“Placing emphasis on open communication and transparency while providing excellent personal service is definitely a huge plus for the D2S brand.” Rozina Spinnoy shared her business vision. November 14, 2021
Rozina started the Belgium Design Council in 2016 with a view to educating the value of Design Strategy and the value that design has to business, government, communities and our environments; with a mantra of ‘Excellence, Enterprise and Efficiency’ in its culture! She shares about her company Design2style, NGO BIDs Belgium and her other professional engagements.
Can you tell us more about your design company “Design2Style”? What is your focus?
When I started Design2Style, the focus was to get to know my ‘local’ market after working in an international corporate environment. For residential and business clients to give an experience of how interior design can change how we feel and behave in an environment, with conceptualizing and delivering mid-size corporate and residential renovations. Moving onto some branding projects. I stayed in touch with my hospitality network, which also helped. I worked on some exciting projects for corporate regional offices of the Finnish company Kone. Mixing the technology into the design. I had to know what made the CEO ‘tick’ and it was definitely technology and gadgets. This reminded me of Renzo Piano, with his book of Technology, Place and Architecture, which I bought many years ago, merging technology and intelligent building and product development together.
I had a fun time experimenting with some set designs also. I was approached to present and design for a U.S. home renovation programme. This was quite a surreal experience yet gave some insights into what’s required for Television. I designed the home of a Canadian friend, who runs an Art Fair in Brussels and who happened to be selected coincidentally by the producers of the show.
TECHNOLOGY PLACE & ARCHITECTURE, THE RENZO PIANO LOGBOOK / GOOD DESIGN IS GOOD BUSINESS – IBM – THOMAS WATSON
The business model of D2S is all about working with other freelancers on a collaborative project-by-project basis. I have an excellent team of loyal contractors, I have been working with them for many years. I want to keep it small, I never had the ambition to grow to take on-premises with 20/30 staff. I knew I would move into other spheres of design and wanted that freedom to grow, whilst keeping it personal. Placing emphasis on open communication and transparency while providing excellent personal service is definitely a huge plus for the D2S brand.
You are the director of the Belgium Design Council (SME), and the NGO BIDs Belgium (New European Bauhaus community partner), what are the missions of these organizations?
I started the Belgium Design Council in 2016 with a view to educating the value of Design Strategy and the value that design has to business, government, communities, civic society organisations and across our environments. With a mantra of ‘Excellence, Enterprise and Efficiency’. At the intersection of Design, Creativity, Sustainability, Innovation, and Technology as key levers for change. Promoting circularity and sustainability with enabling design-led innovation from products, services, systems to cities.
Understanding that using design as a tool, we can go deeper and create some of that all-important systemic change needed and understand better the complex systems and mechanisms that are needed to create that change. Linking also design, organizations, processes, systems and our environments, ‘design is good business’ for people and the planet. I also looked at the various disciplines of design professionally over the years. Including interest in Inclusive Design. Looking at the practices and principles of inclusive design and admiring the work of Kat Holmes and the work of the Royal College of Art’s Helen Hamlyn Centre, where Rama Gheerawo is the Director.
Many of the official design organizations in Belgium, over previous years, in my opinion, were predominantly focused on the aesthetic aspects of design and were there to support and promote designers home and abroad. I had the ambition and vision of them working together to go beyond this. I had the will to extend the knowledge base and the ability to think about design in more systems and strategic applications.
I was also heavily influenced by the work of Bruce Mau and his work with Massive Change. As a student, I had the book S, M, L, XL wrote with his collaborator Rem Koolhaas. Then at a later stage, I was gifted ever stylish Life Style by my then boss. Mau somehow made it ok to be working and evolving across various spheres of design, whilst creating impact with a massive change in small steps. Recently launched his new book MC24 which was a welcome therapy during the pandemic period. I reached out, connected and exchanged with him during this period, conveying how much of a mentor he had been to me, without actually knowing it himself.
BRUCE MAU MC24 / CITY OF DESIGN KORTRIJK
When starting the BDC, I initially reached out to the politics and many of the public-funded design organizations to talk about the vision of the BDC and aspired to this being a collective as such and for it to be ‘everyone’s’ organization moving it from a small enterprise to non-profit organization. To share more of the design-led innovation aspect, for the business sector to the varying levels of government and community as a whole.
