Indonesian Design Today According to Design Trendsetters


Some people just don’t follow trends while many people are prone to do so. Regardless of people’s preference over this issue, a trend indeed exists. It becomes a benchmark for makers and designers to create things that are accepted by the market. To get more insights into “Trends in Design”, we talk to designers who set trends. Here, Hidajat Endramukti, Andi Rahmat and Denny Priyatna discuss different types of projects they are working on and what they are up to. Especially in this edition, we also have Joshua Simandjuntak of Bekraf, who has curated creative objects for many major exhibitions including New York Now and Salone del Mobile.

Joshua Simandjuntak

Deputy Chairman of Marketing at Bekraf (Indonesian Creative Economy Agency)

Before working for the government, Joshua Simandjuntak had already made a name for himself as one of the top industrial designers in Indonesia with his firm, Karsa. In addition to completing an Art and Design Foundation course at Central Saint Martins – University of the Arts in London, he also earned his BA Hons. in Furniture and Related Product Design from Ravensbourne University, also in London, and then completed his studies at the Royal College of Art. Having been a student in London, he then worked there as a product developer under the direction of the famous British industrial designer Tom Dixon.

What do you think about the development of product design in Indonesia?

It is becoming quite exciting because we are starting to see a lot of exploration in terms of modern materials and designs. What is also interesting is the business acumen of the product designers themselves. Previously, product designers only designed a product—the only thing in their job description —but now they are coming forward with great products and attractive packaging, so we can say that they are absolutely ready for business. They certainly don’t think just about creating a product.

What are the strong points of Indonesian design?

We (Bekraf) recently came back from the New York Now exhibition where we saw pavilions from Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and various other countries, which were distinctively different from one another. For instance, there was the industrial-style Taiwanese pavilion where all of the products were attractively designed, looked adorable and functioned really well. But they were all machine-made.

In contrast, in the Indonesian pavilion, even the wooden watches on display had a handmade quality to them. They were machine-produced but some parts were still done by hand, like the leather straps which were traditionally crafted. And that’s where the attraction lies. I always remind people that we are not an industrial country—we are not industrialists. Historically, the strength of our product design has always been the fact that it is handmade. There is local wisdom in the creation and materials, not in the machinery or the economically-driven production where we have to produce as many products as possible in the shortest time. That is not Indonesia. Indonesia is about creating good products by hand. Therefore in any exhibition that our country has taken part of, both for the product and handmade sectors, our tagline is always ‘contemporary Indonesian crafts design’—and that’s where our strength lies.

What criteria do you apply when choosing contemporary Indonesian designs?

In addition to originality, our curatorial criteria included (1) handmade, (2) exploration from its cultural roots, (3) having an exploration value regarding material, and (4) being contemporarily designed. A woven cloth, for instance, is just a piece of material and, as such, it has little practical use in our daily lives. But now there are designers who turn the woven cloth into camera straps, bag straps, wallets, pillow case, and many other useful things. Today’s product design takes our local wisdom and packs it creatively into practical products that we can use every day.

Another example is ceramics, which are (1) handmade, good quality and ready to be exported, in addition to (4) having a contemporary design. Wicker is another example. When produced (1) with a high level of craftsmanship, we can see its innovative side and (2) when it is designed using locally-based patterns we can picture these products (3) in a contemporary setting.

Is there a particular material or technique that is trending in our society?

Almost all of the techniques have their own niche. Wicker material, for instance, has long been a staple for furniture and has its own market. Timber is now being explored as a material for eyeglasses frames, watches, radios and many other things. Every time I show people a wooden radio, they immediately remark, “Wow, this is amazing.” They are mesmerised by the innovation. Bamboo is currently trending, as well as leather goods such as wallets and passport cases. The key competitive edge for these products is the design, how the materials are eventually packaged, designed, and given an added value that can win the market’s attention.

Is there a new direction in the evolution of product design in Indonesia?

For design-related tourism, for instance to find a particular product, people still flock to Bandung, Yogyakarta and Jepara. Creative designers in Jakarta and Bandung are doing very good business. Creative youngsters here are keen on ‘manipulating’ objects, producing and then selling them. The same thing is happening in Jogjakarta with the mushrooming of stores selling contemporary Yogja souvenirs. Earthenware products being sold there are becoming more varied, some are made with glass blowing techniques for example. But the main trigger today comes from the art schools. In Jakarta there are a lot of design schools, resources and capital. And most importantly the market is there, so it is not surprising to see burgeoning bazaars—semi-permanent places, pop-up stores, and even permanent ones—in the city selling a range of well-designed products and fashion items.

