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, surrounding 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, change and improve 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.


In the first year the program is focused on enhancing the students’ artistic making skills and creating awareness of design’s impact within various contexts. Lessons are organized within small thematic design studios, in which students learn to 1- research and analyse abstract themes; 2- turn assignments that were given by tutors into personal urgencies; 3- create designs that offer original perspectives on given situations; 4- understand their own interests, talents and weaknesses. A great variety of themes and approaches are explored during three trimesters, and guidance is offered by a changing group of tutors. Gradually the students formulate their own questions of interest, and proactively seek for topics in the outside world they would like to explore further.

In the second year guidance is focussed on enhancing the students’ artistic as well as their reflective talents. The students explore topics suggested by tutors and topics of their own choosing, which are based on personal ambitions. To confront their own approaches and interests with a larger societal context they acquire knowledge, for instance through literature study, and develop a fruitful interaction between a growing body of knowledge and an on-going experimental design process. In the course of this final year the students also research the valid references of their projects (such as ‘which questions have others raised within this area of research; which answers have others provided?’) and they formulate the distinct positions they intend to take within a field of interest. The two-year course is concluded with a design project and a report of the design research, which usually consists of a thesis text; in exceptional cases the research report can take another format, such as film. Both the design and the thesis employ a personal vocabulary to communicate to a larger audience the content of the project.

Throughout their studies the students engage in critical debate and lectures, excursions, and collaborations with external institutes. Last year the symposium ‘Domus Communis; Strategies of Intimacy’ took place, we went on a joint trip to the Vitra campus, production facilities, museum (Weil am Rhein), Schaulager and Depot Basel (Basel), and the students worked on ‘The future of public transport’ – a collaboration with the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. This year (2016-2017) lectures are offered by various lecturers; to mention a few: Kirsten Algera & Ernst van der Hoeven on ‘The Life of Things’; Koen Kleijn on ‘Sublime Imperfections’; Laurens ten Kate on ‘Ecstasy’; David Hamers (reader DAE) on ‘design research’; Aurely Hoegy on ‘Danse and Design’; Joost Rekveld on ‘Science & Design’. A symposium will organized on ‘Things and the layers of meaning hiding within’, and finally there will be a collaborative project with an external commissioner, the ‘Rijksbouwmeester’ (Architect of the State), who’s responsible for all governmental buildings in the Netherlands.


Head of department  Louise Schouwenberg
Coordinator  Vita Köster

Team 2016-2017
Gijs Assmann (artist), Maarten Baas (designer), Edith van Berkel & Marijke Griffioen (designers; Van Berkel is a.o. senior designer Jongeriuslab; Griffioen is senior designer at Forbo), Frans Bevers (architectural designer), Arian Brekveld (designer; senior designer Jongeriuslab), Laurie Cluitmans (arthistorian), Yvonne Dröge Wendel (artist), Simone Farresin (designer: Formafantasma), Mikel van Gelderen (architect), Hewald Jongenelis (artist), Koen Kleijn (theoretician), Jan Konings (designer), Karel Martens (graphic designer), Ulrike Rehm (artist), Vincent de Rijk (designer), Louise Schouwenberg (theoretician / head of department), Tamar Shafrir (theorist / researcher), Dries Verbruggen (designer Unfold), and others.

Visiting Critics / Guests
Kirsten Algera & Ernst van der Hoeven (editors McGuffin Magazine), David Hamers (researcher / reader DAE), Aurelie Hoegy (designer), and others.

Laurens ten Kate (professor philosophy), Oli Stratford (chief editor Disegno), and others.

More information on the philosophy of the department can be found via this link.