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Re-Generation: A Design Snapshot of Hungary in 2012 / Eszter Bircsák & Melinda Sipos

From the catalog of the exhibition "Common Roots: Design Map of Central Europe"

We love smart products and are curious to the stories behind them.

We love people who are strong and brave enough to realize their ideas and inspire others.

In this essay, we have chosen to focus on a selection of sophisticated new design initiatives and on the stories behind them. We were primarily interested in learning how the young Hungarian designers behind a range of creative ventures operate, and in exploring the technical strategies and forms of support they may benefit from and the forums in which they can present their works. In the first part of this essay, we describe the post-1989 era and list the organizations that were created with either state or private aid (for secondary and post-secondary education), as well as Hungarian and joint ventures, companies, and initiatives. In doing so, we provide the background for the second part of this essay, which presents the works of one design duo, one independent designer, and one design group chosen for their exemplary, forward-looking approaches.(1)

Historical Background

The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, which followed upon a tumultuous revolutionary period in Europe, brought about a social, cultural, and economic golden age for Hungary, which was marked by processes of industrialization and by the activity of both national and international enterprises. The two world wars and the series of historical, political, and economic crises that ensued during the first half of the twentieth century destroyed Hungary's economic elite and the achievements of the previous century. The country's large-scale industry was completely demolished during the Second World War, and the post-1945 era was shaped by a planned socialist economy, the nationalization of private property, a focus on industrial production detached from ordinary demand, and changed social relations. The 1970s were marked by the appearance of new small and medium-sized ventures. At the same time, the socialist notion of a planned economy continued to prevail even after 1989, as did the legacy of the large-scale industry destroyed during the Second World War - thus posing a complex and rather difficult series of challenges for designers attempting to reinvent their profession.

Contemporary Design in Hungary

These circumstances posed a serious challenge for designers intent on reinventing their profession in the post-communist era, while making their professional attempts into a complex and rather difficult undertaking. One significant factor, in this context, has been the changes in the country's light industry: the large, established factories (such as the important ceramics and porcelain manufacturers Zsolnay, Herend, and Hollóko and the glass manufacturers Salgótarján, Parád, Ajka, and Tokod) that produced traditional wares, and which were once able to employ newly graduated designers, have
either disappeared or are on the verge of bankruptcy. The factories that were sold or privatized and that are still operative continue to use oldfashioned technologies and design processes, or to focus on the production of luxury items, which is hardly able to sustain their existence. One exception, in this context, is the textile industry, which has come to cater to major international designer labels, enabling textile manufacturers to maintain a high production quality and to create employment. Yet these manufacturers still fail to support small or large-scale Hungarian producers or creative endeavors, and there are few or no manufacturers open to, and capable of engaging in, small-scale production processes or collaborations with designers.

According to a different perspective (2), the problem is not the industry itself, but rather the absence
of effective communication between manufacturers and designers, as well as the conditioning of the past. According to this view, the structure of altered or newly created factories and manufacturing
plants has yet to become transparent.

At the same time, the importance of small and middle-sized ventures has increased, leading to the creation of independent designer labels and other grassroots endeavors related to the changing role of design. Together, these factors have created new prospects for Hungarian designers.

Forms of Support

The Hungarian Design Council (which is part of the Hungarian Intellectual Property Office, and is supervised by Ministry of Public Administration and Justice) is in charge of representing government strategies for promoting local design; the Hungarian Institute of Culture and Art is largely in charge of managing governmentissued design tenders and issues related to public statutes; the Association of Hungarian Fine and Applied Artists offers representation and advocacy for artists, while the National
Association of Hungarian Artists offers advocacy concerning social security rights.

Two major design awards are the László Moholy-Nagy Grant and Hungarian Design Award, which has existed for 30 years. The Design Management Award, which was created in 2009, recognizes the important role played by design managers. One of the most important means of gaining public recognition is participation in the Design Week that has been taking place annually for the past nine years (last year, for the first time, a foreign country, Poland, was invited to participate as a special guest, while this year's special guest is Finland). Another important forum for showcasing the work of designers is the Design Terminal (3), which was opened in 2011 in order to present and promote national design ventures (as part of a the larger organization Forum Hungaricum).