Other destinations, such as Ngada in Sumba island, has long been a place to find innovative product designs, but people don’t go there primarily in search of those products, but more for the natural beauty or history. It’s more by chance that visitors can see women in the village actively weaving traditional clothes.

What is Bekraf doing to support the development of product design in Indonesia?

Bekraf has the Department of Research, Education and Development, which is initiating a programme called Innovative and Creative through Collaboration of Archipelago (IKKON). The concept of IKKON is to bring together designers and craftsmen/artisans from all over the country. For instance, fashion designers are getting together with weavers from Ngada on Sumba Island in order to develop ready-to-wear fashion products.

Andi Rahmat

Principal of Nusae

In this internet era, all things need to have aesthetic merit as part of their overall design appeal. Contemporary and modern designs appear on our screens all the time. These styles are amongst the most popular with architects and interior designers, but the role of graphic designers is maybe less well understood. We talk to Andi Rahmat, the principal designer for Nusae, about the state of graphic design in Indonesia today. His main concern at the moment is to raise the profile of graphic design so they can play a vital role in the ongoing evolution of modern design in Indonesia.

What are the key trends in Indonesian graphic design current?

At the moment, we are still pushing for graphic design to get more attention from the public. This is more or less related to the history of graphic design in Indonesia, where graphic design evolved out of the well-established advertising industry. As a consequence, the public has generally viewed graphic designers as “drawing men,” while in reality it is not that simple: there is always a profound thinking process behind every graphic project.

Formal education in graphic design in Indonesia only started in 1972 at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) following the return of AD Pirous after a one-year stint at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in the US. He went to study there because ITB realised that there would be a growing demand for graphic designers, seeing the large number of businesses setting up in Indonesia who would need to create logos, branding images and marketing material.

Today, the programme has developed very well, as evident from the larger number of practitioners in the profession, as well as the many design studios emerging and developing throughout the country. Every designer possesses different characteristics and each, therefore, offers a slightly different interpretation about graphic design in Indonesia.

What do you think about the development of graphic design in Indonesia?

The appreciation of the Indonesian people towards graphic design is getting better, as we can see from the growing number of graphic bureaus in the country. But design-wise, personally I feel that we can still do better.

We can obtain information much faster in this internet era so we can see and gather more data, which we can use later. Therefore, we can discover better or different designs that we can gain inspiration from – not copying them visually, of course, but more about the thought process behind the design. From this we hope that people can begin to discern between designs which are simple illustrations or drawings and those which have been created by experienced designers.

So far, we haven’t really seen good graphic designs in public areas in Indonesia although this should be a very important part of the environment, such as signage that makes it easier for people to find their way in public spaces or public information that is specifically made for the benefit of the people. At the moment, graphic design is merely used for consumerism purposes: for advertising and promotion.

What do people think about this field?

Better than before, but I don’t reckon it is as good as I hoped it would be. This is because of the common public belief that they can do the work of graphic designers themselves—it is already in their mindset.

When did modern graphic design start in Indonesia?

In the 1990s, the logo design of PT Kereta Api Indonesia (Indonesian Railway Company) was already done in a modern way—it was well proportioned and made in a metric fashion. This effort produced good design, which I think is still relevant to this day. However, a lot of designers do not want to learn from things that have worked in the past – and are still effective – because they always want to come up with something new and different.

Of course there are graphic designers who have successfully brought graphic design to the surface so that people can enjoy the results. For instance, the design for the Indonesian Independence Day image that within the last years has been done by local graphic designers – this year it was done by the Blackhand Design studio from Bandung – as well as the logo for the Jakarta MRT by Wulan Pusponegoro and the Asian Games logo by Feat Studio.

What are you working on at the moment?

Aswin Sadha (Thinking Form), Andi Kurniawan (Kudos) and I are creating a group called Indonesia Design Modern with the vision of representing and promoting modern Indonesian design – raising the profile and public awareness of what we do.

At Nusae, equipped with the knowledge of the history of graphic design in Indonesia, we have a clear focus about what we have to do now. We’re trying to create modern designs of the best possible quality, highlighting functions and information that should be easily and effectively communicated through good design. At the moment, we’re making a big effort to collaborate with other bureaus and other fields of work that share the same spirit: to create modern Indonesian design.

