Artistic talent, curiosity, an intuition for the Zeitgeist, a researching attitude, and the guts to ignore conventions. That’s how we would describe author designers – the kind of designers we intend to educate at the master department Contextual Design.

Manmade objects, tools, products, surround us by the multitudes; each of them a node in a web of meaningful relationships. Designs shape our daily lives and they shape who we are, while representing on an abstract level the cultural, social and technological reality of our times. Behind their first appearances layers of references hide, as well as ethical and aesthetical values. Apart from being markers of their time and context, designs can actively influence, change and improve the way people act and experience the world. They can even contribute to significant societal transformations. The criteria for estimating each new design might consist of these questions: Which values, beauty, pleasure, does this design represent? Which actions will it enable and enhance? Which relationships to other people? Which larger view on the world can I distil from this artefact? And, the most important question, do I want to live in the world that is implicated by this particular design?

The awareness of design’s role in society challenges designers to link their designs to larger ideals and overarching stories, which reach beyond the things themselves. It challenges designers to imagine utopian worlds and realize their dreams. This can never be accomplished within fixed frames and strict definitions. Therefore Contextual Design aims at continuously searching for new horizons and re-definitions of the field. Is an on-going questioning of the discipline not one of the main assets of a good designer? 

Given the enormous impact a design can have, we expect students are able to develop an original view on contemporary culture and society, and an original view on the ever-changing role design can play within specific contexts. The programme prepares them the best way possible for their future roles, provoking them to learn from history, find inspiration in their personal cultural backgrounds, and question existing conventions in design. When arriving at the concluding phase of projects the students are confronted with questions about the consequences of their choices, not to stop freedom and imagination, but to strengthen the capacity to legitimize the distinct positions they intend to embrace in their professional careers.

The curriculum of Contextual Design underlines the intention of focussing on a mentality, an attitude, rather than a strict area in design. The two-year programme guarantees freedom, time for play, experimentation, time for learning from the serendipity of the hands-on process, learning from failed experiments, and time for critical reflection. Within the frame of the discipline we offer much room for pushing the conventional borders, and if projects require so, trespassing them. Therefore the students engage in distinctive ways of working and get acquainted with artistic research, or ‘design research’, which usually combines experimentation (with materials, techniques, forms, functions, ideas), intuitive insights, critical reflection and literature study. Ample time is also devoted to strengthening the talent to express ideas into designs. As most design practices are collaborative in nature, and authorship often will take the form of co-authorship, multidisciplinary collaboration is enhanced within some of the design studios.


The programme is focused on enhancing the students’ artistic making skills, awareness of design’s impact within various contexts, and on enhancing the students’ reflective talents. The students explore topics suggested by tutors and topics of their own choosing, which are based on personal ambitions. To confront their own approaches and interests with a larger societal context they acquire knowledge, for instance through literature study, and develop a fruitful interaction between a growing body of knowledge and an on-going experimental design process. Throughout their studies the students engage in critical debate and lectures, excursions, and collaborations with external institutes. 

More information on the programme structure can be found on this website: 

Head of department: Louise Schouwenberg
Coördinator: Vita Köster


Team of tutors and guests 2017-2018: 
Simone Farresin (designer: Formafantasma), Gijs Assmann (artist), Maarten Baas (designer), Nacho Carbonell (designer), Yvonne Dröge Wendel (artist), Frans Bevers (architectural designer), Mikel van Gelderen (architect), Oli Stratford (chief editor Disegno), Marjan van Aubel (designer), Hewald Jongenelis (artist), Raumlabor (collaborative architectural studio), Lucas Verweij (designer, theorist), Jan Konings (designer), Raw Color (graphic designers Christoph Brach and Daniera ter Haar), Ulrike Rehm (artist), Sjoerd ter Borg (architectural designer), Kirsten Algera & Ernst van der Hoeven (editors McGuffin Magazine), David Hamers (researcher / reader DAE), Aurelie Hoegy (designer), Vincent de Rijk (designer), Dries Verbruggen (designer Unfold), Laurie Cluitmans (curator and art critic), Tamar Shafrir (designer / theorist / Het Nieuwe Instituut Rotterdam), Louise Schouwenberg (theoretician / head of department) and others.