The Course

The Critical Inquiry Lab is a two-year Master’s program; an inquisitive trajectory with artistic research at its core. The course provides an environment for the development of a design practice understood as a cultural signifier and an agent of change. The program principally researches and questions the role of design in relation to the structures and systems underpinning contemporary society, its political, economic, social and cultural constructs, and how they resonate within local and global contexts.

Immersed in cultural analysis and design theory, the department holds a broad understanding of how research can translate or resonate into different curatorial practices and methods. Bound to an artistic position rather than a specific discipline, participants acquire skills such as curating, editing, writing, filming, podcasting, publishing, performing, coding, mediating and developing strategic actions.

Operating within the complexities of contemporary society requires a fundamental understanding of the designed environment and the codes embedded within them. This understanding enables meaningful contribution, agential entry points, and the ability to alter the current status quo. A growing awareness of the complexities of these visible and invisible systems – society’s ethical codes and constructs in language, technology, and power relations – is critical in creating a more equitable and inclusive future.

Representation and cultural production have a role to play in this field of influence.
The program aims to nurture practitioners operating within the realm of cultural institutions and elsewhere.

Design as research and researching design are at the program’s core. The development of methodologies, language, skills, and tools, and a context for design as research and its mediation, materialization, dissemination and publication are key.
Besides reflection, analysis, observation and critique, the course opens up to other knowledge domains, such as empathic research, material agency, embodied or intuitive knowledge, the voice as a medium, understanding positions of privilege and alternative forms of production or collaboration. This opens up a broadening of the program’s intellectual milieu requires experimentation and modes of enquiry related to publishing research and representing design.

The program provides a challenging yet generous environment for the participants to find or further develop their agency. An important objective of this program concerns what it means to be a cultural practitioner.

The Critical Inquiry Lab welcomes participants, from any professional background, who want to question and unpack the world around them. Our students are dedicated and open to experimentation that operates between different methods and knowledge domains: oscillating between the general and specific, the abstract and concrete, thinking and doing. During the program, participants embark on both individual and collective learning trajectories. Integral to our curriculum is the student-led organization of small-scale, semi-public events, which make public the department’s research in and through design, addressing both the design community and beyond.

The Critical Inquiry Lab is a trans-disciplinary design course, which aims to foster in-depth critical studies of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, nation, and citizenship. The teaching team’s diversity and guidance reflect this aim. The program invites internationally established writers, curators, editors, thinkers and designers, who share their insights and experience.

Our tutors mentor the students’ self-directed research projects and provide workshops to introduce participants to specific skills and branches of knowledge.

Learning from fields of artistic research, curation and design critique, the department holds a broad understanding of how reflective analysis can translate and resonate into curatorial practices, editorial positions, modes of publishing and strategic actions.

Programme structure and educational formats

Learning objectives
The Critical Inquiry Lab helps participants:

  • structure a clear line of inquiry and develop it into a self-initiated and robust research proposal;
  • use established research methodologies and develop alternative ones in a manner in both a rigorous and self-reflective manner;
  • contextualize your position and research within the evolving field of design and design research;
  • communicate your research in a variety of established and innovative formats from within design or adapted from other disciplines;
  • plan and organize an independent long-term research project; and
  • develop a network of collaborators within and beyond the DAE.

Learning activities
The program comprises a diverse range of learning activities, emphasizing self-empowerment and self-directed research projects, complemented by smaller assignments, expert conversations, field trips and opportunities to develop as a cultural mediator and practitioner.

The first year is divided into three trimesters, each containing:

  • classes, which have a more collective character in the first trimester and move to individual projects towards the end of the year;
  • workshops, skills or fields of knowledge, such as film, performance, coding, writing, data analysis, and so on; and
  • conversations with experts highly regarded within their respective fields.

The second year is structured around a yearlong research project, resulting in a thesis, visual essay, a design proposal and a public presentation using a medium such as installation, performance, exhibition, film, or publishing.