I am also helping few architects such as Andra Matin, Budi Pradono and Danny Wicaksono, as well as Hermawan Tanzil at Bintaro Design District, with a one-week design event that was held in mid-October. Eventually we want to make the event as big as the London and Tokyo Design Weeks but obviously, at the moment, we are taking small steps. Next year, I am helping with the Pasar Papringan event which is the brainchild of Singgih Kartono. It is wonderful to collaborate with other people with the same principles to create better quality of Indonesian design, and make Indonesia look more modern in the process.

Denny R. Priyatna

Principal of AIEVL

Denny R. Priyatna may be young but he has already had an extensive portfolio, along with some reputable awards, such as the Singapore Furniture Design Award’s Merit Award in 2013. He was educated in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Design at Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and pursued his higher education at Central Saint Martins at the University of the Arts London (UAL). Years after his starting position as product designer at Lumina Group, Denny recently exhibited his new brand AIEVL at Maison&Objet Paris.

How has the product design industry in Indonesia developed today?

Personally, I have only started to follow the development of design product in this country since 2011. Since then, there has been a gradual development in the Indonesian design product scene, but none is radical or massive. People are starting to adapt—various things that were deemed strange have now been positively accepted by the market. A lot of styling styles are becoming more familiar and the public are getting smarter in recognising design, all thanks to social media.

There are quite a lot of players in the furniture industry, some with export orientation and some with local ones. What we see on the surface are the ones creating mass products but apart from that there are a lot of smaller ones that are starting to develop their business. At the moment most of the smaller industries are shifting to home décor and kriya (handicrafts), which do not need too much funds but can generate faster cash flow. The furniture market itself is rather elusive. Despite the vast exploration of design in the small and middle scale furniture design scene, development in that sector is faltering. Indeed, there are developments in the large scale/export sector, but design-wise they are only presenting trends that can definitely be accepted by the market and therefore unique and cutting edge designs in this sector are rare.

What sort of design is demanded by the market at present?

An up-to-date design—a design that is visually appealing, similar to the references found in Pinterest. Moreover, at the moment people tend to want to have a more personal product which appears more unique than the existing designs. People tend to go for value and story behind the product design.

In architecture, people have more awareness towards green materials because of its grand scale, which becomes one of the selling points of the field. For furniture design, the same awareness is relatively scarce for local consumption but we see more of that in the export market because that is the standard in various countries abroad. Price and ergonomic points are still the main concern for sales in the local market. Other focuses like green materials are still unable to provide a strong selling point.

Is the trend beneficial for Indonesian designers and artisans?

Of course, because our products are based on handiwork, craftsmanship and natural materials, thus making us fluent in creating culturally-based products that can tell a story. Speaking about products, here we have learnt about handiwork long before we are introduced to the new product designs that have only been around for 40-50 years.

What do you think about the development of handmade products?

They are more acceptable abroad. In Indonesia, people are still testing the water. Perhaps the Indonesian people are beginning to understand handmade quality products, but some of them are still under the wrong impression about these products. Handmade products cannot be as precise as machine-produced products, and therefore they are presented in all their imperfections. In fact, handmade is all about imperfection. By presenting a product that is imperfect, we are ensuring a unique quality and personal touch for each product as not one product is the same. Even factory-made IKEA brand is starting to create products with handmade touches. So, the thing that was previously done and controlled by independent designers is now accepted by the public and is following the trend.

What is the current condition of design product?

In the era of start-up businesses, people are competing to create new products. But when we talk about start-up, we also have to remember that they have to start small. Therefore we can find more home décor and accessories products in the market. At the moment there is also a trend about User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) for tech start-ups, which has opened a lot of prospects for interface design. This in turn has prompted a lot of young designers to shift their interest towards the digital world and diminish the creation of products that involve craftsmen. I don’t know whether this is a fluctuating trend or whether crafts are indeed going obsolete. Lately we have seen the regeneration of product designer profession, but only in areas where the people earn their living from making handicrafts, such as in Central Java and East Java. In large cities such as Jakarta and Bandung, young designers opt to work with digital design and start-up businesses.

What is the orientation in material selection these days?

We have a lot of resources for materials, but on the other hand, we are only focusing on certain materials, such as rattan and timber. Yet innovative designs are rarely created with rattan. People tend to use ready materials using the available technique.

If we compare products in our country with Taiwanese products, for instance, they are going all-out with excellent craftsmanship. When they talk about bamboo, they do not only mean bamboo tubes or bamboo strips, but also woven bamboo pieces, or even doing some explorations in the finishing stage. This means although everything is made of bamboo, which means that the material is the same, nothing is boring because everyone has a different design characteristic. What is important is how we develop the material into a modern entity.

