Designer: Piet Hein Eek
To look at these trays, without knowing their name, you can be sure that they’ve borrowed their form from a traditional craft.
But the designer is Dutch, with a little help from the locals.
I first saw them in SCP years ago in London and I have never forgotten them (or the Marimekko plates). After doing a bit of digging I now know that they are made from palm wood, which grows quickly but warps easily. Hein Eek designed these baskets to combat this issue, the thin laced slats can shrink and expand but the baskets remain intact.
Hein Eek visited a workshop in Ben Tre at the request of Fair Forward (a Dutch fair trade company – formerly called Fair Trade Original) and designed a series of baskets for them to sell through Fair Forward to the international market. Upon returning to Ben Tre to teach and explain the complicated designs people kept coming forward to him with ways to improve on his design, they knew the materials best!
A local fisherman chipped in to show him the best way to knot the wire that now holds the slats together really snugly. A son and daughter of a forestry worker told him how they could season the wood to best minimise that damned warpage.
These baskets are a commercial triumph and three family workshops have expanded to become a formal business operation in Vietnam. I imagine a huge part of their success is because Hein Eek listened to the locals and deigned their ideas and expertise into the products.
It is far too easy to think you know best and to think that your design is finished when you put down your drawing board and like what you see, but if you don’t listen and learn from the people making and using your products then you’ll never improve and grow as a designer.
I am in the process of learning from the successes and failures of my first product collection (thankfully at lot more of the former!) and I’ll be wholeheartedly applying this knowledge in my second collection.
I can’t wait!
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