Where can your creative curiosity take you? Explore the The Ulm School of Design’s digital archive on Dropbox
We task 3D animator Loulou João and artist Maaike Canne to create work influenced by this exclusive archive and showcase the range of possibilities that can come out of a little inspiration.
Earlier this month, we delved into how design became socially conscious, exploring The Ulm School of Design’s archive in never-before-seen, first-of-its-kind digitisation. We looked back on the history of the revolutionary school; how it started as a means to rebuild Germany after the Second World War, and its impact on contemporary design today. Featuring dozens of intriguing objects espoused by fascinating design thinking, the archive’s many masterpieces are available to view on a screen near you thanks to Dropbox. Its accessible organisational tools are at the heart of this project, allowing users to ignite their curiosity by discovering artefact after artefact in this intuitive archive.
Interestingly, the archive does not follow a conventional system of categorisation. It is not ordered according to date or designer but, instead, encourages viewers to explore files categorised by colour, size, theme, material, activity or physicality. We invited two contemporary creatives to dig into the collection, asking them to find inspiration in the fruits of Ulm’s products and interpret said interests in a new and enlightening creative endeavour. Tasking illustrator and animator Loulou João and artist Maaike Canne with the pleasure, here, we’ll find out what piqued their curiosity and how the Inspiration Archive can be used to inform the most contemporary practices.
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Concert poster, Visual Communication Department (Copyright © The Ulm School of Design)
Belgian 3D illustrator and animator Loulou João is known for her candy-coloured immersive worlds where she safely expresses an inter-dimensional view of the world. Tackling political, cultural, socioeconomic and historical topics in her Blender-created works, she looks into how white superiority is upheld and simultaneously delves into how it has affected her own identity too. Prior to this brief, Loulou hadn’t come across Ulm before but, she tells us, “I’m so happy to have gotten to know it through this project. It really gives a sense of what a speculative society could look like.” When looking through the comprehensive selection of images on Dropbox, Loulou went through posters, album artwork, electrical goods, vehicle design and industrial designs galore before landing on a modernist abstract sculpture which she rather took a liking to. “It already contained that bubbly feel that’s always present within my own work,” she says on the sculpture which resembles a chemical compound with its globular structure.
“I think the categories make browsing through the archive much more pleasant,” she says. At first, she took a gander through the shapes which led her to explore a myriad of designs featuring curves, organic shapes, lines, circles and dots, triangles, blocks and more. She then headed over to the colour section, browsing the eight folders with a further array of dreamy design goods at her fingertips. Through this process, Loulou “quickly found the selection that most spoke to me.”
“I’m so happy to have gotten to know the Ulm school through this project. It really gives a sense of what a speculative society could look like.”Loulou João
The animator and illustrator has long been familiar with Dropbox and its numerous facets. During university, Loulou’s lecturers used the file-sharing platform to distribute accompanying texts each term. “Instead of having a physical syllabus,” she explains, “we used this online tool for literary exchange.” Using Dropbox in a wholly different capacity for this project, she decided to interpret the bubble-themed objects and imagined a backstory for her 3D-rendered illustration. She chose objects which complement the plastic-like bubbly textures of her creative universe, looking for certain patterns and shapes that could slot easily into place. Conceptually, on the other hand, she embodied artistic license. With the modernist street lanterns, for example, Loulou reimagined the futuristic-looking object to denote surveillance equipment or wifi lanterns (“or both combined!”); a far cry from the egalitarian principles adopted when designing the original.
In Loulou’s new work, she flips Ulm’s ethos on its head: “Here we are,” she says of the setting of her new work, “within the school but in the present day.” One of her signature characters is seen on campus, taking in an exhibition featuring some of the school’s iconic past works. The piece brings together past and present, it sees a modern student reflect on the pieces and question how they can inform her role as a designer for the future. Loulou adds: “I especially wanted to use this character because sadly BIPOC are still underrepresented within arts education.” In this way, the student not only ponders the work but also its context. Can she relate to this specific past or is there a barrier that means she can’t connect with these works? And importantly, as the illustrator poses, “how can she make her next pieces which aim for a more inclusive future?”
“I especially wanted to use this character because sadly BIPOC are still underrepresented within arts education.”Loulou João
For Loulou, it’s crucial that we don’t forget the past as “it contains valuable lessons.” Through creativity, we can envision the future and implant a bit of hope too. “You have the capacity to imagine the impossible and with that, open a dialogue for what we can do better as a community.” Immersing herself in the creative process, Loulou created the artwork in Blender much like all her work. She kicked off the process by digitally recreating the sculptures to see how they’d look in her imaginary world, the Focketverse. Once they were created, she placed them in the exhibition space and played around with the curation.
When the composition was set, she further altered the Ulm objects to create a seamless transition into the Focketverse, then she started work on the perspective as well as the lighting and colouring to bring a consistent tone across the vibrant (and highly tactile) scape. The final artwork works beautifully as an overall piece while also shining a light on the individual objects on display at the exhibition. All in all, Loulou found the project “a great way to get in touch with the school’s spirit and reflect on its impact in the past and present.” And as her work progresses within the 3D space, don’t be surprised to see a familiar object or two make an appearance in her increasingly organic world.