Parallel to these educational activities, which aid the student’s development as a cultural practitioner, we entrust both first and second-year students with other roles and responsibilities within the department, including:

  • hosting tutors, guests, and lecturers, from supporting them to introducing them on stage;
  • organizing and moderating discussions, critical readings, lectures, the international symposium that the department initiates, or a combination thereof;
  • developing and giving tours during the Graduation Show as a way to provide commentary, share vision and question design with a broad audience;
  • editing and designing a critical reader or publication; and
  • giving two talks for our weekly Lunch Lecture: a topic of choice and a randomly assigned topic.

Field trips
Each trimester, we organize one field trip to acquire a fundamental understanding of the cultural landscape of the Netherlands. These excursions are an opportunity to meet practitioners (designers, curators, historians, directors, and the like) from different intellectual and institutional contexts, both formal and informal. The field trips catalyze the student’s ability to develop a visual and intellectual vocabulary, language, and discourse. Additionally, an annual international trip is planned in close deliberation with and partly organized by the students. 

Each trimester ends with an evaluation, where the student’s work is presented to receive feedback on their outcomes and learning. We are working towards a position of empowerment and trust in oneself. We work consistently and constructively to produce robust research and conclusions. We eschew the pressure or inertia resulting from the possibility of failing. We believe that a virtuous critique is an act of generosity and love.

The department is part of the Design Academy Eindhoven community and closely collaborates with the other Master’s programs in Information Design, Social Design, Contextual Design, and Geo-Design (from September 2020).

The department builds on the curriculum, the legacy, and methods put forward by its former heads of department Agata Jaworska and Tamar Shafrir (2018–19), Alice Tremlow (2017–18) and Justin McGuirk (2014–17).



Head of department: Saskia van Stein
Saskia van Stein is an independent curator, moderator, and is head of The Critical Inquiry Lab MA at the Design Academy in Eindhoven. She was artistic and managing director at Bureau Europa, platform for architecture and design, in Maastricht (2013–19). Van Stein worked as a curator at the Netherlands Architecture Institute (now Het Nieuwe Instituut) in Rotterdam (2003–12). She contributes to the development of cultural discourse, and she is a member of numerous advisory committees and chair of several juries.

Van Stein’s deep-seated interest in the discourse of exhibition-making and the politics of representation explores different formats and methods of knowledge production and performative display. Through a broad cultural perspective, Van Stein examines issues related to contemporary urgencies and how they manifest at different levels. Her cultural practice and interests address the intricate relational complex of social, political, economic, psychological, and cultural phenomena and how these are analyzed, addressed, visualized or expressed in the designed environment.

Coordinator: Gijs de Boer
Gijs de Boer (1992, NL) is a Rotterdam-based researcher educated both as a designer and a philosopher. In his work he tries to make sense of phenomena such as money, trust, and the self. He aims to explore the gap between behaviour and belief: appropriating methods used by trend forecasters, pop artists, and designers.

Tutors: Nadine Botha (curator/writer), Alejandro Cerón (designer/ design critic), Jason Coburn (writer/ visual artist), Theo Deutinger (architect), Rana Ghavami (writer/academic), Agata Jaworska (curator/researcher), Kevin Logan (writer/academic), Anastasia Kubrak (graphic designer/ curator), Wineke van Muiswinkel (documentary maker), Antonis Pittas (artist), Patricia Reed (writer/designer), Gable & Romy Roelofsen (performance artists/actors), Tamar Shafrir (design researcher/writer), Vera van der Sliep (graphic designer), Vincent Thornhill (designer), Erik Viskil (film researcher), Lua Vollaard (curator), Silvio Lorusso (designer / writer)

Guest(s) lectures​: Maziar Afrassiabi (director cultural institute RibRib), Anke Bangma (director of TENT), Gabriel Fontana (social designer), Emiliano Gandolfi (urban curator), Philippine Hoegen (performance artist/ writer), Gabriel A Maher (designer) & Carly Rose Bedford (visual artist), Klaus de Rijk (civic servant @ ministry of foreign affairs), Timo de Rijk (director Design Museum), Wendelien van Oldenborgh (visual artist), Chris Sigaloff (cultural enabler), Lisette Smits (curator), Angelique Spaninks (director MU), Farid Tarbaki (researcher/trendwatcher/moderator), Sascha Wieneke (architect), Linda Vlassenrood (curator/writer), Anastasia Kubrak (designer / researcher), Simone Niquille (designer / researcher)

More information on the head, the coordinator and all tutors