CONTEXTUAL DESIGN department head Louise Schouwenberg encourages students to focus less on solving today’s practical needs, and more on imagining future questions and scenarios.
“The world needs visionaries, Author Designers, who dare to fantasize about the future potential of global and local developments and the changes brought about by technological innovations. With every product and strategy a designer actually says something about our humanity and how we relate, or wish to relate, to the surrounding world. As we believe that every good design starts with the personal engagement of the designer, we challenge students to become aware of their fascinations, formulate their own design challenges and distinctive ways of working. Artistic talent, curiosity, empathy, a researching attitude, and critical reflection are at the base of every project. Product design is the frame we take as a starting point, but rather than focussing on a strict area in design, this two-year Masters programme offers much freedom, time for play, experimentation and learning from failures. Gradually we guide students towards a greater awareness of the cultural value and societal implications and responsibilities of their free imagination and wild choices ... for instance by engaging the students in lectures and critical debates. As we deem imagination an important creative force, the team of tutors consists of experts from various cultural fields, including art, architecture, cultural theory, and design. Via individual feedback, group talks and workshops they guide the students in developing innovative concepts, broadening their skills, and help them choose distinct roles that match their talents."
INFORMATION DESIGN is headed by Joost Grootens. It filters the deluge of information we are bombarded with in a technology-driven era down to accessible narratives.
"The projects we do with our students start from the notion that every new technology transforms the nature of design. Technology empowers individuals and has the potential to change societies. In this context a new balance needs to be found between those who publish information and those who read it. We train students to become independent, critical and original thinkers who have a political and cultural conscience of the design field, and the world. We want them to be able to translate their concepts into products, tools and systems. A recurring question is: why is this topic you are researching as a designer so urgent at this moment in time? The questions we ask our students are always rooted in an understanding of the contemporary situation, and thanks to the mentors/tutors, we keep them connected to the outside world. In some projects we actively seek connections and collaborations with outside partners. Studying, learning new technologies and reflecting on new insights should be a natural need for every designer. Students at DAE acknowledge that they are part of a global system in a world in flux. This knowledge leads to two attitudes in designers. One is to become introspective, to cocoon, to reflect on oneself. The other is to participate, to collaborate, to take part in the world. DAE tends to attract more students of the latter kind."
The SOCIAL DESIGN department headed by Jan Boelen is defined by its critical attitude. Its students are pushed to continuously ask: why do I design, what impact will my design have, whom will it affect, and what do I achieve with my body of work?
"I think students who are most critical towards what is happening in society are a good match for my department, and they also need to have the confidence to really trust their own needs, desires and emotions. I see the Social Design department as a self-reflective ‘laboratory'. I want students to question everything. Only after that process of enquiry are they ready to take their work out into reality. Of course everything needs to be tested in the real world, but students need to keep coming back to the ‘laboratory' to further apply what they have observed or learnt. Culture, economics, technology – they are all just a part of design; it all needs to be integrated to really have an impact. Technology in particular is a super interesting lens to look through – it has become more political and therefore more social. It is disrupting and changing the way we are looking at design. And the students love it because they see the implications – they want to use it and abuse it, and then it becomes a tool to ask new questions. Students are discovering gaps between different social systems, which is where designers can act and make a difference."
Alice Twemlow HEADS DESIGN CURATING AND WRITING where there are some fascinating thesis research topics emerging. Here are some, to name a few: sleep as designed construct; the political agency of the portable flush toilet in South African townships; the growing sector of disaster design; the countermovements that provide alternative to the prescriptive tendencies of the smart watch; the role of design in shaping education; semi-industrial machines as the new design product. The course invites close study of things – that is, the physical products of a consumer society. Where it becomes even more interesting is when it becomes apparent that objects are less and less divisible from the systems, networks and infrastructures on which they rely - many of which are invisible or hidden. Screen-based interfaces and networked devices, for example, govern so many of our everyday experiences, and their underlying design has a logic and a politics that demands scrutiny. Students are engaging with the less visible - but just as powerful - aspects of our designed environment.