Mentorship and Collaboration. Interview with Aldo Bakker and Rianne Makkink

April 11, 2014 by Karen Verschooren

In the third debate, Jan Boelen, Aldo Bakker and Rianne Makkink discuss their practice of mentorship and collaboration in their role as teachers at the Design Academy Eindhoven, in their own studios, and as mentors in the upcoming design biennial BIO 50 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in September–December 2014.

Text Karen Verschooren

Duration 01:12:27, in English.

On BIO 50 – 24th Biennial of Design Ljubljana

To give a bit of background with regards to BIO 50, I copy from their info leaflet: “Engaging designers and multidisciplinary agents from Slovenia and abroad, BIO 50 creates eleven teams to work on a wide and comprehensive range of topics that resonate with local and global demands. Team mentors have elaborated a brief for each category, guiding participants in the creation of one or more projects to be developed and implemented during the Biennial.” It is thus safe to say that mentorship and collaboration are the modus operandi in the creation of this edition of the Biennial.

Both Aldo Bakker and Rianne Makkink experience their role as mentors in the context of BIO 50 quite differently than in the context of the Design Academy Eindhoven; students have become young professionals, many close one-on-one moments are replaced by distant group mentoring interspersed with a limited number of group meetings, a familiar context in the Netherlands is swapped for a new cultural context to operate in.

The Comfort Issue

The balance between inspiring and leading, between hinting and sitting back is mentioned, as well as the importance of creating enough comfort and trust such that one can move forward, yet at the same time continuously pulling participants out of their comfort zone.

Collaboration and Authorship

The fact that one is not mentoring individuals, but a group of designers, each with their own agenda, their own desire to contribute, to lead or mark the collaboration, poses a challenge. Indeed, as Henriette Waal, one of the participating designers mentioned: “I usually work with people outside the realm of design. For me, the challenge in BIO 50 is to collaborate with other designers, which almost immediately brings up questions about ownership.” Jan Boelen acknowledges that indeed also on this level the biennial is a tool for experimentation. Can one move from individual authorship to group authorship? All voices agree that it remains important to be able to track authorship since it not only points to ownership, but more importantly, also to responsibility.

Group Discussion

The interview quickly opened up to include comments, questions and remarks from the audience. Thank you all for your contributions, amongst others Henriette Waal for a beautiful metaphor about male fireflies, Vera Sacchetti for the comments regarding comfort and trust, and the point about authorship as an idea of responsibility, Liene Jakobsone and Lukas Wegwerth for making the connection to open-source practices, Tulga Beyerle for providing insights with regards to aspects related to collaborations between designers and companies; the importance of trust and willingness to share knowledge as well as the courage to speak up about the difficulties of collaboration, Jana Scholze for pointing towards the importance of being silent and an active listener as an important factor in the practice of mentorship.

And last but not least, thank you to the BIO 50 Biennial team for taking a leap of faith and creating the circumstances in which these modus operandi can be explored further.

Z33 Debates is a series of in-depth interviews, which take place at Atelier Clerici during the Milan Design Week 2014. With the interviews, Z33 rethinks what design can mean in and for the future. What can design mean for future thinking? What is the value of design exhibitions and biennials? Is there room for a European Design Parliament – a Manifesta for design? What is the role of mentorship and collaboration in design? And, finally, what can Milan Design Week Milan mean for the development of design discourse and critique? Follow Z33 in Milan or share your quotes and ideas about the topics of #z33debates Designing Futures with us on twitter @z33be.

Z33 Debates – Designing Futures
Mentorship and Collaboration: Aldo Bakker and Rianne Makkink
Milan Design Week 2014
Milan, Italy

Future Thinking: Tobias Revell
Practice of Exhibiting: Joseph Grima
Mentorship and Collaboration: Aldo Bakker and Rianne Makkink
Discourse and Critique: Johanna Agermann Ross and Tamar Shafrir



Design writer and critic Vera Sacchetti roundup of  Z33 Debate: Mentorship and Collaboration.
Duration 00:02:56, in English.


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