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Loulou’s reworking of objects found in The Inspiration Archive
While Loulou took to the 3D elements of the Ulm archive, Maaike Canne, alternatively, was more interested in the horizontal and vertical lines. Based in Rotterdam, Maaike is known for her colourful and architectural works which never fail to possess a hint of the surreal. She often references nature and history in her works, so it’s no surprise that when she dived into the Inspiration Archive, she was attracted by the sleek modernist styles. “Being an orderly person,” she tells us, “I also reflect on my work being orderly and thus like such lines.” Going through the archive, she noticed how lots of the students used their hands “which inspired me to choose painting over working digitally,” she adds.
A fitting technique to coincide with Ulm’s hands-on approach to design methodology, Maaike also chose painting as it “leaves some things to chance, forcing you to experiment a little and allowing you to make happy accidents.” When looking through the archive, Maaike noted how Dropbox creates “a very useful way of keeping your archive organised.” She continues: “It made it very easy to find images quickly.” When journeying back and forth through the files, she smoothly flitted between the folders allowing for a seamless browsing experience and igniting further inspiration. She even says speculatively: “If you plan on creating a dreamy painting, for instance, I imagine you could search your own folders by colour or shape and find inspiration that way.”
“It opened my eyes to a new way of organising files. Instead of having everything in folders by date or kind, there can be different ways that might be a better fit for how you want to use certain folders.”Maaike Canne
Beyond this commission, Maaike usually uses Dropbox as a way to share holiday photos. Whoever she goes on holiday with, she creates a shared Dropbox folder that everyone can put their files into. “It gives easy access to everything,” she says, “and is also a nice way to keep everything organised by type file and date.” As someone with a self-described “bad memory,” Maaike prefers to use offline and online organisational tools like Dropbox as they allow her to sort her files from anywhere and at any time. Discussing the project generally, she adds: “It opened my eyes to a new way of organising files. Instead of having everything in folders by date or kind, there can be different ways that might be a better fit for how you want to use certain folders.” Whether that’s by sorting memories or inspirations by colour, physicality or the emotion an image evokes, Maaike says: “Ulm’s digital archive gave me ideas.”
The artist’s first impression of the archive was its striking broadness. From architectural drawings to furniture design, it was “clear there would be enough to pull inspiration from.” By looking at the images available, she gained insight into what it was like to study at Ulm, comparing it to her own art school experience in turn and assessing that “things looked so much better in the 1900s.” Taken by the beauty of the objects from within the archive, Maaike often wonders: “Where did we go wrong with designing functional things like chairs and household items?”
Her painting is an extension of this idea. It depicts a futuristic city where scale is distorted and objects can also function as buildings or vehicles. In the painting, she subtly depicts a number of objects from the archive hidden in plain sight. Maaike also sees the painting as a kind of exhibition space in this way, all the objects can be viewed in one place but they also have another purpose. “I noticed a lot of squares throughout the archive,” she adds, explaining the painting’s composition, particularly referencing the Fibonacci sequence which she spotted a few times. “It led me to create a piece that uses squares to spiral you, the viewer, in,” she adds. “I wanted to approach it with a graphic abstraction as this seemed fitting for Ulm.” In this sense, the artwork’s stylistic details are fairly simple and pared-back, much like the modernist minimalism pioneered by Ulm students.
"I noticed a lot of squares throughout the archive, it led me to create a piece that uses squares to spiral you, the viewer, in. "Maaike Canne
The squares became a fundamental concept behind Maaike’s painting. Using the repetition of the shape to create the striking composition, squares of all shapes, sizes and perspectives lay the foundation of the colourful artwork. “The orange shapes refer to the squares of light on the floor coming through the windows of the classrooms,” says the artist, “but also hint to filmmaking which was also taught at the school.” The blue squares, seen to the left of the orange section, mirror the vehicle design work seen in the archive and also emulate TV screens, while the darker blue squares seen at the top of the painting signal the windows into learning.
The artwork ties together abstraction and figuration in the way the squares aesthetically resemble Ulm’s archive as well as metaphorically echo its democratic philosophy. Maaike also sought to find a compositional harmony within the canvas, arranging the shapes in a way that evokes a sense of three-dimensional space and an illusion of depth. She also achieves this through her use of colour, accentuating the depth of field through bold light and dark tones in a Cubist-style homage to what can be done with linear perspective. An exploration of distortion, Maaike’s painting blurs the line between an object, pattern and the space around it.
The painting can be interpreted as any one of these three elements depending on the viewer’s subjective understanding. It’s much like the Dropbox Inspiration Archive, which is a springboard to launch into the myriad disciplines or topics that espouse from the multi-faceted Ulm School of Design. Whatever your craft, interest or background, Maaike and Loulou’s creations are a testament to the variety of creative opportunities that are possible through the Inspiration Archive, thanks to Dropbox and its intuitive way-finding system. We invite you to find your own motivating creative path by digging into The Ulm School of Design’s archive today. Where will your artistic curiosity take you next?
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.