Driving Dutch Design: Mieke van den Hout

Driving Dutch Design (DDD) helps young designers on the road to becoming real entrepreneurs. This year, Mieke van den Hout is one these ‘drivers’. She'll be presenting her work together with the rest of her class in the Klokgebouw during the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven which is taking place from 20 to 28 October. “Sometimes people think that the only reason that I'm a designer is because it's fun, that I'm just doing arts & crafts all day. But nothing could be further from the truth. It's serious, hard work.”

Mieke van den Hout (1986) graduated from ArtEZ University of the Arts in Arnhem three years ago with a collection of handbags. She currently designs textile objects for interior use, which improve the acoustics of a room under the moniker of her design studio Mieke Lucia. “It's actually much more fun than sewing handbags.” She combines aesthetic luxury with functionality to create her beautiful, abstract designs. When we talk to her, she is busy with her preparations for the Dutch Design Week.

Can you talk me through the preparations?

“I'm currently participating in the Driving Dutch Design masterclass, and I will present my work during its exposition at Dutch Design Week together with other designers and studios participating in the programme. This work can be entirely new or it can be an existing project. We are given an amazing platform for our work in the Klokgebouw and are holding a pitch event in which we have to sell our concepts to people from the business world. It's all quite exciting. In addition to DDD, I am also taking part in the second edition of the In4nite project. I designed a collection of sound-absorbing objects made from Colback, a non-woven plastic, for this project. It’s a wonderful material that is often used in industrial applications but is rarely actually visible. So, it's full-steam ahead at the moment and I still need to make and design a few things. Everything needs to be finished on time now that the deadline for Dutch Design Week is creeping closer and closer.”

A deadline can sometimes bring out the best in people...

“Sure. Someone recently told me: ‘whether you have a month or a year to complete a project, it always comes down to the last minute.’ That's simply how the creative process works.”

How did you end up at Driving Dutch Design?

“I was told about it by people who had followed the programme previously and it was the perfect time for me to participate. I graduated three years ago and I'm trying to really get my own business on track. But I have to deal with a lot of things that I have no knowledge or understanding of, such as being a business owner, presenting myself, doing acquisitions, money matters and contracts. I never went to business school and, as a creative mind, I quickly retreat to my safe space by focusing solely on my work. But that work has to get out into the world somehow, and you need to know how to do that.”

“I certainly recognise that. A week is just that: a week. If I decide to spend a morning working on my administration, it always ends up taking longer. That means that I have to postpone the rest of my work and catch up in the evenings or on a Saturday. It's all just an add-on, as you don't want to look at it as work and because it's something that you simply have to do.”

Which obstacles drove you towards Driving Dutch Design?

“I really struggled to sell my work. The assignments that I've done up until now were mainly the result of my existing network. Networking is not something that I'm naturally good at, and I can't just go up to someone and say: ‘Hey! Listen up, I have something amazing for your restaurant!’ That's just not me, but I need to learn how to make this second nature. It still feels a little awkward, but I'm getting better at it. I'm quite far in the DDD coaching process and I’ve learned that there are many different ways of being a salesperson.”

What is the most important lesson that you have taken from this?

“That you need to take the things that you are afraid of and turn them into challenges. Dutch Design is booming in the Netherlands, and I worried about becoming just another studio in a sea of studios. When you're just starting out, you look at others to see how it's done and just stick to the standards. Now, I have learned that you should do things your own way. It was also great that my personal DDD coach was from a completely different field than me. He works in insurance at ABN AMRO, which is something I know absolutely nothing about. Sometimes his advice may seem unrelated, but when I really think about it I can actually draw many useful things from it. I let him read my texts and ask if he understands what 'm trying to say. It can be really hard sometimes to express your work and vision in words, but I want to make sure that everyone understands it. Then he'll say: ‘You use some odd words. And why does it need to be in English? Where do I read about who you are?’ These are really useful pointers.”

Have you already found a way to integrate these eye-openers?

“I’m busy working on that. If I post something on social media or make a change to my website now I always think: ‘how would my mother or my coach read this? Am I being clear enough? Or is it all conceptual and abstract talk?’ Sometimes it's good to be direct and to the point. But it is especially important to have a clear goal in mind. Do I want to sell something or do I want to introduce people to my work?”

When did you know that you had to be creative, that you wanted to design?

“It sounds very cliché, but I was always the creative kid at primary school. And that's something that never changed: I've always been busy drawing or making something. I never had a specific moment where I realised that I had to find a career that involves working with my hands. I've just always known that that's something I had to do. My parents have always been incredibly supportive of this, but sometimes I know that they would also like me to find a steady full-time job. I think that people sometimes believe that I'm just going through a phase. They'll ask if I don't want a family and a normal job. No. That's exactly what I don't want. I’m just getting things on track now! I still get the feeling that I have to explain and defend my career choice. But I've become used to it. After all, people don't really understand what I do and what I make. They think I just really like my work and that this enjoyment is the only reason for me being a designer, that I'm just doing arts & crafts all day. But nothing could be further from the truth. It's serious, hard work.”

Design is a world apart for them

“Yes, exactly. It's kind of funny: when I have good news, I always immediately get asked how much money it'll bring in. Everything I do has to be substantiated with money, even though this is not the most important aspect to me. A friend recently asked me how I was doing. I responded that I was doing well, but that I was very busy. But then he responded somewhat patronisingly: ‘Yes, you do know how to keep yourself busy!’ That can make me angry, as if what I do isn't valuable.”

Where would you like your studio to be in five years?

“My wish is to be completely self-sufficient by then. I currently have a side job on the weekend, even though I have next to no mental energy or space left for it. I really need to quit that job within the next year. I also hope to have a larger studio by then, as I barely have enough space left in my current studio. DDD has taught me that I am allowed to think big. We were given a few masterclasses about financing and sponsoring. I'm still too modest in this respect and always wonder who would actually lend somebody like me money, or question why they would give me something. That said, I've come to the realisation that if you have a good plan, you just need to go for it. People can decide for themselves whether they feel it's worth investing money in instead of me explaining why. My studio is my company and with a little extra bravery and a different mindset I can make it bloom.”

About Driving Dutch Design

Designing for the future, that is what Dutch Design Week is all about. Main sponsor ABN AMRO joins forces with the Association of Dutch Designers (BNO) and the Dutch Design Foundation (DDF) to organise the Driving Dutch Design masterclass design talent driven by passion and ambition. The process lasts ten months, during which we help designers navigate the world of business. The campaign titled ‘Echte drive is niet te stoppen’ (real drive cannot be stopped) is an ode to these designers of the future.