Library of
Design, Art and Idea

Erdem Akan

Vol. 3


Erdem Akan is a designer, design consultant, art director, curator, and academics. Why all of them? 

In fact, if I was somehow in another geography, somewhere along the west, I would have probably only become a designer. It is because they have institutions, foundations, and structures already established there. There are people around the designers who professionally do these jobs. These side structures create a platform for the designers. I carried out most of my activities surrounding the design because the structures were either missing or absent. For example, we opened the Maybeshop design store about 5 years ago on a similar ground, because of absence. However, today, there is plethora of design stores in many districts of İstanbul. Shortly, we no longer needed to be involved in that. I am not a retailer anyways. During the same period, we had incoming interns both from the country and abroad. I observed that even though they were coming from a foreign atmosphere, those coming from abroad adapted themselves to the professional business life and their current atmosphere within a week, while, on the other hand those coming from the good universities of our country in a totally equipped way took so long to adapt, failing at producing a work. So, I wanted to go and spot this trouble that I had observed regarding the professional life on sight, to intervene and to help if possible. It actually made me investigate “How should the right school be?”, collect a considerable amount of data and plan to open a school in the long haul. These don’t turn me into an academics; I am more like a practical person who shares his experiences in an academic environment.

What you have told seemed to me the Turkish reflection of the Buddhaist approach “Information is a treasure that multiplies when shared”…

Laughs… In my opinion, there are 2 types of designers, in fact, there are 2 of everything; one of them is the designer that opens the doors and the other is the designer who holds the doors. While someone thinks that he is the fixture of this place, all approvals should come to me, without me this thing would not work, cannot work, I think about what part of a project can I be, what may be done to have this project run, therefore how others can be involved and how the new may be created. For example, that is why I like the design exhibitions. It is because instead of exhibiting the current there, they lead to the production of the new. I focus on how new designers can participate and what we can add to the new approaches of the designers in the exhibitions that I curate. As required by the job, we are led by briefings, when we are provided with what kind of an exhibition is targeted in a detailed way, the designer gets excited and so begins the designing process. Sometimes, there is not time to get prepared this way. For instance, in “OOPS!”, things had to be produced and exhibited in 1 week; so we solved the situation by asking the designers to send us their designs that could not be produced  for reasons such as the customer did not like it, the pattern did not  allow a production, it failed to be started. When the workshop gets full of things that failed to be produced, it gives me an immense pleasure, because all of them for me are traces of the future.

So, after this comment, shall we talk about your love for visiting junk shop?

I approach to every object with the question that “After it is expired and found itself in the flea market in 10 years, would it make the one want to buy it?. The pocket knife of my grandfather, his watch, the spoons of my grandmother, her porcelain vase arouse a feeling of excitement in me as an educated person. I question if “my own designs would also convey the same sense of excitement to the future generation”. I believe in general that those produced domestically and abroad with a designer’s touch and a spirit of its own will be permanent in this generation. I consider the designer’s touch as lyricism, not only doing his job; adding “a plus value”, things that we will notice while using after using. I believe that all of these create the common memory of the manhood and I look for this common memory in the junk shops. On the other hand, I believe that all products are somewhat alive and they sort of have a life, therefore, I look for fossils in the junkshops, trying to make out how they evolved. I ask if we can resuscitate those that have become extinct, and somehow change those that have mistakenly evolved. 

What do you mean by the “Turkish Design” about which you have a similar approach, and defend that it has to become international? 

First of all, there is a difference between a Turkish design and design by a Turkish person. We can’t call everything designed by a Turkish person a Turkish design. What creates the Turkish design is a common culture, common language in design. I think that as all the design culture in the world gets bigger, it becomes a Noah’s pudding. You deprive a dessert to which the Italians add their living styles, Germans their production skills, Americans their marketing power, Swedish their natural resource processing of your Turkish spices nurtured by your past culture. You own, save, and waste an important world heritage. If we seek to join the international design perception that has been maturing since 2000s, we should not let the Turkish design remain as a monologue; we should initiate a dialogue where we also benefit as we contribute. If we can update our past reality, sincere form languages, habits of use with today’s conditions, we can nurture a common language called the Turkish design. To be honest, what worries me is the slimness of the number of designers who have been affected from Sufism, noticed and conveyed the nuances thanks to less is more philosophy to the language of design or that have taken maximalism as abundance and thus shaped it with his own accent. I can understand that designers don’t approach to these trials as they contain risks of staying between the tradition and the contemporary, not being able to move away from the folkloristics, seeming close to the ideological approaches, not being found ugly and correct. However, given the Italian history of design, it is important to remember that hundreds of bold trials belonging to the Memphus period triggered the design that exploded in the 80s. Thus, our role is to courageously blend the Turkish design with the international design language and make sure that it is a part of the universal formation.

So, can we call the “Eastmeetswest” as the product version of these thoughts? 

I suppose that that product is the product where I communicated the best in this direction. About ten years ago, in my visit to a well-known factory of glass products, when the factory director asked me “There are things that you cannot change. For example, this tea glass, what can you do with it?, I drew it on the return plane. I admitted that I can’t do anything, but only protect it, thus capsulizing it inside a straight cylinder glass. A few months later when I checked that, I noticed that I had combined the slim-waisted irrational form of the east with the rational cylinder form of the west. My design philosophy is on the international communication; that is why exactly that for a design to be international, it should be both national and also have values that will be shared with other nations. At this point, we can correlate the design with language. My design approach is to speak English with a Turkish accent. I believe that cultural accents make the communication sound sincere, enrich it and allow the potential topics to be shared. I think that the zero accent effort in the “Turkish Design” restricts the communication. 

Can I get your opinions about the design competitions in Turkey? 

I believe in Oscars; because there is no such thing as the applications of the participants. If a product that I designed is selected in a product group where I am the only applicant does make neither me nor that product good. If the design competitions in Turkey evaluate and reward all the products designed in a given year in terms of criteria such as user’s experience, aesthetical novelty, ergonomics, and availability for the consumer etc., I will believe more in the competitions. Beyond these criteria, I believe that the primary purpose f these competitions and awards should be to pave the way for new designers and new names.

Vol. 3
Onur Çanka Interview Mert Sandalcı Interview