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.
Each new design deserves to become a significant node in a web of meaningful relationships. Manmade objects, tools, products, which surround us by the multitudes, shape our daily lives and, on an abstract level, represent 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 and change the way people act and experience the world. They can even contribute to significant societal transformations. This awareness puts quite some responsibility on the shoulders of designers! Should, then, their main ambition not be a continuous search for new horizons and re-definitions of the very term ‘functionality’? 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, challenging them to learn from history, find inspiration in their 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.