Artistic talent, curiosity, a researching attitude, and the eagerness to redefine design, time and againthat’s how we would describe author designers—the kind of designers we intend to educate at Contextual Design.  

Designs represent the cultural, social and technological reality of their time, as well as the prevailing views on ethics and aesthetics. Apart from being markers of their time and context, they can contribute to societal transformations and change the way people act and experience the world. Designs shape our daily lives; designs even shape to a large extent who we are. In spite of the obvious importance of this cultural domain, a plethora of pointless things has polluted the world as ‘design’, simply because there was a market for them. The problem-solving paradigm of design has thus turned into a practice of creating more problems than solving them. We take another approach and don’t accept the market’s infinite urge to produce novelty for the sake of novelty, while ignoring the humanitarian and environmental implications of boundless consumerism and production. New perspectives on design’s impact are needed. New attitudes. At Contextual Design we consider the discipline as a way of reflecting on the world, as a practice of cultural critique.

Throughout the two-year programme we challenge students to take personal responsibility for the interventions in reality they propose, by asking time and again ‘what is your ideal for the world in which we live, and which role does your design play in that larger narrative’? Each new design can and should become a meaningful node in a network of valuable relationships with other people, things, contexts. 

tomorrow’s practitioners and theorists within a domain in which so many fields—ranging from aesthetics, culture, technology, to ethics and politics—intertwine? It starts by acknowledging we cannot know and predict the future with certainty, by acknowledging the importance of the personal drive and imaginative talent of the individual designer, and it starts by acknowledging design as a multidisciplinary and hybrid practice.

These insights are mirrored by the Contextual Design programme, which underlines a focus on mentality, on attitude and personal resilience, rather than a strict area of cultural production. Of our students we expect an eagerness to research and analyse the world in which they live, the boldness to dream beyond the known, and a desire to come up with imaginative alternatives where needed. The outcomes of the students’ imaginations and research can vary. A critical analysis of a theme can for instance lead to a sober representation of the topic at hand or to an artistic and provocative comment. Hands-on material experiments can lead to truly innovative products, or the invention of new materials and production techniques. Brooding on possible futures can call for clever strategies and realistic interventions in society, or they can open up views on possible worlds, utopian vistas. The department does not limit the range of topics and strategies students can propose. To get a grip on the distinct position each student wants to take within this field, we encourage students to trust their artistic intuition and the insights gained from their cultural backgrounds; we encourage them to freely experiment with materials, forms, functions and ideas, increase their knowledge of various contexts, and formulate their ideals for influencing society through design.


By taking inspiration from art, architecture, cultural and political theory, we ensure the students get acquainted with a great variety of (often) opposing views on design and different ways of working. In the first year, we strive to enhance the students’ personal imagination and artistic making skills, by engaging them in the unpredictable hands-on process and by researching various themes, which range from abstract philosophical and artistic concepts to real life issues that demand clever answers. Gradually the students formulate their own questions, and proactively seek for topics in the outside world they would like to further explore. In the second year, the focus shifts to enhancing the students’ autonomous, as well as their reflective talents. To confront their personal interests with a larger societal context, the students develop a fruitful interaction between a growing body of knowledge, acquired for instance through literature study, and an on-going experimental design process which is based foremost on artistic imagination. The two-year course is concluded with a design project and a thesis.

Apart from the regular meetings with tutors, we invite and foster critical debate on various aspects of culture by offering a rich programme of lectures, critical debates, and collaborations with external institutes.

Most lectures are organized in close collaboration between Contextual Design, Social Design and curator/editor Tim Roerig. Lectures of the programme ‘Ways of World-Making’ to be expected in 2020-2021 are dealing with these topics: creating scenarios for possible worlds; inclusivity / diversity / the other; the limits of economic liberalism; analysing, and taking inspiration from, a student’s cultural background; (Neo-)Colonialism; housing / changing concepts of the home; how to position oneself within the professional world; how to position oneself after the Covid-19 crisis; how to deal with fear; the artistic mind and psychopathology; material culture. Apart from the lecturers of the collaborative programme, the tutors and guest tutors of Contextual Design offer a range of morning lectures/debates for all CD students, dealing with their own practices, researches, or dealing with topics they deem interesting for the department’s community. Some of the lectures are closely linked to the design studios. These CD lectures include: Nanet Montfrans: Georges Perec; Ben Shai van der Wal: The Author, and: Semiotics (how to ‘read’ objects); Louise Schouwenberg: Authorship in art and design; Erik Viskil: The Essay Film. The themes of other lectures and names of lecturers will be communicated via google calendar.

Below you find some Contextual Design projects.

Head of department:  Louise Schouwenberg
Coordinator: Judith Konz (until September 2020), Hilde Talstra (from September onwards)



Tutors, guest tutors, lecturers, coordinators 2020-21 (2019-20 between brackets): Gijs Assmann (artist), Guus Beumer (director Het Nieuwe Instituut), Frans Bevers (architectural designer), Nadine Botha (curator, writer), Raphael Coutin (exhibition designer/ 2019-20), Bogomir Doringer (artist, filmmaker), Yvonne Dröge Wendel (artist), Mikel van Gelderen (architect - Zeinstra Van Gelderen), Ying He (designer/ 2019-20), Laura Herman (curator, writer); Jesse Howard (designer), Alexandre Humbert (designer, filmmaker), Huan Hsu (author, journalist/ 2019-20), Simone Farresin (designer -Formafantasma/ 2019-20), Hewald Jongenelis (artist), Hella Jongerius (designer/ Master Class Spring 2021), Michael Kaethler (researcher, writer), Jan Konings (social designer), Barend Koolhaas (architect/ 2019-20), Tjyying Liu (theatre maker, writer, performer, sinologist), Gabriel Maher (designer), Manet van Montfrans (researcher and lecturer of Modern European Literature), Amos Mulder (artist, filmmaker, animator), David Mulder van der Vegt (architect - XML), Alice Rawsthorn (design theorist/ Master Class August 2020), Vincent de Rijk (designer), Tim Roerig (curator and editor, organizer of the Lecture Programme Ways of World-Making), Sjeng Scheijen (Russian Avant Garde specialist, author), Louise Schouwenberg (art and design theorist, head of department), Tamar Shafrir (design researcher, writer/ 2019-20), Irene Stracuzzi (graphic designer), Hilde Talstra (MA Dutch Language, Literature and Journalism, coordinator), Jennifer Tee (artist/ 2019-20), Thomas Thwaites (designer/ 2019-20), Noam Toran (artist), Dries Verbruggen (designer - Studio Unfold/ 2019-20), Christel Vesters (theorist/ 2019-20), Erik Viskil (researcher, advisor cultural institutes), Barbara Visser (artist), Esther de Vries (graphic designer/ 2019-20), Ben Shai van der Wal (linguist/ philosopher), and others.

(students receive a Year Plan which offers specific information on the programme. Read here the interview with L. Schouwenberg on Contextual Design)

More information on the department head and tutors