Croatia, a rather young political state, started life in capitalism only fifteen years ago, but instead of developing its own products, made its capitalist everyday life mostly about anxiously awaiting new products imported from the West. One of the factors of fascination with those products was (and still is) their design. That word was imported into Croatian dictionaries at the same speed that designed imported products filled the shelves of Croatian stores.
Design soon became the center topic of everyday discussions on
what's aesthetically acceptable, and was imposed onto every (imported,
of course) product in the market as the new number one criterion to
determine what is and what isn't desirable. In the early 1990s, the
Croatian products that survived, entered the visual combat with the
vibrantly varied design of imported brands fully unprepared and design
reaffirmed itself as a trendy, foreign, non-Croatian word. The word
became something of a synonym for every product that looked as if it
was imported from at least, Graz.
It was about the same time that local designers put their heads together to affirm their profession in the academic circles and Croatia got its first ever Design Studies at the University of Zagreb; essential for the formation of the new generation of designers and the professional high of design in the 1990s. Those studies enabled professional formation of young designers and soon after they started the market they became overwhelmed with a critical mass of new designers eager to apply their professional status. Following every transition rule, pioneer works of those young, student designer forces spanned from corporate projects for banks (some of which are now long out of business) to experimental CD covers for cool Croatian musicians and techno parties.
The yearly production of Croatian designers soon became bigger than ever before, as did the number of professional designers, and it became clear that further qualitative evaluation of that production was necessary. The Croatian Designer Association, the only association of professional designers in Croatia, realized it was necessary to restructure the newly formed situation in design, to assemble all new designer works and appraise them according to professional criteria. Young designers were invited to join the profession in the first Annual Design Exhibition, which in 1999 for the first time brought together affirmed designers of older and mid-generations and the newly graduated young professionals.
The exhibition gave a clear picture of the situation in the Croatian design concerning the profile of designers and more importantly, the profile of their clients. The clients of the Croatian designers turned out to be mostly non-profit organizations, culture organizations, smaller companies, theatres, magazines with small circulation and with even a smaller number of pages, belletristic publishers and so on. Only several designers have made the short excursion into the world of the Croatian economy, which was the original target of the design and which really needs it badly.
After the exhibition showed, the profession has concluded that the finest Croatian design and its creators are marginalized by the client profile and circulation. Designers, instead of taking part in the creation of new Croatian brands, supporting development of domestic products and creating the nation's visual identity and visual culture, stay aside in key moments of defining the country's market identity, creating high quality designer products that are offered to only a few, instead of being mass-manufactured and presented in the mass media. The following year's exhibition held in spring 2001, repeated the success of the first one. Gathered works of almost the entire designer scene, confirmed the new generation of designers and even differentiated certain stylistic features of Croatian design, but again presented one conclusion, the state and the business branch still were not major clients.
Consequently, the Croatian Designer Association, that in these last few years has mostly been involved in the affirmation of the profession and establishing criteria for the appraisal of the profession, as well as in giving design the place it deserves in the Croatia's cultural heritage. The association decided to take a radical step in establishing a relationship between the business branch and the designers, creating the Design center's foundation. The primary task of the design center would be to establish deeper contacts and cooperation with state structures, potential clients and the society in general, to conceive and realize projects that would help educate people on advantages and possibilities of investing in design and make the state structures, economy and culture understand and use design as a means of development and practical transformation of their everyday business. The Croatian Designer Association has been developing this program for several years now and to make sure it gets realized, they have appointed a professional manager specialized for design to manage the Association and the future of the Center).
After several years, during which the Association was managed solely by enthusiastic volunteer members, the first design specialist, professional manager, Tatjana Jallard, has already begun concentrated work on the realization of the Design Center and is looking for solutions for current problems facing the design profession. Her first and biggest task is dealing with the Design Center offices / building / space and together with the Association's current board members including president Boris Ljubicic, she is considering the Design Center housing solution from the point of the view of the state and city's need to create an institution to service design in general. The Design Center would offer educational programs for both designers and businessmen, an exhibition space and a database where potential clients could find information on designers. Their ideal location for the future center would be the museum and Gallery Center Gradec, designed by architect Igor Emili and built in early 1980. It's a building whose full potential has not been profited from for years now and whose aesthetics were the topic of numerous discussions.
Evidently, the designers have chosen that very building for a reason, believing that such an object should be given to those who can fully appreciate the value of its aesthetics and understand its stylistic traits of the period in which the building was designed. Connecting Gradec and design could put an end to two separate stories of devastation. The designers have discussed the idea of the Design Center and its possible location with President Mesic, who expressed his support and also agreed to be the sponsor of the greatest designer event in Zagreb since 2001, the third Annual Croatian Exhibition of Croatian design. It opened on October 21st this year in the Glyptotheque of Zagreb.
The third Annual Exhibition of Croatian design has once again brought attention to the finest examples of design in categories of product design, graphic design, illustration and new media design, but also to the still open question of design in Croatian products. That problem is mostly visible in the category of product design, which is based on production itself. From the 130 exhibited works, only 16 have been presented in the product design category, which signals an overall lack of production capability. Cooperation between the designers and the business branch could result in the creation of authentic Croatian products for which design could definitely be a motivating force for scarce domestic production potential.
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About this article
This article was published in the winter issue of Croatia Airlines' in-flight magazine called 'Croatia.'