The Weeghuisje (Weigh House) is less than four square meters in size and can be found on the Strijp T creative design production site. The platform, on which the trains were weighed originally, and the rails are all still there. The scale is inside the Weeghuis and the name of the ‘weigher’ is still on the window. Like all the other buildings on the site, it no longer served any purpose with the departure of Philips. That is, until the upcoming Dutch Design Week (DDW). This is the first time that the Maatschappelijke Vormgevers collective (MVG, Social Designers) will present their work there.

Initiators Lotte de Haan and Dennis Meulenbroeks explain how they want to bring social design closer to people. Meulenbroeks: “You have to experience what it is. We don’t design a chair that you can put in a showroom to show people what we’re doing.”

During the DDW, MVG are creating a bridge between society and social design. Under the name “Snapje” (“Get it?” in English), the collective organizes guided tours of projects at the DDW in Arabic and for people with modest means. De Haan: “We want to build a bridge this way between people who usually never or don’t easily come into contact with designers and the world of design.”

De Haan graduated in 2018. She won second prize at the Social Design Talent Award 2018 with her graduation project ‘SamSam‘. Samsam is a language café where senior citizens and new Dutch citizens can talk to each other and do something for each other, says De Haan. ” I never would have thought beforehand that this would be the outcome.” The sole theme of her project was a study of the social needs of older people. She visited several residential care centers, talked to carers and learned about how people work together. She also played with scrabble with Tineke every week for two months. “This is the only way to understand what is happening. What everyone finds important. When I came there the first week and asked what it was like, she said ‘it’s okay.’ During the second and third week too. But in the fourth week she opened up and I found out what she really wanted. That she still wants to be able to do something for others. She said, “When you come and see me, I still feel relevant.”

Project SamSam ©

That was the catalyst for the language café. De Haan took a Polish woman along with her who played a game with Tineke. That one woman turned into two and that’s how it steadily grew. De Haan: “The way in which the language café was set up, was also only possible because we went through this process step by step. I included everyone in the process and adapted it so that they, the residents and carers, could carry on with it.”

Swimming against the tide

Meulenbroeks has had experience in the social domain since 2006. He studied product design at the Fontys University of Applied Sciences. After his graduation in 2006, he started at T+HUIS. “I think we were the first designers in Eindhoven to work within the social domain. Terms such as social design or living labs didn’t exist yet back then. Nobody understood what we were. Social workers or designers? We had to swim against the tide for quite some time in order to show that designers are indeed able to work within the social domain.” The T+HUIS has grown into an organization that is active in the Oud-Woensel and Kruidenbuurt districts of Eindhoven, among other places. The T+HUIS designers are working on good residential environments for children. Also as a kind of link between parents, schools and welfare organizations.

After graduating, De Haan struggled with the question of how a social designer would be taken seriously by the business community and the social domain. She talked it over with Meulenbroeks at the end of 2018. Meulenbroeks: ” Newly graduated social designers all have a sense of: ‘we want to -but how?'” De Haan: “You don’t learn that at school.” Meulenbroeks: ” And that’ s how MVG came into being: a collective for social designers. So that we can procure projects together.”

The collective will be presenting itself for the first time during the Dutch Design Week. That was their goal for this year. Meulenbroeks: “I’ve always been taught that you first have to learn how to walk before you can run.” So the foundation was laid and a website was created. MVG is a spin-off from the T+HUIS.  In addition to De Haan, Aline Gerards, Roxane de Jong, Sara Kaiser, Lian Kroes and Cas van Son are also involved. From its roots in the T+HUIS, MVG has many years of experience in the social domain. “I know my way around and know how to address a council member,” Meulenbroeks explains.

In dialogue

MVG also collected municipal questions from Eindhoven residents for DDW. Like: Why are there so many expensive apartments being built in Eindhoven and not social housing? De Haan: “We are looking for the person who can give an answer to those questions. Plus we are designing methods we will use to enter into those dialogues. So that the answer will actually be understood and doesn’t become a one-sided monologue.”

These conversations are at relevant locations. The projects from the various designers are on display in the Weeghuisje. This often happens to by way of a short film, says Meulenbroeks. “You can show a chair. But T+Huis has also designed the T-LAB in Helmond, for example. A building with five floors. It’s hard to put that here in the Weeghuis. What matters is that various welfare organizations work together. I’ll illustrate this in a video.” There are also workshops where MVG talks to visitors about what social design is concerned with.

You can register for the guided tours via the affordable option Social design, what’s that all about?, and for Arabic speakers: Design in Arabic.

Location: The Weeghuisje, Achtseweg Zuid, Strijp T+R, Eindhoven

The Dutch Design Week is the largest design festival in Northern Europe. Each year, we pick out ten designers from a huge selection that we consider to be this year’s Hidden Gems. You can read all about their stories there.

This series was created in collaboration with Dutch Design Daily and curator Katja Lucas from DDW. Would you like to visit the DDW hidden gems yourself? Every day, Brandstore Eindhoven/VVV is organizing a bicycle tour along the selected designers. More info can be found here.