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Extra/Ordinary. A further dimension on the rise of New Normal Dornbracht Conversations 3 in Iserlohn

Iserlohn What would the ‘design movement’ of today look like? Or are ‘design movements’ a thing of the past? Dornbracht, the manufacturer of luxury bathroom fixtures, organized the Dornbracht Conversations 3 on February 17 to find answers to these and other questions. Titled “Extra/Ordinary – A further dimension on the rise of New Normal”, a panel of experts discussed the latest trends and new activities in design at the company's headquarters in Iserlohn.

For over 15 years, the international family-owned company has supported various exhibitions and projects as part of the Dornbracht Culture Projects. Dornbracht Conversations – or DC for short – is a platform focused on the ongoing developments in design, architecture and art.
The starting point for this year’s event “Extra/Ordinary – A further dimension on the rise of New Normal” was the fundamental question of what determines the design trends of today and tomorrow. Perhaps there are a number of sub-styles and micro-movements that are not unified in one overarching language of form.

In the first discussion, Andreas Dornbracht, designer Michael Sieger and Vitra Design Museum Program Director Mateo Kries examined the history and evolution of design in this context. They agreed that “Memphis” was not only one of the most important design movements of the 20th century, but also the last great one. Created in the 1980s as a countermovement to the functional rationalism of modern design, it was inspired by the rapid transformations in postmodern society and focused on creating a sensual relationship between the object and user. "It was certainly the most radical departure in the history of design in the last 30 years," said Michael Sieger. “The philosophy behind it is still exciting and relevant today because Memphis developed the emotional aspect of design.”

Thanks to the introduction of standardized mass production, modernism has dominated the history of design. Despite the important change in aesthetic triggered by “Memphis”, nothing has evolved to take its place. As Mateo Kries explained, both movements had one thing in common – a type of ideology that made them more than just trends. They were both connected to the developments within society. Since then, there have only been micro-movements that have occupied niches. One example is the Dutch collective Droog, which uses designs as a narrative to communicate with their users; another is Super Normal.

The countermovement, Super Normal, launched by Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa is a response to the design takeover of the world. Instead of celebrating the designer ego that aims to attract attention at any cost, it focuses on the object itself. “Super Normal combines the idea of minimalism with the experiences from Memphis," Kries explained. “It connects these two very contradictory design movements – the search for extraordinary, yet functional and normal objects.”

As Andreas Dornbracht observed, “The crisis of the last few years has brought the focus back to quality.” Another essential aspect – aesthetic longevity, and next to sustainability, the most important issue today is digitalization. Dornbracht's Managing Director asked: “It has been part of communication for years now. But how does it impact other products, like a faucet or textiles?” Other major challenges include the changes in consumer habits and demographics.
“Our products are hardly status symbols,” he explained. “The way a product looks is less relevant. The experience that the product allows is more important. There is a certain value in how people interact with the product.”

As Mateo Kries described, geography and digitalization are real factors that cannot be created, but are simply there. Most movements arose in response to these kinds of factors; they were not created or driven by the market, but were simply the logical consequence of something that happened in society. “Instead of being used as a status symbol or a means to represent one’s self, design now plays more of a background role. This is essential for design to be truly sustainable,” said the curator. “Design is more rational, maybe calmer in a normal way – and this is a good basis for thinking about sustainable objects.”

In a second discussion, architect and designer Matteo Thun, creative director Mike Meiré and design and art critic Thomas Wagner debated the term “Extra/Ordinary”. Mike Meiré chose it to describe the new character of design in which everything is possible and nothing excluded. In a time not dominated by any one expression of form, but rather short-lived trends, that is shaped by social and technological changes and uncertainties, the extraordinary becomes the ordinary – and vice versa, depending on the context.
All of the participants agreed that the aesthetics of New Normal represent design’s response to the “knowledge and information society”. Today, a good product needs to have several different attributes. It needs to be light, easy to understand and precise, visible, versatile and permanent. Matteo Thun used the words of Italian writer Italo Calvino, which he still considers relevant today. Permanence is especially important. When it comes to the longevity of a brand, it has two meanings – an aesthetic and a technical one.

Digitalization has transformed our material-oriented culture into a virtual, digital one – with products that guide people directly to information. Frequently cited examples were iPhones and iPads, which have a reduced, minimalistic design to give the content – or software – more space. Design plays a secondary role here and becomes less visible, but not less significant in any way. “We have the old Lucius Burckhardt theory in mind: design is invisible,” Thomas Wagner explained. “But now, we have a new kind of object with some kind of behaviour and usage patterns hidden inside.”

Due to the increasing digitalization of society, the greatest challenge facing design is to resolve the contradiction inherent in people being able to use products that they do not understand. As Thomas Wagner said, design should play the role of intermediary in today's society by helping us deal with the overabundance of information surrounding us. After all, no one should forget that design is directly connected to economy.