Yet, this collective vision was challenging and perhaps somewhat naive with the linguistic and regional divisions – the idea of having an organization with the word ‘Belgium’ as one county seemed rather political at that time, as I was told. Belgium and its regions have multiple levels of government and public bodies and this wasn’t always easy to navigate through the layers, to understand who is in charge of what in the creative, cultural and economic sectors. The publicly-funded design institutions were also reinventing themselves at the time when I started the BDC. Some had closed down, such as Design Flanders and were restructuring within other entities. They were re-aligning with their political objectives and expectations of their funding streams and dependent on the flexibility and boundaries of the political parties in charge for that term. In saying this, there has been a positive move for 3 of the many regional organizations to align with the ‘Belgium is Design’ collaboration.
The BDC is privately funded as an enterprise and it has brought opportunities and the freedom to design the projects we wish. The awareness of design and creativity, as a tool and process is certainly spoken about more in the broader sense locally now and also for a policy that is a positive move towards the future. Yet there is room for more alignment and more of an inclusive approach and being open beyond the usual design crowds.
Therefore, reinventing and evolving BDC to build up international collaborations and awareness is a huge plus. The BDC stays will continue to stay as an enterprise for the moment. Providing the service to help the transition to a more regenerative culture through redesigning systems and education. Also designing community projects on the philanthropic side. Continuing the awareness on design strategy, systems design and with some foresight. This approach also seeps into the sister organization of our NGO BIDs Belgium more often.
I was in Scotland recently and had the privilege to participate and contribute to the Design for Planet initiative by the Design Council in the UK, during the period of COP 26. The BDC was invited to attend the international roundtable of 20 international Design organizations from around the world to see how we could share and collaborate further. I attended their 2-day event at the V&A Design Museum in Dundee, which was excellent.
There is much work to do within the inclusion and diversity aspect, in a sector that is predominantly run by non-ethnically diverse people. I focus primarily on consultancy and community projects that with a focus around awareness of design-led innovation and educating on the inherent value of design. Collaborating in the past, with some international foundations as we did in Asia, promoting Women in Design for the Belgium Design Council. This has also been playing a big part in BIDs Belgium’s creation of projects around gender equality and inclusion.
The Belgium Design Council’s community interest also launched the NGO BIDs Belgium over time. BIDs Belgium was initially inspired by the Business Improvement Districts around the world, ‘BIDs’ as they are known. BIDs take a defined zone in an area and focus on economic regeneration, city/community and place branding. Partnering with BIDs in Scotland and connecting to many of the European BIDs, I took the holistic approach of using some of the regenerative Design-led innovation and place-led development, toward the community improvement approach of co-designing inclusive, sustainable, resilient and healthy communities.
Understanding on a deeper level, what this means and the interconnectivity and integrated approach we need to transform our cities and places to work towards the UN Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. Working on some small local pilots, to international projects and advisory. BIDs Belgium is fortunate to be part of placemaking networks such as Placemaking Europe and the City Space Architecture.
It has been a privilege for my small NGO of BIDs Belgium, to become a community partner of the European Commission’s New European Bauhaus initiative. The initiative links to the European Green Deal; connects this to the spaces in which we live. Encouraging the exploration, experimentation and connecting with encouraging cross-sector collaboration, between the arts, culture, sciences and technology; fostering innovative collaborations and solutions that are inclusive, sustainable, and beautiful. There are now well over 300 diverse community partners. I had the pleasure to be on the Jury panel with others for the selection process of the recent New European Bauhaus Awards, in which some incredible projects and concepts won.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career now?
I think the challenges I have faced are those that most women face in their careers. The balancing of work, life, and family, as working for oneself can also present major advantages and disadvantages. Yet I do believe the good definitely outweighs the negative for me.
As a woman of color, I am now more conscious of the discrimination in the industry than when I was younger and started out. I wish for this to change dramatically for the next generation. The industry needs to move forward and not only look at the inclusion of more female leaders, yet the intersectionality of women and the representation is crucial.
It’s not a world of equal opportunities and not as inclusive as it should be in the cultural, creative industry sectors. Hence I’m glad to continue working on projects that align with my core values of inclusivity and growing my work and services more internationally and align with those that have a shared vision of ‘together we are stronger’.
