Design in 2019: A Q&A with the director of Medellín Design Week
“our biggest challenge is to ensure that latin american design is valued at both the emotional as well as the economic level.”
- David del Valle
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Colombian designer David del Valle is a visionary within the Latin American design world. With an international and simultaneously Colombian perspective, del Valle has managed to represent the country in the most important design fairs in the world, returning to Colombia with lessons he infuses into his many initiatives and projects. We sat down with the creator of TuTaller Design studio and the Medellin Design Week fair, to talk about what he learned in 2018 and what he’s looking forward to in 2019.
Translated from Spanish.
David, you've been designing for about ten years. In your opinion, what is the function of design?
The function of design depends on its context. Design can have a global aesthetic, connect to the world, but the needs or applications depend on the context, or where the designer is located.
I believe that in Latin America the function of design is to allow society to develop in the most resourceful way possible. Here, the function of design is to achieve a high quality with very few resources. I think that is what makes us stand out, because we are able to compete with other contexts that have much more technology, resources, and economic support.
“People come to Latin America because of the stories, the sensations, the colors, the flavors, The same happens with our design.”
David del Valle
Do you have a favorite designer?
Of course. My favorite designer is Oki Sato of Nendo, and sometimes he competes with Konstantin Grcic. Some days I am Konstantin, other days I want to be Nendo, and I am torn between art and expression, or functional minimalism and aesthetics and perfection. I try to consider both in my thought process as a designer.
Any design objects that you love?
One of the objects that I love is the May Day lamp by Konstantin Grcic. I had the opportunity to purchase it the first time I went to the Cooper Hewitt in New York, and it is now my reading lamp and my favorite object.
How has your Colombian culture influenced your work as a designer?
I think it connects a lot with the first thing I said, about resourcefulness. As Colombians, we try to get ahead however we can. We are a culture that, if we do not find our place here, we move to another place to look for a future there, but we never give up. We make the best of what we have, and I think that is how Colombian culture has influenced me as a professional. If there is no design event, I create it; if there are no international opportunities, I find them and make them happen.
What were your most important projects of 2018?
First, the development of the IQOS store in Parque 93 in Bogotá. It’s a project in which Philip Morris itself chose the suppliers and those who would develop it, and for me it was an honor to be considered.
Another was the London Design Biennale, where I was granted the opportunity to represent Colombia, with another 40 countries, showing a little bit of what we can do, in response to their theme, emotional states.
Then there was the exhibition of my work in the Salone Satellite in Milan, curated by the Campana brothers. Having been able to meet them and work with them was incredible.
Tell us about your experiences last year at the fairs in New York, Milan and London. What was your greatest lesson and which was your favorite fair?
Last year I learned a lot. Milan Design Week taught me that the context of Latin American design is beginning to emerge in a very interesting way. I think we are becoming more well-known and that was not so easy before. I see a lot of international interest in Latin American and African design, and there is a huge opportunity there.
New York Design Week connected me with the gallery scene in New York, which I had very little experience with previously. I met Cristina Grajales and the curator of Cooper Hewitt, among others. New York always allows me to connect more with the American context, and its energy is contagious, so much so that I come back to Medellin filled with energy to keep working.
The London Design Festival blew my mind, it was the most incredible experience of my entire life. The people I met, the director of MoMA, Richard Rogers, Tom Dixon, etc., to be able to talk to them about my culture, was unforgettable. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to be there and get to know a country that believes so much in design.
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Tell us about the idea behind the newly built TuTaller Gallery.
We realized that we did not want to make a showroom for TuTaller. TuTaller is all about personalization, it's about being present, having conversation, having a coffee together. We do not see ourselves as a store. We had the experience elsewhere in El Poblado and it distanced us from our client.
The gallery gives us the opportunity to change the display whenever we want. We wanted a space where we could have a lot of flexibility; a dynamic and changing space. We plan to change it at least three times a year, and we want to bring another type of client here: one that values materiality, that wants to be in a more personal space and wants to hear our story.
What comes to mind when you think about Latin American design? Do you think that it can be defined and united under a common definition?
I think that Latin American design is focused on its culture, its roots, its tradition. I once heard a great friend, the director of a large design company, say that tradition did not contribute to design. I disagree, and I think that more and more people connect with emotional design and its origin, versus if an object is simply functional.
When a Latin American designer starts working, he injects the history of his region into the object. People come to Latin America because of the stories, the sensations, the colors, the flavors, that's why foreigners come. The same happens with our design.
The defining characteristic of Latin American design is its contact with the earth, with nature. It is often very colorful, although I think I am one of the less colorful Latin American designers, I tend to be very monochromatic in my designs.
What is your vision for Colombian design in 5-10 years?
I want a Colombian to be named as the best designer in the world. It’s a challenging task, but I think we can achieve it. More than creating an object or quantity of brands, it has to be achieved with a totally disruptive concept, something that nobody has ever seen.
What are the threats, challenges and areas of improvement for those working in design in Colombia and Latin America?
The biggest challenge is to ensure that our design has emotional as well as economic value. We should be able to charge what we deserve for what we produce. We as a studio have made a very high investment, for instance.
I think the biggest room for improvement lies in the product itself. First of all, we should end the culture of copying and help change that unfortunate image we have in Medellin. Designers should invest the time they spend copying in creating and developing new concepts. I think we all understand that we live in a connected world, in which we have the same access and capabilities as any other person in the world, and we have to sit down and create in order to give a good product and service.
In terms of threats, companies like Ikea and Japanese product companies are entering the market. But the biggest threat is not these companies, rather the loss of value for local design, something which we have been working for, for almost 10 years. The biggest threat is that people lose that notion of buying local, or that Colombians forget what so many designers have done to give value to their own context.
What can we expect for Medellín Design Week 2019?
Medellin Design Week will have a very strong presence in 2019, as we will be holding it 4 times this year. We will start in March, then follow with another event in May, then August and then December. We decided to divide the event to give it more remembrance throughout the year. We want the city of Medellín to be known as a design capital, and that is harder to achieve with just one event per year.
Starting in March, we will take Medellín Design Week to the local universities. We are going to visit several design universities, and bring experts, talks, workshops, and conferences to the students.
In May is our May Day exhibition during Wanted Design within New York x Design (New York Design Week). We consider May Day to be part of Medellín Design Week. Also in May, we will host a series of private events in Medellin with local design stores, acting as the curators, inviting experts, etc.
In August, we will host a conference, inviting national and international guests. We will host the Business Design Meeting, focusing on the important issue of royalties in design, which focuses on how to collect royalties from companies.
In December, we will host a commercial fair. The idea is for designers to focus on selling their products during this particular time of year.
The concept of dividing our Design Week was especially conceived for Medellín, and is a result of coming to terms with the fact that Medellín is not Milan: we don’t have as enormous a public for these events, and it is necessary to continue fostering design little by little. I’ve spoken with many leaders of design weeks around the world, and none of them had presented their event in this way. According to feedback from designers, businessmen, and academics, the idea seems to be making headway, because they will have the opportunity to do things in more detail, with more time, and better planning.