Jana Zielinski is the director of Designblok, a Prague-based festival that brings together designers from the Czech Republic and abroad. What started 12 years ago as a small event targeted at design professionals, has blossomed into Prague’s biggest design festival, attracting 30,000 visitors last year. I spoke to Zielinski about her love for design, how the festival started and her plans for the future.
“In 1999, few companies in the Czech market, international brands like Vitra and Amrosso and so on that were represented here by the Koncepti company, decided that they would love something similar to the Milano design week here in Prague, and this is how designblok started. At the beginning, there were only fourteen participants, so it was really small and it was more about the community of people who are interested in design. Then, over the years, we decided that we need to have the public there as well, not only architects and designers and journalists.
“So we opened it to an exhibition program, and we started to have a so-called superstudio, which was a big change, because the superstudio is a center of the exhibition program and we have it in a different place every year. Once we had it in an old factory hall, once we had it in a botel, which is a hotel in a boat, which was quite nice because every designer had their own cabin that they designed themselves.
“We also were at Prague Castle one year, and so we change the venue of the superstudio so that people can get to know new places and new buildings. And that is something that is very interesting to the public. So last year, we had more than thirty-thousand visitors at Designblok and more than 200 companies and designers participating, so the situation has changed quite a bit since the beginning.”
So what do you have planned for this year’s Designblok?
“So this year, the topic is water, as we find the situation to be quite liquid. And as well, our superstudio and almost all our companies have their showrooms by the river. So we decided to work with this, and we look forward to it quite a bit, because we already have quite a few Czech companies that will exhibit this year, so we will have a lot of Czech products being exhibited.
“But also international brands will be quite strong, as far as I know, Vitra and Koncepti and Amos and many other representatives here in the Czech Republic are preparing quite nice exhibitions.”
So you’ve been involved with this design festival for quite a long time. But let’s take a few steps back. When did you first become interested in Design?
“Actually, I was first more interested in film, as I first started studying at the Philosophical Faculty and also film, but then I realized that I am more interested in the visual part of it. And so I started to prepare small showcases of animated film and graphic design and film and so on. So this is how my way to design went, actually. And then came Designblok and that’s how it started.”
What elements for you make good design?
“For me it’s a connection of very high aesthetics and some sort of pleasure. Because when you see a good product, you should somehow feel a shivering in your heart, I would say. That’s how it should be.
“And it doesn’t matter whether a design is from 1910 or 2010, for me, it’s not important, whether this is really now, high-contemporary or has a longer history. I think it doesn’t matter, and it’s important that you feel really passionate about it.”
What do you think is really bad design, or what would you like to see a lot less of?
“Well, I don’t like stuff that doesn’t look good, basically. Because life is too short, and as we are born, we already become owners of things, of products. And this starts very soon. And so I think, if we have to surround by products, these products have to be nice. We should be very careful about what we buy, because we have to earn the money, work for it, so we should spend it on stuff which we really like. Not on stuff that we think is average but okay. And I think it’s exactly this difference that design can make. The difference between the average stuff, which is okay, and nice stuff, which we really love.”
I am sure as part of your job, you must travel abroad quite a bit and get to see design in other countries. In the past twenty years, how has the Czech Republic caught up, and what are some of the trends in this country?
“I think that the change is extreme basically. In the 1990s, there were only a few companies on the Czech market. And the situation of the people, they were not really interested in design; they were more interested in their career. Maybe having a good car, too, because that is a symbol.
“Now, the situation is quite different, and people are really interested in stuff, we have collectors who collect art and design. I think it has really changed. Especially the interest of young people makes such a difference. The people who came to Designblok in 1999 or 2000 when they were young students now have families, and they are used to design already, and they buy it. They have become actually really the target group of Designblok.”
Would you say that companies such as Ikeas or other companies that mass-produce items that are relatively nice-looking, not hideous, that those companies are a competition for high-end designer items, or that those are two distinctly different markets?
“Actually, I see it very opposite. For example, the role of Ikea, I feel very positive about. They have changed peoples’ minds about their homes. And Ikea has some very good products in their range and some very good designers who work for Ikea, so I think it’s quite a positive change.
“The other thing is the quality or sustainability of those products, and when you want something extraordinary, I think you won’t go to Ikea. But I want it absolutely okay when people who aren’t millionaires equip their apartments with a mixture old furniture which they inherited from their grandma, with Ikea items and a few new design pieces, I think that’s absolutely alright. It’s their choice, and I think it should still be a home, not a showroom that you create in your home, you should feel good there and I think a mix like that is really okay.”
“Actually, I am quite keen on porcelain. So last year I bought some pieces, some of which are historical, like Jaroslav Ježek’s sculpture of the ride on the horse, which is actually my favorite sculpture right now, and also some porcelain from Maxim Velčovský and from Whitefruits at the last Designblok. So I have these few pieces. But actually, this year for me is not so much about buying furniture; I am more focused on the smaller pieces this year.”