Continuing on the awareness of the role that design and creativity play for social cohesion within our diverse ever-changing cities is essential. The CCI (creative and cultural industries) and the individuals involved have an intrinsic value and opportunity, to solve some of our greatest societal challenges. Designers can help create a socio-economic positive impact, with some strategic thought and with some foresight. I’ll continue to raise my voice further on the Covid-19 period series of podcasts, with the initiative of ‘Design Conversations’ and the topic of Inclusion in the industry. I also collaborate with friends/colleagues of Alok b. Nandi and Lefteris Heretakis for our monthly session on ‘Let’s Amplify Design’ on Clubhouse. We discuss the various spectrums of design and the future of design education on the 18th of each month at 18hrs CET.
DESIGNING CONVERSATIONS PODCAST – ROZINA SPINNOY / LET’S AMPLIFY DESIGN – DESIGN EDUCATION TALKS
I believe design should be taught for its value as a trans-disciplinary evolving tool and for problem-solving for societal challenges – even across mainstream schools. Yet we have a long way to go for that challenge of re-designing and regenerating our design education! Initiatives such as the New European Bauhaus, can certainly help in that awareness and bring in new narratives around design and co-design. Whilst helping to evaluate the projects submitted for the NEB Awards, reading through the many projects gave me such incredible hope, with the impact many collectives and organizations that are pushing forward with implementing.
I enjoy sharing and talking about the many interests that stem from design knowledge and experience. Therefore, I will continue to my public speaking engagements at every opportunity. Topics around the many innovative and inspiring projects, initiatives and solutions that the creative thinkers and change-makers bring to the global challenges from health, education to co-designing inclusive and sustainable communities.
I hope to get more involved in the Education sector with having enjoyed the many invitations from Educational institutions as a visiting ‘Professor’ and Expert. From the British Council to Kayseri University in Turkey to the Faculty of Design, Ljubljana, Slovenia and sharing some participative co-design thoughts on the art of democracy with the youth. To also contribute, sharing and exchanging with students and professors on the role of technology and design at Bolzano University, Italy.
I also have had the pleasure of connecting more to my roots in Scotland with sharing, exchanging, and working more there prior to the Covid-19 period. In February of 2020, I was invited to do a workshop by the Academy of Urbanism. I had been nominated as an Academician and helped co-organize a Futures workshop in the University of Dundee, with its stunning V&A museum and is a UNESCO Creative City. There are opportunities to work on more sessions with AoU on the feminist cities aspect, which I hope to engage further in soon.
V&A DUNDEE (Images Rozina Spinnoy)
I hope to continue to build on the relationships and work with the many I have encountered over the last years. Also, I’m hoping to continue to share and advise and further develop the corporate, business and NGO sectors on their business transformations and innovation processes, with a system and regenerative design focus.
The role and opportunities that we as designers and creatives, have to learn from the past in order to co-design our futures and to learn and enrich our very beings from the indigenous cultures around the world, is immense. I have an opportunity to use my voice, my creativity, my humanity, to continue to leverage my experience and network, to empower diverse women, girls and those that are vulnerable in our society and are often left behind, and continue to disperse some of my knowledge, while learning from others. There is so much work to do, so let’s start looking forward with hope, courage and co-creation with and for our next generation of aspiring Designers, Architects, Urbanists and Creatives.
What are you working on at the moment, and do you have any upcoming projects that you’re able to tell us about?
The projects I am currently working on have given me many reflective moments and brought certain moments and emotions of my past into future projects. Perhaps it’s middle age, who knows?
I’m working on designing programme of inclusive events for an initiative of ‘Empowering Women’ sessions. I started this collective of Empowering Women and Public Spaces during the Covid-19 period and launched it on International Women’s Day in March this year. This had a focus on awareness on designing safer public spaces across our communities. Yet whilst doing this, it was a focus on teaching women and girls self-defense.
I used to practice Karate and even competed at a professional level, regionally and nationally. I won gold and silver at the Scottish Karate Championships in the late ’90s. During this time I recall my thesis for my final year at university, being heavily influenced by Japanese culture and architecture. It was during this period I became rather obsessed with light and space and the works of Tadao Ando, whom I admire greatly.
TADAO ANDO – CHURCH OF LIGHT AND ARMANI TEATRO
I haven’t been in the Church of Light, yet I remember being in awe visiting the Armani Store for an event during the Milan Furniture store Ando designed.
