People Researcher

 Julia Veldhuijzen van Zanten is a social designer with background in textile design. She is currently living in The Netherlands, exhibiting and working in Europe and the Far East.

Veldhuijzen van Zanten describes her field of work as ‘people research.’ Specializing in working with and for the elderly or other groups she considers excluded, she explores how design could tackle stigmatized living aids or environments. Despite a background in textile design, she doesn’t focus on a specific medium, but more to a field and people.

In the manner of Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa’s concept of ‘Supernormal’, Veldhuijzen van Zanten aims her designs to fit seamlessly into everyday life. In her work, she doesn’t aim in making strong statements as such but in tackling collective behaviours and mentality that represent a bigger societal issue of belief. She challenges what is considered normal by tackling human moments on the margins that we don’t think about.

With roots in the Netherlands and the USA, being brought up in Spain, studied in the UK and the Netherlands and worked on a 56m sailing yacht in the Caribbean, Veldhuijzen van Zanten has a wide perspective on the idea of ‘normal’ in different cultures. Through observation of daily life, she is inspired by small moments and everyday challenges or solutions, such as train station benches or security gates on airports. For her, travelling and being on the road provide new perspectives and observations to practical design solutions, people, cultures and societies.

 Veldhuijzen van Zanten would like her designs to be considered humble, integrated and human. Her goal is to create or develop small, meaningful innovations that are important to the small moments of people’s everyday lives. This has lead her explore the role of design in healthcare systems and products.

“In general, the approach in the field of healthcare is extremely pragmatic, and not catering to the emotional needs or experience people have whilst using the current solutions,” she says. “Although it somewhat seems to happen naturally, I do not want to be categorized as ‘solution-oriented.’ Sometimes that is a relevant response, but I also sometimes like to simply challenge our point of view with a more poetic and less pragmatic approach.”

Julia Veldhuijzen van Zanten graduated Bachelor of Arts in Textile Design at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design (London, UK) in 2010, and Master of Design in Social Design at Design Academy Eindhoven (Eindhoven, The Netherlands) in 2014. She’s actively exhibiting around the world in exhibitions concerning design, wellbeing, healthcare and the elderly, and also works as a guest lecturer at Media, Arts and Design Faculty in Genk, Belgium.

Written by Heini Lehtinen

Portrait by  Catharina Kousbroek