Deputy Chairman of Marketing at Bekraf (Indonesian Creative Economy Agency)
Before working for the government, Joshua Simandjuntak had already made a name for himself as one of the top industrial designers in Indonesia with his firm, Karsa. In addition to completing an Art and Design Foundation course at Central Saint Martins – University of the Arts in London, he also earned his BA Hons. in Furniture and Related Product Design from Ravensbourne University, also in London, and then completed his studies at the Royal College of Art. Having been a student in London, he then worked there as a product developer under the direction of the famous British industrial designer Tom Dixon.
What do you think about the development of product design in Indonesia?
It is becoming quite exciting because we are starting to see a lot of exploration in terms of modern materials and designs. What is also interesting is the business acumen of the product designers themselves. Previously, product designers only designed a product—the only thing in their job description —but now they are coming forward with great products and attractive packaging, so we can say that they are absolutely ready for business. They certainly don’t think just about creating a product.
What are the strong points of Indonesian design?
We (Bekraf) recently came back from the New York Now exhibition where we saw pavilions from Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and various other countries, which were distinctively different from one another. For instance, there was the industrial-style Taiwanese pavilion where all of the products were attractively designed, looked adorable and functioned really well. But they were all machine-made.
In contrast, in the Indonesian pavilion, even the wooden watches on display had a handmade quality to them. They were machine-produced but some parts were still done by hand, like the leather straps which were traditionally crafted. And that’s where the attraction lies. I always remind people that we are not an industrial country—we are not industrialists. Historically, the strength of our product design has always been the fact that it is handmade. There is local wisdom in the creation and materials, not in the machinery or the economically-driven production where we have to produce as many products as possible in the shortest time. That is not Indonesia. Indonesia is about creating good products by hand. Therefore in any exhibition that our country has taken part of, both for the product and handmade sectors, our tagline is always ‘contemporary Indonesian crafts design’—and that’s where our strength lies.
What criteria do you apply when choosing contemporary Indonesian designs?
In addition to originality, our curatorial criteria included (1) handmade, (2) exploration from its cultural roots, (3) having an exploration value regarding material, and (4) being contemporarily designed. A woven cloth, for instance, is just a piece of material and, as such, it has little practical use in our daily lives. But now there are designers who turn the woven cloth into camera straps, bag straps, wallets, pillow case, and many other useful things. Today’s product design takes our local wisdom and packs it creatively into practical products that we can use every day.
Another example is ceramics, which are (1) handmade, good quality and ready to be exported, in addition to (4) having a contemporary design. Wicker is another example. When produced (1) with a high level of craftsmanship, we can see its innovative side and (2) when it is designed using locally-based patterns we can picture these products (3) in a contemporary setting.
Is there a particular material or technique that is trending in our society?
Almost all of the techniques have their own niche. Wicker material, for instance, has long been a staple for furniture and has its own market. Timber is now being explored as a material for eyeglasses frames, watches, radios and many other things. Every time I show people a wooden radio, they immediately remark, “Wow, this is amazing.” They are mesmerised by the innovation. Bamboo is currently trending, as well as leather goods such as wallets and passport cases. The key competitive edge for these products is the design, how the materials are eventually packaged, designed, and given an added value that can win the market’s attention.
Is there a new direction in the evolution of product design in Indonesia?
For design-related tourism, for instance to find a particular product, people still flock to Bandung, Yogyakarta and Jepara. Creative designers in Jakarta and Bandung are doing very good business. Creative youngsters here are keen on ‘manipulating’ objects, producing and then selling them. The same thing is happening in Jogjakarta with the mushrooming of stores selling contemporary Yogja souvenirs. Earthenware products being sold there are becoming more varied, some are made with glass blowing techniques for example. But the main trigger today comes from the art schools. In Jakarta there are a lot of design schools, resources and capital. And most importantly the market is there, so it is not surprising to see burgeoning bazaars—semi-permanent places, pop-up stores, and even permanent ones—in the city selling a range of well-designed products and fashion items.
Other destinations, such as Ngada in Sumba island, has long been a place to find innovative product designs, but people don’t go there primarily in search of those products, but more for the natural beauty or history. It’s more by chance that visitors can see women in the village actively weaving traditional clothes.
What is Bekraf doing to support the development of product design in Indonesia?
Bekraf has the Department of Research, Education and Development, which is initiating a programme called Innovative and Creative through Collaboration of Archipelago (IKKON). The concept of IKKON is to bring together designers and craftsmen/artisans from all over the country. For instance, fashion designers are getting together with weavers from Ngada on Sumba Island in order to develop ready-to-wear fashion products.
In another area, where batik is produced, we have commissioned the services of a product designer to design an electric canting (a pen-like tool used to apply liquid hot wax in the batik-making process) that can be used to draw on chiffon material, which normally can’t be used for batik cloths because the process needs consistency and speed, two thing that are not compatible with chiffon. With the electric canting, batik artisans can draw on chiffon, which opens a new sphere of opportunity for them. We have also been taking local designers abroad to showcase their works in exhibitions around the world. These are just some of the things that we are doing.