Volume-wise, rattan is now becoming more fluctuating and I believe there will still be a market for timber in many years to come. We have seen several designers creating products that combine rattan or timber with other materials.

In Indonesia, we are still talking about design in its commercial context; in other words products that follow market demands. It is true that there is innovation, but not a lot. With regard to commercial design, each designer presents a product that ensures efficiency of material, easy production technique, and good ergonomics so that costs can be kept to the minimum. They also make certain that the previously bulky and complicated designs can be made slimmer and simpler. You can say that at the moment, the movement is geared at styling—about shapes and forms. Whatever material is in use, people will eventually become bored not because of the same material, but because of similar design.

European designers are always on the lookout for new materials, such as the innovation of bio-material. They even came up with the jargon: new material is better than new design. But this is perhaps due to the constraints of materials that they use. It is getting difficult for them to source local materials. Timber and bamboo are hard to find there and that is why they need to look for new materials. This is totally different from the condition in Indonesia where we still have plenty of materials. Designers might think to explore new materials, but the people will demand to know what for. However, this might create another dilemma because we also need exploring and creating new innovations.

Hidajat Endramukti

Principal of Endramukti Designs

Hidajat Endramukti returned to Indonesia in the mid 1960s after earning his Master’s Degree in Architecture from Technische Universiteit Delft in the Netherlands. One of his first interior design projects was Hotel Tugu in Malang and, after that, he continued to work on hospitality and residential designs. In 1993, he set up his own firm, Endramukti Design, and since then he has been developing and evolving his iconic tropical and eclectic designs. Among his best known projects are Alila Ubud, de Soematra Restaurant in Surabaya and The Shalimar Boutique Hotel in Malang.

What are the main trends in interior design today?

I believe at the moment the trend in interior design is gearing towards the modern style. There are those who still opt for classical design but modern design is dominating the scene today, especially among people under 40 years old. This is perhaps because of the references that can be widely found in magazines and social media. I think that both of these have a profound impact on the general trend. I believe, for the next five years, the trend for modern design will continue.

Are you also following this trend?

Since the beginning of my career as a designer, I have loved the eclectic style because it is never boring. The amalgamation of styles in eclectic design helps us not to be stuck in one particular style. At the moment, I prefer modern design that I combine with antique and colonial elements—a style that we can call the modern Peranakan colonial style. Together, these styles can create an appealing design. I have been applying the same style since the 1990s, but to this day, people still like it.

How do you see the development of interior design these days?

I think it is improving rapidly because when we look back to 30 years ago, in my hometown of Surabaya, people were reluctant to pay a design fee because it wasn’t the norm. Usually they went straight to the interior contractor or furniture contractor so that they would be able to purchase items for the construction project and get a design along with them, thus eliminating the need to pay a specific design fee. However, in the past 10-15 years, people have started to appreciate design, so the service of a designer can truly be valued.

Especially in the last 10 years, thanks to the internet, people are getting more exposed to designs—from the personal style of each designer to high-class furniture brands and accessories. This is great because, in addition to furniture, accessories also play an important part in the design.

What is influencing interior design today?

At the moment, interior design is getting a lot more attention in many businesses. In the field of F&B, for instance, people used to care only about the taste, quality and price of the food and drink. But these days they are also looking for the right ambience. This means interior designers now play an important role in ensuring that an F&B outlet is interesting and appealing.

Looking at current designs, which ones do you think are the most attractive?

For hotel design, I think Andaz Singapore, which was designed by Andre Fu, is particularly interesting. Moreover, the hotel concept is unique compared to other establishments. Anouska Hemple’s design for Six Sense Duxton Singapore in the Tanjong Pagar area also has a fascinating look - the ambiance is reminiscent of an English establishment but the oriental side can also be strongly felt.

For restaurant design, Surabaya has seen the opening of several new restaurants with excellent interior design, for instance Mr. Fox in Tunjungan Plaza. Altoro Spanish Restaurant also has a good interior design and a relaxing ambiance.

Are there any young designers whose work you follow?

There are some I found on Instagram who I think are great, one of whom is Domisilium.

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Barbara Hahijary
Barbara earned her bachelor's degree in architecture from the Interior Architecture Program of the University of Indonesia in 2013. Historical or heritage buildings, as well as utilitarian design, fascinates her as it is the interaction between people and architecture that remains her favourite topic to explore. Besides architecture, her interests include design, handcrafts, literature and social issues.