there is also an overlap with both jobs. Most of that lies in tactility. This is always a very important factor in design to me. It is about the feeling it brings people, about enabling them to do something. At Manus, our products enable people to use their hands in virtual reality, to increase their personal identity through technology. This is what happens in my concepts as well. Though in a totally different way, it is always about letting people augment part of their identity.

It might not feel like producing a glove carries that same story, but looking at the totality the focus does lie in providing users with the opportunity to intuitively use their hands in virtual reality.”

Different fields of technology and design have been developing exponentially over the past years. The field of wearable technology is one of these. How do you view this development?

“It has definitely changed the past year and is definitely still changing. Even when only looking at the availability of materials, it is very clear how strongly the field has been changing. There’s much more demand, in line with the growing interest in the field. This growth can keep going for quite a bit, though there is also the risk of hitting a wall.

Right now, a lot of the work being done in wearable technology is still pioneering. The need for balance between technology and durability, however, is becoming increasingly clear. Especially considering wearables, products need to withstand a certain type of wear and usage. The technology also needs to match up with this. It is not possible to treat a piece of wearable technology in the same way as a regular piece of clothing. There’s a point where you can keep adding on technology, but while this might add functions, it also puts that aspect of durability out of balance.

It’s important to keep pushing boundaries. Whether this is personally, or socially, it is about actively discovering and researching. That boundary can be pushed in any direction, the focus is on moving it.

At the beginning at Manus, there was nothing but a gardening glove with a PCB glued on. This was version A of the product. Version B and C followed, the latter of which actually went out to customers. Right now, version D is being produced and sold, but new additions are still being made to it. In the process, you run into new opportunities and chances. They might be for the product itself, they might be on a more personal level. The constant focus on the future, and not getting short-sighted, are on the forefront of importance.“

Lastly, if you could give one piece of advice to design students, what would it be?

“Networking. It’s important to find a balance between investing time and knowledge, and what it brings you. Dare to take a chance, but do keep sight on that balance. For every opportunity, you can consider the three F’s: Fun, Future, and Finance. Score all three factors between zero and three. If the total is at least six, it is worth it. Consider a project that doesn’t bring you anything financially for example. For this to be worth your investment of time and knowledge, it has to be both something you really enjoy, and something that helps you further. By taking chances, you’re extending your network, and shaping opportunities.”

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