Despite the activity of these official agencies and professional organizations, however, a clearly defined official policy for promoting the design industry has yet to be consolidated in Hungary. The Hungarian Design Council has been pursuing collaborations with small and middle-sized enterprises, while the Moholy-Nagy László Grant has created a new category that allows for a joint application from a designer and a manufacturer. The presence of Miklós Bendzsel, the President of the Hungarian Design Council, on the board of the European Design Innovation Initiative created in 2011 bespeaks a new understanding of the strategic importance of design and of its role as an important tool for innovation.

In this context, another important factor that would greatly help local design would be the foundation of an institute where objects could be collected and exhibited, alongside relevant publications. Such an institute would introduce contemporary international trends, while also offering a database of manufacturers to encourage collaborations between designers and manufacturers.

Education and Professional Training

Most Hungarian designers studied at the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (MOME), which has a design institute and product design department, a fashion and textile department, and a design and art department. BUTE (Budapest University of Technology and Economics) also offers training in product design, as does the University of West-Hungary's Wood Science Faculty and Applied Arts Institute in Sopron and the privately founded Budapest Communication and Business Academy (BKF).

Additional visual arts programs include the courses in animation, photography, media design, and graphic design offered at MOME's media institute, the masters degree in graphic design offered at Sopron, the set design and graphic design programs at the Hungarian University of Fine Art, and the Art Faculty of Kaposvár University. There are also private training facilities for adult education, such as the Krea Art School and the School of Interior and Window-Display Design. The general view of these professional training programs are generally very good, especially in teaching craftrelated skills, thus increasing the competitive potential of Hungarian designers. At present, however, being a designer in Hungary essentially amounts, as one of the respondents to our questionnaire noted, to "being self-employed," yet without the economic, legal and marketing know-how that this status requires. One solution for the challenges created by this state of affairs might be the experimental MOME Line project initiated by the Moholy-Nagy University, which helps recent graduates find employment and
promotes collaborations between the university and various companies, thus providing an opportunity for students to experience working on "real" projects. Hopefully, the near future will bring additional collaborations of this kind, with a greater emphasis on offering differentiated options based on the students' specific training.

Grassroots Initiatives

One of the most interesting cultural phenomena currently taking place in Hungary is the revival of a wide range of grassroots design initiatives of the kind that proliferated after the Second World War, and which now also include online blogs and other Internet-based platforms. Examples include FISE (Studio of Young Designers‘ Association) - primarily an informal, trust-based "safety net," which also operates as an information channel and display facility for its members, and Stilblog, which follows national and foreign design news, and hg.hu, which has become part of one of the country's leading news portals.

Informal events where young professionals introduce themselves and their work through brief presentations such as Pecha Kucha Nights Budapest (established in 2006) and the Budapest Design MeetUp (established in 2009). One of the best event series in Budapest is WAMP - a monthly design fair for Hungarian and foreign designers - a grassroots initiative started by individuals that now has investors, and which serves as an important model for other ventures. Another important venture is Stylewalker, which aims to bring together fashion designers and designers working in other fields through informal events. Two or three times a year, the creators of Stylewalker promote Hungarian
designers and their works by offering evening programs and thematic walks for both Hungarian and foreigner participants.

As in many other fields, significant change hasbeen introduced by the spread of online communications and social media, which have greatly contributed to the recognition of Hungarian
designers and their works and to the promotion of the above mentioned initiatives. A related phenomenon is the appearance of multidisciplinary workshops such as DEFO Lab, Kitchen Budapest medialab, and FabLab Budapest, and Szövetség'39 one of the three design initiatives discussed in detail below.

