GEO—DESIGN is a platform to explore the social, economic, territorial, and geopolitical forces shaping design today. The two year's Master's course GEO-Design acknowledges the legacy of industrial production as the fundamental source for the expertise and agency of the designer in contemporary society while problematizing and addressing its historic contribution to environmental and social instability and its incompatibility with models of sustainable or even survivable futures.

Students will develop research and communication tools to facilitate a deeper understanding of today’s complex reality but most of all to propose transformative interventions through design and its material, technical, social, and discursive possibilities.

The designer can be a critical agent in the global system, but their skillset and perspective must expand rapidly beyond isolated, self-referential processes. The projects in GEO-Design will be radically rooted in an expansive understanding of reality—but one that acknowledges how “real world” problems are easily reduced to briefs for well-funded design solutions with negligible benefit to their intended users.

GEO-Design assembles a framework of diverse knowledge—from material histories to cultural world-views, from humanism to ecology, from plant and animal rights to artificial intelligence, from the Earth’s core to outer space.
The programme of this department aims to dissect these complex entanglements, fostering a community of practitioners such as Designers, Architects, Artists but also talents with a background in human and scientific studies with curiosity and ambition towards design as a tool to develop an investigative practice and as an instrument to facilitate change.

In GEO-Design, trans-disciplinary collaboration is not only a way to increase the scale and depth of research, but an ethical position that respects the expertise, lived experience, skills, resources, or communal significance of individuals and institutions in other fields. These interrelations ask designers to address environmental responsibility, politics, inequality, and other issues arising from the design’s complicity across multiple industries, communication networks, and aesthetic cultures.

As a department, GEO-Design will grow as an octopus, with a complex central consciousness and individual far-reaching tentacles. Students will build up new methodologies combining hands-on material techniques with innovative media formats, historical philosophy with urgent critical discourse, transparent collaboration with tactical subversion.
Whether individual or collective, research will be performed through multiple intersecting channels, including theoretical reflection, systematic but open-ended prototyping, and strategic communication.

The programme will foster rigor, critical thinking, and communication skills across multiple forms of research—theoretical, applied and material—with the support of a variety of practitioners, known for their engagement of urgent themes and experimental methods. The team of mentors will include designers, architects and artists with research-based practices, as well as design curators and writers.

Other disciplines and forms of expertise will be represented by lecturers and leaders of workshops and seminars.

Ore Streams, Cubicle1 Screen. Photograph by Formafantasma.

Ore Streams, Taxonomy. Photograph by Formafantasma.


Andrea Trimarchi (1983) and Simone Farresin (1980) are Studio Formafantasma, an Italian designer duo based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Their interest in product design developed on the Contextual Master (formerly IM) course at Design Academy Eindhoven, where they graduated in July 2009. Since then, Formafantasma has developed a coherent body of work characterized by experimental material investigations and explored issues such as the relationship between tradition and local culture, the ecological responsibilities of design and the significance of objects as cultural conduits.

In perceiving their role as a bridge between craft, industry, object and user, they are interested in forging links between their research-based practice and wider design industry. Whether designing for a client or investigating alternative applications of materials, Studio Formafantasma applies the same rigorous attention to context, process and detail to every project they undertake. They do so with an eye to the historical, political and social forces that have shaped their environments.

Their work has been presented and published internationally and museums such as New York's MoMA, London’s Victoria and Albert, New York's Metropolitan Museum, the Chicago Art Institute, Fondation Cartier, Les Art Decoratifs , Paris's Centre Georges Pompidou, the TextielMuseum in Tilburg, the Design Museum in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, MUDAC Lausanne, the Mint Museum of Craft and Design in North Carolina and the MAK Museum in Vienna have all acquired Formafantasma’s designs for their permanent collections.

Photograph by Simona Pavan.


Anna Winston (former editor at Dezeen and student in the MA The Critical Inquiry Lab at DAE) sat down with Formafantasma to talk about their ideas and hopes for the new GEO—DESIGN department.

AW: GEO—DESIGN is a new term for most people, what does it mean in the context of this master’s department?

Simone Farresin: For us, it is a way of describing the context for design today – it is not just about the needs of the user, but also the infrastructures and systems that are shaping the world. There is a necessity for designers to work more critically within this context, to observe these infrastructures and rethink how we are participating within them, to completely rethink the discipline, especially in light of the current environmental and ecological crisis.

It is also to do with scale. From the planetary scale, which is necessary to allow us to observe dynamics that are otherwise impossible to understand, to the hyper-local. But also other forms of measurement, like time – design can operate at different time scales. A short-term intervention might be about designing a product, but we also need medium-term interventions and long-term, visionary interventions. Designers who base their practice on well thought-through research will be able to operate across those scales.

AW: How will the MA differ from existing design departments?

Simone Farresin: There hasn’t been enough collective thinking in design education. We want to move more towards a group research model, where research is shared and then individual outcomes can come out of it. As a department, GEO—DESIGN will grow like an octopus, with a central consciousness and far-reaching tentacles.

We want to go beyond design as something human-centric and start thinking about other species, which is something that is not necessarily being addressed. It’s not enough anymore to only think about ourselves. We want designers to go beyond artistic self-expression and search for more radical transformations of reality.

Andrea Trimarchi: We want to look at the ethical and even existential question of what design is and answer it with a collective approach.

With the work we have done recently, like Ore Stream last year, we have seen other disciplines taking an interest – scientists being interested in collaborating with designers. This is something we would like to explore more with the department as well, bringing in people who are far from our discipline to teach. Designers need to communicate complex narratives, we want to help them find the tools to do this.

AW: What kind of students do you hope to attract?

Andrea Trimarchi: We want to gather different kinds of people – for example, I would like to see a philosopher on the department, or an activist or someone working in governance. But it’s important that they understand the potential of design.

They will still graduate with a design project. So they should be interested in design’s potential for research and for creating change. We are creating an umbrella for narratives that are already found in design education – like the ecological crisis – but don’t have a place where they can be really addressed in-depth or addressed collectively, so they will never grow. We need to create this umbrella for these narratives that will otherwise remain fragile.

AW: How is this going to relate to your own work as Formafantasma?

Simone Farresin: We are not interested in turning students into designers like us. We hope to be educating a generation that will brilliantly out-perform us.

What we hope is that the department will work as a studio, where the building up of ideas is also collective. One idea that we have at the moment – although we have to see how that will develop – is to use our exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries in March 2020 on the industry of timber as a starting point. We would like to use that opportunity to show that research and ideas can be shared and to have the students working with the research we’ve been conducting in the last year. More and more, the commercial side of our studio is detaching from the research part and the research part is becoming more radical. We see this part becoming closer to our approach to education.

AW: Do you think young designers are craving more places to explore radical approaches?

Andrea Trimarchi: Totally, yes!

Simone Farresin: There is an instinctive need for radical change right now. If that is not regulated it can go wrong. You can see that in contemporary politics. Education is the right place to be in the same moment radical and extremely rooted in the now and what is necessary.