As Matteo Thun explained, we live in a pulverized society. The co-founder of this Italian countermovement commented that a design movement like “Memphis” wouldn’t even be possible today. It arose from frustration and served as a counterpoint to the dominant expression of form – namely the purist industrial design of the 1970s. Thomas Wagner agreed that the large systems have become weaker, which implies greater freedoms. The major broadcasters have disappeared, allowing people to communicate using several different channels.
“Perhaps New Normal represents a paradigm switch to a new sense of openness,” Mike Meiré said. Dogmas are losing ground as identities become more significant. He concluded that this aesthetic may be the product of a kind of revolution – one not driven by anger or frustration – and that time and distance will be necessary to analyze it thoroughly.
Dornbracht Conversations 3 answered many questions and generated several new ones. In the end, all of the participants agreed: Even without dogmas, our saturated design world does not lack orientation. The processes of dissolution open up a number of new possibilities that we are unable to define today – ones which involve various types of contradictions. Today’s challenge is to develop new behaviours that take factors such as sustainability and demographics seriously while incorporating technology that can explore unknown terrain. Instead of being used as a status symbol, design has taken on the role of an intermediary – it remains in the background to give content more space.

Dornbracht Conversations
With Dornbracht Conversations, a series of discussions was launched in 2008, which serves as a discourse platform exploring current schools of thought in design, architecture and art. For each of the Dornbracht Conversations (DC), three or four experts from different industries, including design, art, architecture, science and the media, were invited to address key issues on a trendsetting topic, present their own experiences and views and involve the public in the discussion. Dornbract Conversations 1 (DC 1) took place in Iserlohn at the end of May, addressing the question “What is a modern classic and what significance does a classic have in a transversal culture?” Dornbracht used the pre- sentation of the improved TARA series as an opportunity to highlight the current almost inflationary concept of the classic at DC 1 in two separate podium discussions. Dornbracht Conversations 2 (DC 2) followed in mid-September in Museum Ludwig Cologne, the topic this time being “Is design art, is art design?”. The artist Tobias Rehberger, Konstantin Grcic, Mike Meiré and Collector Harald Falckenberg held a captivating discussion on the aspects which unite or divide the disciplines of art and design.

About Dornbracht
Aloys F. Dornbracht GmbH & Co. KG, headquartered in Iserlohn, is a globally active manufacturer of high-end fittings and accessories for bathrooms and kitchens. Highly qualified employees and the most modern production technologies guarantee top manufacturing quality. Dornbracht regularly receives international design awards for its product designs and since 1996 has been distinguished by its long-term commitment to cultural initiatives. Since 2006, the bathroom and kitchen edition of "Dornbracht - the Spirit of Water" has been regularly issued, documenting Dornbracht's vision as a company, with cultural relevance, while reflecting the broad product spectrum within the Dornbracht brand. A magazine and catalogue combined, the publication combines the inspiration, innovation and dialogue that distinguishes Dornbracht’s philosophy and approach.

Further information on Dornbracht and Dornbracht products as well as digital press releases are available in the internet at or from the Dornbracht Press Office: Meiré und Meiré, Stephanie Eckerskorn / Nora Niemeier / Burcu Güvenc, Lichtstr. 26-28, 50825 Cologne, T. +49(0)221 57770-416 / - 507 / -432, E-Mail: / / Your contact at Dornbracht: Anke Siebold / Bettina Arzt / Nadine Piepenstock, Köbbingser Mühle 6, 58640 Iserlohn, T. +49(0)2371 433-2118 / -2130 / -2119, E-Mail: / /

The third Dornbracht Conversations event was held on 17 February.
With Dornbracht Conversations, a series of discussions were launched in 2008, which served as a discourse platform to
explore current schools of thought in design, architecture and art.
Dornbracht Conversations 3 discussed the modified view of design under the heading “Extra/Ordinary. A further
dimension of the rise of New Normal”.
The event was facilitated by Marcus Fairs, multiple award-winning journalist and founder of the design blog,
Participants of the first panel (from left to right): Marcus Fairs (facilitator), Andreas Dornbracht (managing director of
Dornbracht), Michael Sieger (designer), Mateo Kries (head curator of Vitra Design Museum).
Participants of the second panel (from left to right): Marcus Fairs (presenter), Mike Meiré (designer), Thomas Wagner(design critic), Matteo Thun (architect).
Real-time 3D visualisation of Dornbracht Conversations 3 by Andreas Muxel and Jakob Penca.
Real-time 3D visualisation: Text input generated a real-time illustration of the mood of the discussion panel. The system
was based on the physical interplay between the speaker and his keywords in a 3D space. The weighting and interactions
of the various words were visualised by the orbit surrounding the relevant speaker.