Design in Slovakia

After 1989

After the sudden change in 1989 that brought the fall of the communist regime, a process of economic and industrial transformation took place in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. In the field of industrial production, Slovakia, just like other post-communist countries, experienced the restoration of a market-oriented industry as a complicated and extremely severe process. The market pressure forced domestic producers to minimize their cost of production and it was the designers who often became the victims of this “slimming”. Many older factories became parts of foreign mergers without the opportunity to design their own products. Privatization and the entrance of foreign investors to the Sandrik Dolné Hámre Company, along with its reconstruction, suppressed the activities of the development department that had presented excellent designer quality in the previous decades. New companies were founded as well, but there were only a small group of domestic producers who had the ambition to launch their own products. Consequently, this did not bring too many opportunities for designer work.

In this situation where designers would hardly get any orders from ordinary serial production, many of them oriented their work to small-lot production where manual work was commonly used. Especially in the field of furniture production and furnishing of wooden toys, designers not only took the role of designing products, but also became the producers and sales organizers. One can look for example at toy designers such as Karol Krčmár and Tibor Uhrin, and in the field of furniture design Dana Mušecová, Jozef Gašparík, Norbert Šmondrk, MiroslavDebnár, and others who continued in the authorship of furniture design from the previous period, carried out in the form of solitaires or small series.

The change in economic conditions at the beginning of the 90s caused the opposite situation -a real boom in graphic design. The dramatic growth of offers for commercial graphics that became the dominant field for graphic designers was combined with the creation of new information technologies, which opened a new era of graphic design in Slovakia. Its traditional spheres (posters, brands, packages, etc.) were modified (for example the poster grew in size and became a billboard) and became parts of wider drafted programs. Graphic design expanded to electronic media. The growth of quantity did not automatically go together with the growth of quality: the lack of invention was often hiding behind the anonymity of advertising agencies’ production.

As design implementation in Slovakia did not meet its internationally accepted significance, propagation focusing on the presentation of design quality became an essential way of presenting and emphasizing its function in economic growth. In 1991, the Slovak Centre of Design was founded with the aim to support design development in conditions of economic transformation as to create a market-oriented economy. The Centre then began to publish a specialized magazine Designum, organize designer competitions, and award excellent design.

After 1989 designer departments at four Slovak universities were created or reorganized: The Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, The Faculty of Architecture at Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava, The Faculty of Arts at Technical University of Košice and The Department of Furniture Design and Wooden Products at Technical University in Zvolen. Education in the utilization of visual arts at high schools has changed as well. Many students from Slovak schools have been awarded in international competitions and their creative potential admired even at international exhibitions.

Unexpectedly, a huge inflow of qualified designers started to provide new dynamics into design in Slovakia in the mid-90s. There was no radical economical revival of domestic production, but the producers were much more effective in adapting to the new industrial system. Designers’ creativity was at first utilized in the furniture industry. Among the companies that had a production program based on quality contemporary design were Mobilier Piešťany, Domark Žilina, and Brik Kremnica. In addition to the middle generation of designers (Rastislav Turek, Ivan Čobej), there were also new graduates of Slovak universities who successfully established their positions (Michal Staško, NorbertSládečka, Peter Bohuš, Marek Škripeň). Among other branches, the dental equipment of the transformed Chirana Company deserves special attention since it was able to establish itself in foreign markets due to the excellent design of Ferdinand Chrenka. Ambitious projects were developed in the field of machine design (Štefan Klein´s locomotives, Boris Čiampor´s earthwork machines and so on), their implementation was often more than the domestic producers could handle due to high financial demand. The works of the design tandem Bendis/Kierulf were a great example of how to adapt to the limiting frame of the Slovak industry’s production opportunities without compromising high quality design. Works of the young glass designer Patrik Illa won several awards and together with the works of some older glass designers (Jozef Kolembus, Juraj Steinhübel) contributed to the commercial success of the transformed company, LR Crystal Lednické Rovne.

The large entry of the younger generation in the mid-90s broadened the volume of Slovak graphic design. Several designers started to work on a discipline with little tradition – font making. Andrej Krátky, for the font Bradlo, and Peter Biľak, for the font Eureka, gained international recognition. The works of Slovak poster “classics” entered into competition with the works of Emil Drličiak and others. The number of magazines was increasing together with the number of expressive designers who specialized in the field. Zuzana Chmelová is one who deserves mention in this area.Also, Johanna Balušíková created a visual identity manual for the design biennale in Saint-Etienne in France, which is still used at this prestigious event.

Mild economic revival in the first years of the new century and another entry of young designers was reflected in the following development of design in Slovakia. In the field of furniture design, in addition to the designers mentioned above, the youngest generation started to achieve success: Andrea Pinková, Jakub Janiga, Rastislav Čeleďa and others. There were more and more of those who implemented domestic production and cultural traditions into contemporary interior design: along with Tibor Uhrin there are other successful designers in this field such as Šimon Mišurda, Etela Lučová and other young designers. The competition “The Ripples” and other events organized by the Centre of Folk Production and the Slovak Centre of Design had a very positive role in supporting the identity of national design. In addition to the already existing magazine Designum, a new magazine Craft Art Design came into life.

Although the expanding car production in Slovakia is limited to car assembly without the opportunity to intervene in development, there are some new remarkable designers working for prominent worldwide producers at important positions (Jozef Kabáň for Volkswagen, Michal Kačmár for Škoda and so on). The small-lot production of sports cars with attractive design was developed thanks to the designer Juraj Mitra (K1 Styling-Tuning Company). Štefan Klein became an expressive personality in the field of machine design thanks to projects for domestic and foreign producers, in addition to his pedagogical activities (his transport design department at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in  Bratislava is one of the most prominent places of this kind of work in Europe).

The next area of design that developed was that which emphasized the conceptual dimension of creation and was moving on the border between commercial art and free art (František Burian, Karol Weisslechner and others). Silvia Jokelová brought a new phenomenon of design shaded by feminism into the world of Slovak design; Peter Jakubík tested the erotic effect of design products.

Even at the beginning of the 21st century, graphic design profited from the inflow of new designers. Thanks to them, the design of books and magazines achieved a positive shift of quality (Martin Šútovec, RobertParšo, Pavol Bálik, Peter Huba, Ján Šicko and others). The field of font design was strengthened by the members of following designers’ generation (Daniel Takáč, Martin Bajaník). Remarkable international success was reached in the field of packaging by Hedviga Hamžíková. More and more graphic designers are starting to focus on web page design. Even in graphic design, new creative ways of pressing the limits between free and commercial art appeared (Ján Šicko, Vladimíra Pčolová and many others).

Zdeno Kolesár



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