An interview with the founders of Antwerp-based design practice Unfold

Unfold‘s Claire Warnier and Dries Verbruggen met while studying at the renowned Design Academy in Eindhoven. Now based in Antwerp, they’re counted among the most innovative young designers in Belgium. We spoke to Dries about Unfold’s design approach – particularly their embrace of digital technology – as part of our September online design special.

How would you describe your work?

Our design is quite investigative. And we’re very fascinated by digital language. It’s not the medium that interests us but how you can materialise certain things in that language. We are influenced by how craftsmen used to work, but don’t really use old techniques. We use digital technology, for example, and have developed a 3D printing method for ceramics. But we don’t enjoy being locked to the screen, we prefer to work with tangible material.

What defines your approach more than anything?

Our approach is investigative and humoristic. We like to experiment. And our work is more about the process than the final piece. We’re interested in everything around it, the systems, the economics, …

What first got you started in design?

I’ve always liked to play around with things and my parents are graphic designers, so there was always a connection.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Right now we’re preparing a project for a design fair in Istanbul. We’re trying to reimagine manufacturing in a globalized world with the help of the 3D printing. The plan is to email a design we made to 7 other designers all over the world. They get the digital file but are then responsible for making the object. The question is: will the final products all look the same because they all stem from the same design plan or will they be very different because they are assembled by different people in different places? Will a local influence be evident? Another project we are working on is a mobile 3D copyshop, addressing the issue of appropriation and ownership in the digital age.

Can you talk to us about the idea of working as a collective? Where and how did you all meet? 

We met at university in Eindhoven. It was quite an organic thing. Our skills are very complementary and we have the same ideas and visions about a lot of stuff. Actually we started out as six people originally, but that was just too much. Six strong minds with a lot of ego – that doesn’t work.

What would your ideal commission be? 

It completely depends on the attitude and the environment. For example I can’t say I’d never work for IKEA, because everything depends on the specific project and the people you work with.

Who’s work are you quite big on at the moment? 

We really like Thomas Lommée who we actually collaborate with a lot. He used to be one of the six I mentioned earlier. Lucas Maassen from Holland is great too. But I don’t like to pick out names like that.