Their story reads like a fairytale and their creations make this fairytale come alive. It’s hard to resist stepping into the fantastic world of Ontwerpduo, a design agency. Their designs are eye candy and very inviting. Nathan Wierink and Tineke Beunders, founders of Ontwerpduo and also husband and wife, manage to make the impossible possible and to surprise the world with their beautiful and functional objects that make you smile. Tineke and Nathan go back a long way. They met at high school and have been together ever since. A talk about self-knowledge.
An outsider that fits in
There are certainties in life and ‘doing something creative’ was one of them for Tineke. Problem was that not everyone at school was as creative as she was, so she always felt a bit like an outsider. Tineke fiddled with everything. She preferred making dollhouses and transforming hamster cages rather than listening to what the teachers at school had to say. Her so called ‘Aha-Erlebnis’ arised when she changed to a more artistic school. Tineke about that period: “That’s where I met people like me. It was the first time I felt that I wasn’t weird or different after all.” It was also the place where she met Nathan and the beginning of an extraordinary alliance: being students at the Design Academy in Eindhoven (the Netherlands), during the formation of Ontwerpduo (Ontwerpduo was already a fact even before they both graduated with distinction) and later on when raising their own family.
From intuition to recognizable style
The official establishment of Ontwerpduo in 2008, was a necessity to deal with the ongoing product demands that came in during their student days at the Design Academy. The first 4 years were very demanding workwise, but eventually, it paid off. Today Ontwerpduo is an established name in Dutch Design World. And what started as a duo, is now a design studio with a small team of devisers and doers.
The Northern European style in their designs was already inherently present during their studies. Back then it was intuition. Nowadays it is a well defined style that is part of their story and drives the recognizability of Ontwerpduo: carefully selected colors, double functionalities, simplicity and very often a playful touch. Also noteworthy is that every detail or technical aspect of a design is made visible and therefore transparent, “because transparency leads back to simplicity” says Nathan.
Prototyping is important. That’s why a design studio as Ontwerpduo does more than sketching some new designs. Each design is preceded by a theme around which a new world is created. Pictures, impressions, objects, memories, … everything that adds something to that world is collected. Eventually, all these ideas lead to some real prototypes. Prototyping gives them the opportunity to stay close to their designs in terms of product knowledge, the usability of the material, the speed of the production process and eventually the feasibility of the product.
At the beginning of our career, we were living in squats. Our family found it harder to deal with this than we did, but in fact, we had fun
Don’t forget to play
When I ask Nathan what drives him to do what he does today, he is very determined : “I wanted to work as an independent, defining my own path.” He doesn’t work for money, he works to have fun. That’s why he wanted to run his own company from a young age. He continues : “you know, at the end of the day, I just want to have a good day. The only way to it (for me), is by living life on my own terms : by being independent, I create and assert complete control of what I do, how I do it, and why I do it that way. It has to be fun. And that is what drives me every day.”
If you really do what you love doing, money will come. I’m convinced of that. Of course, you also need to have a healthy dose of entrepreneurial urge
Trying to be good at everything, can lead to boring outcomes.
I really like these two people sitting in front of me. They’re both very talented and it’s fascinating to see and hear how their skills complement each other so well. But it wasn’t like that in the beginning because there were two directors with two opinions, who had to take one final decision. Tineke continues: “Over the years, we managed to focus on our strengths and interests. It grew organically. Besides, you can’t be good in everything you do. It leads to boring outcomes.” That’s why and how Tineke became responsible for setting the scene, for ensuring the right brand image, and for monitoring the product design to its final outcome. And that’s also why it became Nathans’ second nature to exploit his technical skills and knowledge to translate Tinekes ideas into feasible and functional objects. Tineke and Nathan aren’t a team just because they work together. They do more: they trust, respect and care for each other.
A breath of fresh air
In 2016, Ontwerpduo will move to the historic site where the first electricity generating station in Eindhoven was put up. Their current location has become too small, limiting their possibilities. The new location will act as a design studio, laboratory, workshop, showroom and furthermore they will integrate their home into this beautiful spot, bathed in light and space. “The home- integration will be an enormous advantage for our family and our way of working. At the same time, it will be our responsibility to keep a clear distinction between working and private hours. I already learned that this can be a struggle, certainly for me. That’s why I try to do everything very consciously now, doing one thing at a time. If I don’t do it this way, it causes stress, especially since we have kids”, Tineke explains.
When Tineke and Nathan aren’t at work, they enjoy ordinary things like playing with the kids, going on a holiday, cooking or spending time with friends and family. “We’re quite ‘homely’ you know. A lot has changed since the kids. We loved traveling by bike for years, but since the kids come along, traveling isn’t fun anymore in a way that it isn’t a relaxing activity anymore. Even cycling up a mountain is less strenuous than a pause with the kids!” Tineke laughs.
3 extra hours a day
Tineke : I would sleep all day long. It’s funny, because every night I try to go to bed early, but eventually it’s around 12 – 12.30 PM that I go to sleep… which eventually leads to a structural lack of sleep. So, it’s not because of the kids, but just because of the fact that there are too many nice things to do, that keeps me awake” (she laughs)
Nathan : I would spare my 3 hours a day to create 1 more day for the weekend in order to travel abroad for a city trip for instance. 2 days in a weekend are too short to do that.”
LECHAPERON : So, actually you would use the time for doing ‘nothing’ and …
Tineke : to sleep !
Nathan : I don’t think you would Tineke
Tineke : hmmm, think you’re right …
Lessons from the masters
1. Just do, and don’t stick to ‘an idea”.
2. Try to step out of your world and try to see and understand how an outsider would perceive your idea and product. And if that’s not possible, ask for feedback!
3. You don’t have to know and do everything. Search for people who can help and complement you
During the previous 3 hours I met a husband and a wife, 2 best friends, 2 talented designers, a doer and a dreamer, a design poet and a technical design wizard, a mom and a dad, 2 believers. All together in 1 team. Learn from the master(s)…