Denny R. Priyatna
Principal of AIEVL
Denny R. Priyatna may be young but he has already had an extensive portfolio, along with some reputable awards, such as the Singapore Furniture Design Award’s Merit Award in 2013. He was educated in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Design at Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and pursued his higher education at Central Saint Martins at the University of the Arts London (UAL). Years after his starting position as product designer at Lumina Group, Denny recently exhibited his new brand AIEVL at Maison&Objet Paris.
How has the product design industry in Indonesia developed today?
Personally, I have only started to follow the development of design product in this country since 2011. Since then, there has been a gradual development in the Indonesian design product scene, but none is radical or massive. People are starting to adapt—various things that were deemed strange have now been positively accepted by the market. A lot of styling styles are becoming more familiar and the public are getting smarter in recognising design, all thanks to social media.
There are quite a lot of players in the furniture industry, some with export orientation and some with local ones. What we see on the surface are the ones creating mass products but apart from that there are a lot of smaller ones that are starting to develop their business. At the moment most of the smaller industries are shifting to home décor and kriya (handicrafts), which do not need too much funds but can generate faster cash flow. The furniture market itself is rather elusive. Despite the vast exploration of design in the small and middle scale furniture design scene, development in that sector is faltering. Indeed, there are developments in the large scale/export sector, but design-wise they are only presenting trends that can definitely be accepted by the market and therefore unique and cutting edge designs in this sector are rare.
What sort of design is demanded by the market at present?
An up-to-date design—a design that is visually appealing, similar to the references found in Pinterest. Moreover, at the moment people tend to want to have a more personal product which appears more unique than the existing designs. People tend to go for value and story behind the product design.
In architecture, people have more awareness towards green materials because of its grand scale, which becomes one of the selling points of the field. For furniture design, the same awareness is relatively scarce for local consumption but we see more of that in the export market because that is the standard in various countries abroad. Price and ergonomic points are still the main concern for sales in the local market. Other focuses like green materials are still unable to provide a strong selling point.
Is the trend beneficial for Indonesian designers and artisans?
Of course, because our products are based on handiwork, craftsmanship and natural materials, thus making us fluent in creating culturally-based products that can tell a story. Speaking about products, here we have learnt about handiwork long before we are introduced to the new product designs that have only been around for 40-50 years.
What do you think about the development of handmade products?
They are more acceptable abroad. In Indonesia, people are still testing the water. Perhaps the Indonesian people are beginning to understand handmade quality products, but some of them are still under the wrong impression about these products. Handmade products cannot be as precise as machine-produced products, and therefore they are presented in all their imperfections. In fact, handmade is all about imperfection. By presenting a product that is imperfect, we are ensuring a unique quality and personal touch for each product as not one product is the same. Even factory-made IKEA brand is starting to create products with handmade touches. So, the thing that was previously done and controlled by independent designers is now accepted by the public and is following the trend.
What is the current condition of design product?
In the era of start-up businesses, people are competing to create new products. But when we talk about start-up, we also have to remember that they have to start small. Therefore we can find more home décor and accessories products in the market. At the moment there is also a trend about User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) for tech start-ups, which has opened a lot of prospects for interface design. This in turn has prompted a lot of young designers to shift their interest towards the digital world and diminish the creation of products that involve craftsmen. I don’t know whether this is a fluctuating trend or whether crafts are indeed going obsolete. Lately we have seen the regeneration of product designer profession, but only in areas where the people earn their living from making handicrafts, such as in Central Java and East Java. In large cities such as Jakarta and Bandung, young designers opt to work with digital design and start-up businesses.
What is the orientation in material selection these days?
We have a lot of resources for materials, but on the other hand, we are only focusing on certain materials, such as rattan and timber. Yet innovative designs are rarely created with rattan. People tend to use ready materials using the available technique.
If we compare products in our country with Taiwanese products, for instance, they are going all-out with excellent craftsmanship. When they talk about bamboo, they do not only mean bamboo tubes or bamboo strips, but also woven bamboo pieces, or even doing some explorations in the finishing stage. This means although everything is made of bamboo, which means that the material is the same, nothing is boring because everyone has a different design characteristic. What is important is how we develop the material into a modern entity.
Volume-wise, rattan is now becoming more fluctuating and I believe there will still be a market for timber in many years to come. We have seen several designers creating products that combine rattan or timber with other materials.
In Indonesia, we are still talking about design in its commercial context; in other words products that follow market demands. It is true that there is innovation, but not a lot. With regard to commercial design, each designer presents a product that ensures efficiency of material, easy production technique, and good ergonomics so that costs can be kept to the minimum. They also make certain that the previously bulky and complicated designs can be made slimmer and simpler. You can say that at the moment, the movement is geared at styling—about shapes and forms. Whatever material is in use, people will eventually become bored not because of the same material, but because of similar design.
European designers are always on the lookout for new materials, such as the innovation of bio-material. They even came up with the jargon: new material is better than new design. But this is perhaps due to the constraints of materials that they use. It is getting difficult for them to source local materials. Timber and bamboo are hard to find there and that is why they need to look for new materials. This is totally different from the condition in Indonesia where we still have plenty of materials. Designers might think to explore new materials, but the people will demand to know what for. However, this might create another dilemma because we also need exploring and creating new innovations.