Developments since 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 country, experienced the restoration of a market-oriented industry as a complicated and extremely severe process. The market pressure forced domestic producers to minimise 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. Privatisation 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 also founded, but only a small group of domestic producers 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 geared their work to small-lot production where manual work was commonly used. Especially in the field of furniture production and the furnishing of wooden toys, designers not only took the role of designing products, but also became the producers and sales organisers. One can look for example at toy designers such as Karol Krcmar and Tibor Uhrin, and in the field of furniture design Dana Musecova, Jozef Gasparik, Norbert Smondrk, Miroslav Debnar 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 1990s 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 up 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 programmes. 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.
In 1991 the first year of the Trnava Poster Triennial was held in Trnava. This event has gradually become one of the major international exhibitions of poster making.
As design implementation in Slovakia did not meet internationally-accepted significance, propagation focused on the presentation of design quality which became an essential way of presenting and emphasising its function in economic growth. In 1991 the Slovak Design Centre (SDC) was founded with the aim of supporting design development in conditions of economic transformation and to create a market-oriented economy. The Centre then began to publish the specialised magazine Designum, to organise design competitions, and to award excellence in design.
After 1989 design departments at four Slovak universities – the Academy of Fine Arts and Design (VŠVU) in Bratislava, the Faculty of Architecture at the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava, Faculty of Arts at the Technical University in Košice and the Department of Furniture Design and Wooden Products at the Technical University in Zvolen. Education in the utilisation of visual arts at high schools also changed. Many students from Slovak schools received awards ain international competitions and had their creative potential admired even at international exhibitions.
Unexpectedly, a huge inflow of qualified designers created a new dynamic in Slovak design in the mid 1990s. There was no radical economical revival of domestic production, but producers were much more effective in adapting to the new industrial system. Designers’ creativity was at first utilised in the furniture industry. Among the companies that had a production programme based on quality contemporary design were Mobilier Piešťany, Domark Žilina, and Brik Kremnica. In addition to the middle generation of designers (Rastislav Turek, Ivan Cobej), there were also new graduates of Slovak universities who successfully established their positions (Michal Stasko, Norbert Sladecka, Peter Bohus, Marek Skripen). 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 (Stefan Klein’s locomotives, Boris Ciampor´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 duo Bendis and Kierulf were a great example of how to adapt to the limiting frame of Slovak industry’s production opportunities without compromising a 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 Steinhubel) contributed to the commercial success of the transformed company, LR Crystal Lednické Rovne.
The entry of a significant number of younger generation designers in the mid 1990s broadened the volume of Slovak graphic design. Several designers started to work on a discipline with little tradition – font making. Both Andrej Kratky, for the font Bradlo, and Peter Bilak, for the font Eureka, gained international recognition. The works of Slovak poster ‘classics’ entered into competition with the works of Emil Drliciak and others. The number of magazines was increasing together with the number of expressive designers who specialised in the field. Zuzana Chmelova is one who deserves mention in this area. Also, Johanna Balusikova created a visual identity manual for the design biennale in Saint-Etienne in France.