International Collaborations

The Hungarian Design Council is a member of ICSID and BEDA, which offer a great basis for international collaborations; such collaborations are also taking place between individuals and
independent organizations. Regional collaborations, by contrast, are far less prevalent, despite
shared affinities in matters of taste, style and creativity among Eastern European countries. Considering the similar historical developments and struggles of the CEE countries, joint efforts and collaborations could be strengthened and made more effective at all stages of professional design processes.

Hungary's Young Designers

Despite the numerous challenges currently faced by Hungarian designers, young designers in their twenties and thirties describe positive professional experiences, which will hopefully serve as an example to be followed by others in terms of their work methods. These young designers seek opportunities for professional collaborations within their field, and use such opportunities to build and strengthen their network of contacts. One example of such a collaboration between a number of the most talented representatives of the contemporary Hungarian fashion world, is USE unused, the
fashion brand jointly launched by the design duo responsible for the label Je Suis Belle, the Nanushka fashion company, and the fashion magazine The Room - three enterprises whose members first met during their student years. A similar tendency can be observed in the operation of the POS1T1ON group - an online platform for contemporary international and Hungarian design. Young professional designers try to benefit from this existing professional infrastructure, while looking for new ways to respond to local sources of inspiration and international trends.

Success Stories

In this context, it is important to point out the large number of designers who have achieved success working for European corporations - such as Gábor Németh at Mercedes Benz, László Herczeg at Phillips, and Levente Szabó at Electrolux, to mention just a few names. In this section, we have chosen to focus our attention on three design enterprises in the fields of fashion, industrial design, and interdisciplinary design, whose stories reveal the use of strategies that may, in the long run, productively serve the Hungarian design world at large. All three of these design enterprises are run with extraordinary enthusiasm; in all three cases, moreover, the bulk of the designers' work consists of managing and running the firm, while only approximately 15% of their time is devoted to design - the time, as one of them wittily put it, that is spent "sleeping, riding the tram, and eating..."

Je Suis Belle

The members of one of the most successful fashion design duos to emerge in Hungary over the past two decades are Dalma Dévényi and Tibor Kiss, who established their business in 2005. Dévényi and Kiss started working together while studying textile design at MOME. Dévényi had previously designed costumes for commercials, while Kiss had been an editor at a fashion magazine. The success of their first collection encouraged them to continue working together, basing their approach on the creation of clothes that are "wearable, comfortable, and unique."

They initially created small-scale collections, which they sold at boutiques such as Retrock Deluxe. Through their close collaboration with fashion labels Use unused and Nanushka, as well as with the fashion magazine The Room, they learned the ropes of the Hungarian, and later the European, fashion industries by working together and supporting each other. An important turning point in the development of this design duo was their participation in the 2009 and 2011 Fashion Week Berlin. Dévényi and Kiss strive for perfection in their design and manufacturing procedures, and have managed to build a strong customer base in Hungary and a strong brand awareness that makes possible various experiments and collaborations both in the fashion world and with different artists.
One of the most recent projects they have been involved in was István Csákány's work Ghost Keeping, which was featured at DOCUMENTA 2012. Dévényi and Kiss' current aim is to gain greater recognition on the international market, as well as to help their customers to appreciate the differences between studio design and mass fashion.

Sára Kele

"Various projects find me and I like working this way," says Sára Kele, who may be described as a
contemporary Renaissance woman: she began by studying aesthetics and cultural anthropology, and later enrolled in an architecture program at BUTE, where she eventually graduated as an industrial designer before going on to attend classes at Sapienza University's faculty of civil and industrial engineering in Rome. She has also worked as an apprentice carpenter - a choice based on her interest in designing and creating wooden products, and in learning more about the material qualities of wood and the craft of woodworking.

