The Croatian Designers Association (Croatian: Hrvatsko dizajnersko društvo, HDD) is a non-governmental, nonprofit and voluntary trade organisation founded to promote the social and professional interests of its members. Established in June 1983 as a Croatian Society of Designers (Croatian: Društvo dizajnera Hrvatske, DDH), the Association actively promotes the importance of economic development design and everyday life through exhibitions, publications and education. The Association’s members work in the fields of graphic design, product design, electronic media design, typography, photography, illustration, fashion design, design theory and design education.
The idea for establishing the Croatian Designers Association came from a group of designers dissatisfied with their current association’s lack of understanding. They were members of the Association of Fine Artists of Applied Arts of Croatia (Croatian: Udruženje likovnih umjetnika primijenjenih umjetnosti Hrvatske, shorter ULUPUH). ULUPUH was the closest in relevance to what they do, however Fine Art is vastly different from most aspects of design work. The ‘spiritus movens’ of the Association was Bernardo Bernardi, an architect and industrial designer, and some of the first prominent members were painter Alfred Pal, architect Vjenceslav Richter and designer Boris Ljubičić.
Industrial designers Marjan and Mladen Orešić, Zlatko Kapetanović, and graphic designer Stipe Brčić, among others, later became professors at the new School of Design.
Today we know that design is not art as such and that the aesthetics are not primary; the function is. That’s one of the main reasons an association set primarily by and for artists wasn’t the best option for designers.
At first, the emphasis was on industrial design and its difference from the unique and one-off design. Graphic design was also a pretty new profession in Croatia and an unknown industrial field. Even today, many people think design is equal to art, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In Croatia, the understanding of design, long before the internet’s infinite sources, was shared by the first members. The crown jewel of their actions in the 1980s was establishing the School of Design at the Faculty of Architecture in Zagreb, in 1989. By founding the school, members could finally educate future designers and the general public about the importance of design.
The Association made the first Exhibition of Croatian design in 1999 in Forum Gallery. Other significant years for the Association were 2007, when the portal dizajn.hr was launched, and 2009 when the Croatian Designers Association finally got its own space in Boškovićeva 18, Zagreb, which also serves as an HDD gallery.
As mentioned earlier, the Association’s primary purpose is to educate the public about the importance of design. One of the best ways to do that is by showing and explaining the design projects that already exist and impact the world around us. And what better way than an exhibition followed by a live talk with the author.
Over the years, the HDD gallery has held dozens of exhibitions of old design masters. Their works are familiar to many, but that’s often not the case with their names. The general public and younger designers can’t learn a lot about them on their own because those designers worked in the time before the internet and cheaper digital print.
Many exhibitions resulted from the tremendous amount of time spent sorting through the authors’ archives trying to materialise the products’ processes in the most engaging concept.
For instance, many Croats know the swan logotype of Labud factory or remember the visual identity of Univerzijada 87, but don’t know that those are the works of Dušan Bekar, one of the most prominent Croatian graphic designers at the time. He also made the logotypes of Narodne Novine, INA oil company and HEP national energy company. HDD made an exhibition about his work in 2019.
Every year, the Croatian Designers Association makes an open call for designers to propose the next season’s exhibitions. And every year, the audience can see several retrospectives of Croatian designers and exhibition concepts made especially for the HDD gallery. Many designers have showcased their work, like Vanja Cuculić, Boris Ljubičić, Grupa and others.
Another goal of the Croatian Designers Association is to promote Croatian design, which they do through different projects. One of them is the yearly Croatian Design Exhibition that we wrote about recently.
In 2010, the Association called designers to contribute to the travelling exhibition In a Nutshell, aiming to introduce the contemporary Croatian design to the European audience. Since the first exhibition in Zagreb, the public could see chosen works in Bruxelles, Beograd, Helsinki, Maribor, Sofia, Skopje and Tirana.
An international project that won several awards was the ExtraOrdinary Design project. It’s an inclusive design project, so far held in Zagreb, Osijek and Požega. The project was led by Julia Cassim, professor at the Kyoto Institute of Technology, previously professor at RCA in London.
Cassim gathered the international professionals in the field that, together with Croatian colleagues, led teams of designers and residents to make a sustainable production with the help of design theories. For instance, in Požega, they worked with schools on a series of products for the city museum. The most popular project is probably Plan D (previously Dan D), the Festival of Design. Since 2010, all designers can apply for an open call for participation in exhibitions.
The programme is enriched with presentations, film projections, promotions and lectures. It consistently has good attendance because it showcases the design works familiarly, and it is attractive to every generation.
Design for beginners (Croatian: Dizajnerska početnica)
Since education is one of the core of HDD, what better way to educate about the importance of design than through the youngest population. The Association regularly holds different children’s workshops, called Design for Beginners, or in Dizajnerska početnica in Croatian.
Workshops are made and adapted for different age groups and various interests, which is not hard because design covers a wide array of fields such as graphic design, product design, electronics, fashion, etc.
For instance, if a graphic designer wanted to show children the basics of his work, he could host a ‘Make your own picture book’ workshop. To adjust the same subject for the older children, he would show them how to make an actual book.
Writing about design is as important as writing about any other industry. During my studies, there were only a few books about design in the Croatian language in the first years of the School of Design.
I started studying design in 1998 and can honestly say that we mainly learned from books in English if we could find them. There was no particular library or even school textbooks for the specific subjects.
The Croatian Design Society aims to fill that gap. Over the years, they have written and published dozens of books, and the catalogue or book aligns with most of the exhibitions held in the HDD gallery. The last book created was Drama by Vanja Cuculić, made as an addition to the exhibition held in 2020.
For designers, the most interesting one in my opinion is The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, a ‘Bible’ for anyone working with typography. It was published in Croatian by the Croatian Designers Association 2018.
The goal of the Association has remained the same from the beginning: affirmation of Croatian design and designers.
Because design is tightly connected to other industries, it’s essential to acknowledge the broader importance of this discipline and what it brings to the economy and our day-to-day experience in general.
The Croatian Designers Association has evolved over the years, the culture has changed, and many more people have an understanding of what design is, yet the field is constantly evolving, and it is important to have someone to keep it all under one roof.