by Otto Van De Steene


all the creations I’m proud about.

Behind my design

Somehow the sublime is always indescribably there at the convergence between the bearable and unbearable.

“Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling .... When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and [yet] with certain modifications, they may be, and they are delightful, as we every day experience.”

Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful

This is the most beautiful description I ever read about the ‘sublime’.  It may be the clearest description of how it comes I feel so attracted by powerful nature, or of how some work feels to me to be amazingly good art, architecture or design. The sublime is not an easy feat to even achieve for a little part. And it is probably only at some moments I touched it. Merely touching a little underused process or technique sometimes opens a beautiful box of magic. This may be one of the reasons I love the design process so much.

When designing anything I tend to let allow function, material & production processes guide myself to something that can end up to stand up at its own. Allowing functionally complex shapes whilst being limited by production processes and cost is being circumvented way too many times.

Too many designs around us may be too limited by the mere limitations of the number of dimensions designers let themselves guide by. Companies and designers often seem to not have limited themselves by the processes or techniques they have learned to handle themselves, but by software processes that may have found efficiencies for the digital, but not necessarily the real world.

The certain form of pureness I strive for is a complex process to achieve. With the ONAK canoe, I succeeded to simplify the function to some bare necessary parts. By getting back to the 2D, to easier achieve excellence in the 3D, I not only solved the problem of the folding of the boat; the production process got simplified tremendously. The going back to the 2D to achieve the 3D enabled me to achieve a shape in a much tougher material than previously has been possible.  

Trough rather designing in 2D, and cutting/creasing paper-models and comparing all different kinds of materials I achieved in making the ONAK canoe design happening. During this process, I got in touch with so many materials & techniques that I not only saw more and more possibilities for the ONAK canoes appearing at my horizon.

Somehow, my ONAK studies enabled me to now take a step further for many kinds of goods. However, don’t get me wrong here. I will not limit myself here to the 2D into the 3D. I will merely embrace the particular mechanics I discovered during my ONAK design-quest, to try to enable more sublime things to happen.

Otto De Steene
ONAK 2.0

Both empirical tests and a lot of customers feedback made me develop the ONAK 2.0:

The wooden seats, the easier setup proces with a pulley system. I rethought it all to such a point I didn’t see a lot more room for development anymore.


Seemingly the ONAK team is still adjusting the designs whilst going to production. I heven’t had my hand in these developments though.

Otto De Steene
successes & happy accidents behind ONAK canoes

Before we really started we already won the Bizidee award for best Businessplan of the year, and the Outdoor Industry Award for our concept. Both obviously allowed me to lead ONAK through an amazing Kickstarter campaign. But actually it more was the picking up of some more mainstream media that made ONAK getting really viral.


Just after the campaign we had TIME magazine naming us “Big Idea”:

ONAK in time magazine.png

I started to develop the ONAK canoe to make a better foldable canoe. But having discovered the ONAK material on our way we came to understand ONAK is much more. Some avid-canoeist started to buy ONAK canoes because they are simply faster in performance on the water than similar priced classic canoes.

We later won more awards, and even had a raving review in the Kajakmagazin back in june 2018.

Only through more rigorous tests and research we came to understand that the in-house developed ONAK material is strength-to-weight about 30% stronger than the material used in traditional aluminum canoes.

Otto De Steene
ONAK canoes

For those who didn’t follow the full ONAK foldable canoe its story, it might be best to check our original Kickstarter campaign-video as it couldn’t capture the essence behind ONAK in a simpler way:

With developing the ONAK canoe we found the solution to an age-old foldable canoe problem: stiffness & weight have a tremendous impact on a canoe’s padding characteristics, yet all previously developed foldable canoes are made from soft materials. With the ONAK canoe we could combine the best in stiff & light composite canoes with the foldable origami concept we so much needed for the sport to become more practical. Thanks to the composite srPP - honeycomb composite material and production techniques we developed, we were able to also bring down the price of such a high-performance canoe down to a level many consumers can afford.

Otto De Steene
postrock music video in Norway for Dirk Series

This was more like personal work. I contacted Dirk Series to make this video on own budget after I saw him perform as warming-up for the Japanese post-rock band Mono.

By the end of the shooting, I have lost a lot of my camera gear in a stone-avalanche. This kind of abruptly set me without my beloved camera’s, leaving the room seemingly needed to start folding on what I missed during the trip: a foldable canoe. Soon I was so entrenched in the foldable canoe (later ONAK) project that I kind of lost interest on focussing more on my photo & video work. Actually, I deliberately quit my that-time day job to go all-in on the project.

Otto De Steene
A blind man in Mombassa

Personal project during my times in Mombassa. I saw this man making music amongst the most crowded streets, I wanted to make a portrait about him. Due to many Kafka-esque miss-habs, and being challenged hell of a lot by corruption and bureaucracy I managed to squeeze out only a few shooting hours for this. Needless to say, I probably lost some opportunities to make enough footage to really convey the story as I envisioned. But anyhow. Here my little short about this very beautiful figure.

Otto De Steene
photography for the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra

For quite a few years I’ve been following this orchestra as a side-job. I was named to be their house-photographer for some time.

I had the honour to follow the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra, some artists and composer Wim Henderickx during the creation of a new piece. This photo exhibition was then shown in the foyer of the Flagey concert hall in Brussels.

Otto De Steene
Photography bringing my hometown together

This are all people from Beerlegem, the village I grew up in. I had the job to picture all the passions of the people for a socio-cultural project exhibiting in the local sports hall, we brought the whole village a little closer together.

Otto De Steene