For my thesis, I chose an old Church on the Southside of Glasgow and wanted to convert it into a multifunctional martial arts center for the young and old. I link this phase emotionally to an early influence of the play between light, shadow and architecture. Being a young girl and playing in the shadows of the brutalist architecture buildings of the synonymous Queen Elizabeth Square social housing apartments in the Gorbals in Glasgow. My Father had his business in this location during the 1970s.
I remember the concrete pillars and the long external corridors of these Le Corbusier-inspired buildings. I recently came into contact with the Irish community that knew my Father and were residents in these apartments before they were knocked down in the late ’90s. I got to know an Architect, Author and playwright who also said these light and shadows play of the structure paved his way into creativity subconsciously.
Back to the future, with this initiative of Empowering Women & Public, I connected with inspiring diverse women from Northern America, South East Asia and Europe to collaborate and create collective awareness and local actions in our respective areas. Knowing we could use public space and private space to practice. The debate knowing that ultimately women should not have to change or adapt their behaviors in public space, it’s our sons and men that require education on this. Yet we know that women for women do not design most of our cities and most women get harassed. I have been harassed and also physically when I studied abroad. Luckily, I was prepared and went into automatic self-defense mode and protected myself.
As well as the public spaces initiative, I’ve also started an Empowering Women and Climate Change initiative. I’m collaborating with a friend and colleague in the urbanism/architectural world based in Italy of City Space Architecture. We recently co-organized a session for the Innovate4Cities global conference, which was co-organized by the Global Covenant for Mayors for Climate Change and UN-Habitat. We dipped into our global network and had some incredible women attending from Brazil, India, Pakistan, Italy, Finland and Sweden.
EMPOWERING WOMEN & CLIMATE CHANGE / EMPOWERING WOMEN & PUBLIC SPACES TALKS (BIDs Belgium)
I’ve also recently finished a 3-year project collaboration with a European consortium for the JPI Urban Europe project of Placecity with Oslo and Vienna. We are hoping to continue this collaboration and have recently had a follow-up project session this month. In November, it was also COP 26, the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow. I had the pleasure to visit the public zone conferences and attend some side events, making new connections along the way. There is plenty on the horizon, including further public speaking engagements with The International Sports and Culture Association in Brussels and our BIDs partner, Scotland Towns Partnership.
Last, what are your passions outside of the design world?
Finding out what makes our people and planet ‘tick’ is a passion, with observing, listening, and feeling, with the good and not so good. Design is my passion and I don’t see the work I do, as work and I’m very lucky for that! My family outside of the design world is an instinctive passion. I have 3 incredible teenage sons for which I’m blessed and whom I’m very proud.
With keeping to the home environment, I absolutely adore gardening and it’s also a passion. Nature itself is the greatest design of all. I continue to take photos of the natural elements in my garden and relish them on a daily basis. The simple pleasure I get from planting a seed and to see this grow into the most stunning exotic flower or the flower into a vegetable is just so simple, yet immensely rewarding. I have also been dabbling in landscape gardening. I know I’m not alone in that, as the surge of people enjoying gardening and experimenting has grown over the pandemic period.
GARDEN & FAMILY
The idea to source and grow locally reminds us of the communities around the world that we must learn from. The many diverse and indigenous communities have lived sustainably, well before we even became so aware of the word and talk about in a global way are now. Yet we cannot design solutions unless we also redesign our global economies and acknowledge that climate justice is very much linked to social justice, equity, and racial justice, with the Global North/South divide. The activist in me only grows in middle age!
I often think I’d like to ‘design’ my own farm one day and continue to grow my own vegetables, watching the shadows and lights of the seasons change! The healing power from nature for our mental well-being is neuro-scientifically proven and it definitely benefits our busy lifestyles.
This also links to my middle son, who has mental health challenges, and my continued passion to drive and to create more awareness on mental health and the challenges associated there. Despite having more awareness on the topic over the years, we still have a long way to go in breaking taboos and designing accessible support systems at a local level. My list could go on as I have many passions, as I’m sure you have gathered!
Thank you for reading about my journey in the ‘diversity of design’ in my career. I hope sharing my story is of some value to students and those starting out their careers in design. Showing the value and power the creative brain and design has to make positive change across lives and create a positive impact for our beautiful planet.
It’s never too late to start your journey in the diversity of design!
This interview has been written by Rozina Spinnoy, Founder and director of the Belgium Design Council.