Artistic talent, curiosity, a researching attitude, and the eagerness to redefine design, time and again - that’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 significant 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’. Apparently, there was a market for 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.

How to make sense of the world - How to deal with both local and global developments - How to deal with daily life….. Of all cultural domains, design is probably the one that is most firmly grounded in reality. The old views on design, including the problem-solving paradigm, no longer suffice for today’s complex reality. New perspectives are needed.

At Contextual Design we try to reformulate the essence of design, by asking: ‘in which world do we live and in which world do we want to live?’ Each new design should become a meaningful node in a network of valuable relationships with other people, things, contexts. We consider the discipline as a way of reflecting on the world, as a practice of cultural critique.

How to educate 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, 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 innovative functional 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 utopian vistas. 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 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. The main part of the programme consists of thematic design studios, led by many experts, ranging from designers, artists, architects, to filmmakers and philosophers.

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. Students learn to: study and analyse abstract themes; turn tutors’ assignments into personal urgencies; create designs that offer original perspectives on given situations; understand their own interests, talents and weaknesses. 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. In the course of the final year, the students also research the implications and references of their projects (such as the questions others raised within this field of research), and they define the positions they intend to take within a specific field of interest. 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 all aspects of culture by offering a rich programme of lectures, critical debates, and collaborations with external institutes. The programme in 2019-2020 consists of: Lectures on the cultural and social relevance of textiles (inspired by Entrelacs, a research project by designer Hella Jongerius at Lafayette Anticipations, Paris). Lectures on ‘Fact and Fiction of Local Craftmanship’, lectures on ‘Material Culture’, lectures on the relationships between people-objects-technology, a lecture and debate on semiotics / how to ‘read’ objects, and lectures yet to be defined. Detailed information will be communicated in due time.
In May 2020 we will organise a semi-public masterclass in which all graduate students present their plans and results thus far to British design theorist Alice Rawsthorn. She will then discuss the projects and offer final advices for strengthening them (this masterclass will be rescheduled). 

Below you find some Contextual Design projects.

Head of department:  Louise Schouwenberg
(Temporary) Coordinator: Judith Konz



Tutors / guest tutors / external critics 2019-2020: Gijs Assmann (artist), Guus Beumer (director Het Nieuwe Instituut), Frans Bevers (architectural designer), Nadine Botha (curator/writer), Raphael Coutin (designer), Yvonne Dröge Wendel (artist), Mikel van Gelderen (architect/ Zeinstra Van Gelderen), Ying He (designer), Laura Herman (curator/writer); Jesse Howard (designer), Alexandre Humbert (designer/filmmaker), Huan Hsu (author, journalist), Simone Farresin (designer/ Formafantasma), Hewald Jongenelis (artist), Jan Konings (social designer), Barend Koolhaas (architect), Tjyying Liu (theatre maker, writer, performer, sinologist), Gabriel Maher (designer), David Mulder van der Vegt (architect/ XML), Alice Rawsthorn (design theorist), Vincent de Rijk (designer), Sjeng Scheijen (Russian Avant Garde specialist/author), Louise Schouwenberg (art and design theorist/ head of department), Tamar Shafrir (design researcher/writer), Irene Stracuzzi (graphic designer), Jennifer Tee (artist), Thomas Thwaites (designer), Noam Toran (artist), Dries Verbruggen (designer/ Studio Unfold), Christel Vesters (theorist), Barbara Visser (artist), Esther de Vries (graphic designer), Ben Shai van der Wal (linguist/ philosopher), and others.

More information on the department head and tutors