Art, design and people with disabilities make up the fascinating focus of the work of two young designers from Bremen. Working together with employees from community-based workshops, they develop and improve on designs for handmade products – and are continually thrilled by the potential they see in their co-designers.
Juie Jittinan Kitsumritiroj is a 31-year-old designer from Thailand. She studied for her Bachelor’s degree in her home country, where she was also involved in community work. She came to study in Bremen for a semester through a partnership programme that her university shared with the Bremen University of Applied Sciences, and came across the University of the Arts (HfK) while she was here. She then fully relocated to Bremen at the end of 2011 to continue her studies at the HfK, and worked towards a Master’s degree in Integrated Design as part of the ‘Systems and Structure’ studio. During the course of her studies, Juie began working with the Martinshof organisation – an association of workshops for people with disabilities – and developed a concept for designing sustainable products in collaboration with disabled individuals. “I had so much fun,” explains Juie, “that I soon realised I wanted to make a career out of it.” During her studies, she also got to know Andreas Hensinger. The 32-year-old also carried out a community-based project as part of his Master’s degree, which sought to improve the everyday lives of people with dementia. “Both of us had chosen to focus on social work and people with disabilities, and we also got along really well together – that’s why we decided to work together,” explains Juie.
No sooner said than done. At the start of 2015, Juie and Andreas got in touch with Manuel Kühn from the Unternehmensservice Bremen’s welcome service and told him of their idea. He recommended that they apply for the BRUT® Programme, Bremen’s support programme for business creation. “We were really happy to be accepted,” says Andreas. “We began working with the programme towards the end of 2015.” Together with Andreas Mündl, their contact at the Bremer Aufbau-Bank (BAB), the pair were able to spend twelve months preparing for the launch of the business. “Over time, we were able to flesh out our concept. Demand, customer benefit, acquiring clients, communication… What could we accomplish? What did we want to be? We answered these questions one by one, and it soon became clear to us that we don't see ourselves as wacky designers – instead, we wanted to focus on other people and work with them.”
At the end of 2015, they decided to take the plunge into self-employment with hey ju design. Their business was officially founded in April 2016.
In order to expand their network and build up a base of clients, the pair have attended events such as the Werkstätten:Messe trade fair in Nuremberg, where they came across one of their first customers – the Domenikus-Ringeisen-Werk, an organisation based in Lower Franconia that provides workshops and other support services for disabled people. “As part of the BRUT® programme, we also carried out a survey of around 40 organisations, in order to find out how much demand there was,” explains Juie. “The Delme workshops to the south of Bremen were particularly interested and invited us for an interview. It all worked out perfectly, since they had just launched their online shop and wanted to expand their range of products.” The designers have already helped the employees involved in ceramic manufacturing in Delmenhorst to create a new collection. They use creative methods in their collaborations with workshop personnel, figuring out how to improve existing products or design others from scratch. The next step is then to put them into action.
We aim to work together to develop products that are bought not only to benefit a good cause, but because they actually appeal to customers in terms of appearance and practical benefit.”
Andreas Hensinger, co-founder of hey ju design
The process begins by determining a general structure for the development of the product. Andreas and Juie then go into details with the employees. They gather together ideas, evaluating them on the basis of their feasibility. The next step involves producing a prototype, which helps to clarify which ideas work well and which ones don’t. “We want to develop the creative strengths of people with disabilities,” says Juie. “The people we work with sometimes see things differently to us designers – we’re only too happy to be surprised and not let ourselves be constrained by our own standards.” The pair refer to those who take part in the workshops as ‘co-designers’, and are continually surprised by how much their participants feel valued when they are able to contribute and implement their ideas.
Juie and Andreas completed the BRUT® programme in November 2016 but are still in contact with Andreas Mündl, who is always available for advice and assistance when required. “We haven’t got to the point yet where we can live off the business, so we have to continue to attract clients,” say the entrepreneurs. “It’s difficult when you’re phoning people up and you can’t properly judge how the person you’re talking to feels. It’s much easier to do things in person – you can build up trust quicker that way.” This was one of their main reasons for visiting the workshop trade fair in Nuremberg again this year, and they intend to continue to raise their visibility by taking part in competitions and maintaining a strong social media presence.
“We find it incredibly fulfilling to work with the people in the workshops,” say Juie and Andreas. “It’s exactly what we want to do.” For both of them, it’s the ideal combination of design, craftsmanship and community work. “Design and craftsmanship both concern creativity in some way. With design, it’s usually more about the appearance, while craftsmanship puts greater focus on the practical benefit. We bring these two aspects together and also look at them from the perspective of people with special needs.” As an added bonus, they are able to work with a diverse range of technologies and materials that include wood, textiles, metal and ceramics. “We also provide creative methods to develop and structure ideas. The organisations can then continue to use these methods, and they are frequently surprised by the creativity of their employees.”
For more information about the BRUT® support programme, please contact Andreas Mündl at the Bremer Aufbau-Bank (BAB). Tel: +49 (0)421 9600 341, email@example.com
If you’re looking to find out more about the welcome service and the support it provides, click here for all the information you need.
For any other questions relating to the welcome service, you can also contact Manuel Kühn, Tel.: +49 (0)421 163 399 477, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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