Over the last few months, COVID-19 has compelled us to design more distance into our lives than we could have imagined. But in doing so, what has it taught us about closeness? This is the question behind this year’s all-virtual edition of Dutch Design Week (DDW), which begins on Saturday, 17 October.

Under the theme ‘The New Intimacy’, the festival will present a remote feast for the senses, featuring talks, exhibitions and artworks that explore ways for us “to relate differently towards each other and the world around us.” To help you navigate the week ahead, we’re sharing our first picks of the most interesting projects on the programme.

DDW Talks: The New Intimacy

17 October

A fitting introduction to the beating heart of the festival, this livestream will discuss what design can do to create, translate or subvert new understandings of intimacy in a time where physical contact is often no longer possible. The pandemic has “shrouded our entire social fabric and exposed all the threads and frayed edges,” reads the invite. Can design help us balance our need for safety with our desire for social connection? More info here.

The IKEA Virtual Greenhouse

17 – 23 October

With an increasing majority of us now living in isolated urban spaces, this project offers creative ways to bring nature into our homes. Throughout the week, you can expect a series of masterclasses, live talks and interactive events by experts in food, wellbeing, sustainability and botany. From crafting mood flowers to caring for bees, each session is designed to help you cultivate a more sustainable and balanced life at home. More info here.

Redesigning the Future of Healthcare

17 – 25 October

Another hot-button topic at this year’s festival is the design of healthcare. In this special showcase, creatives at Philips Experience Design will present their most innovative projects to the public, opening the floor for conversations about pressing issues like the shortage of medical equipment and the value of wellness in a mid- and post- pandemic world. More info here.

The Embassy of Mobility

17 – 25 October

Across the virtual hall, the Embassy of Mobility will be presenting a virtual exhibition examining the consequences of COVID-19 for mobility. How flexible are our mobility systems, and how do they influence our quality of life? What does the 1.5-metre society mean for the connections between neighbours, cities, or countries? Will public transport ever be the same? Don’t miss this if you’re at all interested in industrial design or urbanism. The programme even features a ‘special walk’ of the much-buzzed-about Parc de la Distance. More info here.

Bump Galaxy: Virtual Care, E-Health, Digital Love

17 – 25 October

Here’s a project that really piqued our curiosity: Bump Galaxy is a virtual world and community for mental healthcare prototyped on the popular sandbox game, Minecraft. In it, community members can visit several different ‘Care Commons’: from a forest for meditation to sand dunes for reflecting on your dreams. You can also virtually meet — and receive care from — various mental health professionals from around the world. Imagine a joint therapy session with a relationship counselor from Sweden and a hypnotherapist in Japan or participating in a collective sound bath by one of your favorite DJs. At a time when there is little trust in both Big Tech and Big Pharma, this project stands out for the way it playfully deinstitutionalizes healthcare. More info here

ASMR U Ready

17 – 25 October

Well, well — as Bompas & Parr predicted earlier this year, ASMR is here to stay. With touch and tactility becoming the new taboo, many of us are left searching for comfort and contact in the digital realm. In some corners of the internet, ASMR videos have become a phenomenon, with studies showing that they may provide temporary relief of chronic pain, stress and anxiety. In this special event, artist Valdís Steinarsdóttir will exhibit a selection of weird and wonderful material experiments using the help of the ASMR, to stimulate the visitors’ aural and visual senses in a unique way. She explains: “One of the core ideas of ASMR is the sensation of intimacy and closeness which I’m hoping the audience will experience as well.” More info here.

All images from Dutch Design Week.