Israeli Design. Naama Agassi
In form 259 we explore the design in a country that is mainly present in the media because of its political conflicts: Israel. At the same time it has to offer a vibrant and multifaceted design scene, at whose protagonists we took a closer look. You can find more portraits of Israeli designers and studios both in form 259 and form Dossiers.
Naama Agassi is a product designer from Tel Aviv. She studied at Holon Institute of Technology (HIT) and worked in three different design teams, but also self-employed, before coming to Design Academy Eindhoven in September 2014 where she is currently doing her master’s degree in the Contextual Design program.
Studio: Naama Agassi
Year of foundation: 2013
Fields of work: Product Design, Industrial Design
In your opinion, what is special about design in Israel?
First of all, the characteristics of Israel as a small and warm country affect its design scene. There are many different designers (makers, shapers, conceptual and industrial pioneers) who are all passionate about what they do, and they are all concentrated in one place. Some of them are specialised in innovation, others work with materials, and there are also some with more conceptual ideas. But since the country is so small, they all know each other. They introduce each other to their colleagues, they talk and argue, and criticise each other. In the end they affect each other’s work.
What characterises your work respectively your design and style? Are you more in the traditional field? Or are you, for example, really into new technology?
I think, I combine both. All of my family members are in the creative professions. The male members are very analytically creative and more into computers, and the female members are more intuitively working. I am a combination of these two directions. In my design process, I try to do things that are meaningful to me. I do this through technical processes, but I also do it through materials and, sometimes, more analogue or traditional mechanisms. For me it is very important that in the end there is a functional object – or one that has the potential to be integrated in people’s lives. This is what distinguishes design from other creative fields.
Can you give an example of how you work?
Within my master’s studies I recently did a project in which I examined religion and the role that it plays in our life through a design process. Religion is a social system with many traditions and rituals. It is a way to manage a big group of people. The specific tradition that I used in my project, is the sabbatical year, which I was interested in since it is a tradition that applies both to work and daily life. By following the rules of the tradition you get out of your comfort zone and you experience your daily life differently. The current Jewish year is the final year of the seven-year agricultural cycle mandated by the Torah for the Land of Israel. The tradition, which originated from agriculture, is basically a sabbatical year. The land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity is forbidden.
What is the main concept of this tradition?
By practicing traditional “Shmita”, there are two main values to learn: In the first place it gives the opportunity to admire the power of natural processes over human power. Secondly, any fruits that grow on their own accord are deemed “hefker” (ownerless) and may be picked by anyone. This part is an opportunity for social rehabilitation. Shmita is one of the most difficult Jewish traditions and this is why it is almost not practiced in current days. It was built for an agricultural based economy. Today, the burden of this tradition is on the shoulders of only a few practitioners. I wanted to test what happens if I apply this tradition (in my own version) to contemporary life. I come from a secular home, and I always wondered about how old rules can be applied to the life of modern, religious people. What stays relevant, and what doesn’t? And why? And do you follow these rules, because you understand their meaning and believe in the values they bring? Or do you only follow them out of respect for the system? This is why I started questioning Shmita. It is a beautiful tradition with beautiful values, but is made for an agriculture-oriented economy.
What did you do?
I wanted to see what impact this kind of process would have on the design itself. So I applied the idea of Shmita to a design process – following the two main values. First, admiring nature’s power in my work: Instead of forcing my own idea on the material, I wanted to explore a material and to let the characteristics of the used technique effect the outcome. I went to the ceramics workshop every day, exploring the potential of a material I didn’t work with before. In doing so I followed no prior concept. In Shmita, making one’s resources available to others forms social rehabilitation (just as the farmers are encouraged to share their crops). I have no crops or physical resources to share. My resources are rather my knowledge, my hands, my experience and my way of thinking. In order to make it available to others, every Thursday, I wore my working clothes, and went to the workshop. But didn’t work on my own project, I helped fellow students.
So in your projects you bring things out of context and apply them to a design process, to create something new.
Yes. That is something that I do in most of my projects. In the design process I can go through literature or music before I start sketching and going to the workshop. But most processes end with the materials. Materials play an important role in my design language. I also think and work with my hands.
Do you first develop a concept and then realise it in a second step? Or do you work on the concept and the product parallel?
It is always parallel – but, what is also important to me is that I go back to old projects. I do this many times. Since life experience and interests affect all projects, I feel that the design process never ends. An interest of mine will never disappear; it will change and evolve, but it will always stay and affect my work. “Branch Holder” for example is a product that was inspired by a childhood memory of mine.
You did your bachelor’s in Industrial Design at Holon Institute of Technology. How did you experience design education back then?
HIT is a very practice-oriented place. It teaches you everything that you need in order to express yourself creatively. It actually throws you in the workshop: You have to deal with heavy machinery and with unfamiliar computer programmes, and then, in the end, express yourself through that. This was a very intense and challenging experience, but I think that it is a very big part of what I am today as a designer, because I always design through making.
After doing your bachelor’s, you worked in several studios in Israel and then became self-employed. Why did you decide to leave the country and to do your master’s at Design Academy Eindhoven?
This is a good question. After my graduation at HIT I worked in three very different “design systems”. First I worked in a small design studio, called Studio Ubico. In total there are three people, one of them is Ori Ben-Zvi who is leading the studio. From Ori Ben-Zvi at Ubico I learnt that being creative is a lot about fighting for what you believe in. The second design system that I worked in was the Interaction Lab at HIT (there we were around five or six people). Working in a lab is much more experimental. From Michal Rinott who initiated and created the lab I learnt that design is not only about giving the right answers, but also about asking the right questions. And then I worked in the integrated design studio of the Arica factory, a very big system. In the morning I drank coffee with the same people who produced something that I had planned. In this kind of environment you really start to understand the responsibility that you have as a designer, how the things that you do affect other people. If I planned something wrong, I could see how frustrated the others were by the end of the day (because they had to deal with it) – but also the other way around. The projects that I am most proud of are those in which I just changed some small details so that something could be produced easier. All in all, I approached those three different systems like a toolbox that I can now use in order to do my own thing. And this is why I came to Design Academy Eindhoven. I think it’s a good place to actually start questioning yourself: What kind of designer do I want to become? What do I want to do? What do I want to say?
Was it also important for you to actually leave your home country?
Yes. I can say that being here, being outside of the place that I belong to, sharpened the way that I perceive myself. At the Design Academy there are many people from very different countries. Being around them, it becomes clearer to me what characterises myself, and I can also learn a lot about other cultures and work processes.