In the course of working on her thesis, Kele met the team of designers at Sausagefence; together,
they have designed a bicycle that is now almost ready to enter the production stage. Kele's wooden furniture piece Wally made it onto London's Design Week's must-see list in 2011, and was later chosen by Trend Guide as one of the best ten pieces of Hungarian Furniture in 2012. She admits to be motivated more by her interest in the projects she takes on than by the prospect of financial gain. At the same time, she notes the lack of a market for locally designed objects in Hungary, in contrast to the Spanish, Italian, or English markets. She is still interested in working in Hungary, and usually
prefers to work independently, although she says she would definitely welcome the chance to work with design managers capable of helping with organization and production-related tasks. She will soon have the opportunity to do so in the new venture she is launching with Péter Krámer, with whom she will design and produce a line of shoes, thus joining Hungary's flourishing start-up company scene.

Szövetség '39

Most of the designers we spoke to and those who filled out our questionnaire mentioned what a
shocking experience it was to face the question "What now?" after graduation. Following their graduation, the designer Anna Baróthy and the architect Krisztián Kelner established Szövetség '39, and were soon joined by designer Melinda Bozsó and later by the textile designer Csenge Kolozsvári, who took Kelner's place in the team. Their focus is what they define as 'complex artistic design' in the fields of architecture, public art, and education. Baróthy's family provided the team with a small warehouse, where they initially worked on their own, and which they now share with other creative groups (such as Nextlab and re:orient), so that it has become a true design center. Szövetség '39 has become an important presence as a result of the group's involvement in the Lánchíd 19 Design Hotel project, for which they created an interactive glass façade in collaboration with Nextlab. The group has recently turned to explore the possibilities of working with concrete, which they used for
the 2010 Csücsüloko project in Pécs. One of their latest works is the Moire façade designed for the new wing of the Liszt Academy of Music in 2011. This poetic façade relates to the building's main function - teaching music - through the use of color. The members of Szövetség '39 are proud of being an all-women team, as well as of their ability to survive despite their constant financial difficulties, and to promote the importance of interactive design and multidisciplinary collaborations.

Selecting the three examples described above was no easy task, due to the large number of talented design teams currently operating in Hungary. Our overall impression, moreover, was that despite the numerous problems addressed by the designers we spoke to, the general state of the local design world is not as bad as it may appear to those confronted with its everyday challenges. These success stories, together with the structural reorganization and formation of a range of institutes, companies, and organizations, constitute an exciting new phase in the Hungarian design world characterized by the creation of enigmatic, highly contemporary works, whose success will hopefully bolster the development of a sufficient industrial infrastructure.

The findings presented in this essay are based in part on two separate questionnaires that we submitted to Hungarian designers and to representatives of various Hungarian institutions, as well as on a discussion series that we conducted in the spring of 2012 with leaders of Hungarian organizations and companies and with individual designers.

This perspective is represented, for instance, by Zalavari Jozsef , a product designer and associate professor at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BUTE).

The original idea for this project is linked to Mihaly Poharnok, who has been a key strategy maker and theorist in the Hungarian design world since the 1960s.

We would like to thank all those who assisted us in the course of our research and shared with us their knowledge, stories, thoughts, and ideas.

Zoltán Ács - Design Terminal 
Maxim Bakos - MOME LINE
Bálint Ferenczi - Kitchen Budapest
Petra Hoffmann - Stilblog
Eszter Kavalecz - POS1T1ON
László Kertész - Hungarian Institute for Culture and Art
Barbara Majcher, Szonja Szesztai - Hungarian Design Council
Róbert Mascher, Borbála Cseh- FISE - Studio of Young Designers‘ Association
Réka Matheidesz- WAMP
Dorka Meleg - Stylewalker
József Zalavári, DLA - BUTE (BUDAPEST UNIVERSITY of TECHNOLOGY and ECONOMICS)/Institute of Machine Design/ Department of Product Engineering and Agricultural Machinery

Je Suis Belle (Dévényi, Dalma, Kiss, Tibor)
Szövetség ‘39 (Baróthy, Anna, Bozsó, Melinda)
Kele, Sára

Translation: Zsófia Paku and the Authors.

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