As design dematerializes and disperses into the interfaces, systems and social interactions that shape our daily life, there is an urgent need to map the shifting terrain of what we might or might not so obviously call ‘design’ and to understand its multiple roles in shaping the contours, and sometimes the very terms, of contemporary social and political debate.
On the Master’s programme in Design Curating & Writing at Design Academy Eindhoven, design that is intangible and infrastructural is a central theme that impels much of our research. Recent thesis projects have explored the design of sleep, educational curricula, and the disappearing camera, for example, while assignments address the role of design in mass surveillance, design within (or in between) the systems and layers of a networked urban environment, the increasingly digitized design museum, and the politics of the expanding influence of the algorithm in society, for example.
To engage fully with new conceptions of design, new kinds of exhibition-making and writing are needed to make sense of its unfamiliar — and even invisible — qualities. For, just as design is atomising, so are the institutions and formats of our rapidly changing media landscape. Publishing, museums, and academia are reconceiving themselves beyond the book and the building as reconfigurable brands, communities, and platforms. Students of curating and design, therefore, need to be agile in how they negotiate this landscape, and fluent in multiple media—that range from augmented reality videography and choose-your-own- adventure chat-bot coding to open-source collaborative editing.
This MA in Design Curating & Writing explores a wide range of tools and approaches for understanding and interpreting the implications of contemporary design. Drawing on theory, archival research, reporting, and critical analysis, students develop personal points of view and experiment with their articulation in the multiple formats of twenty-first century curating and publishing.
One of the advantages of being embedded in a design school is that aspiring writers and curators are in an environment where design is constantly being generated. This proximity to the thought processes and working methods of designers offers a deeper understanding of how design works. It is also an opportunity to develop collaborations and alliances with designers that may be formative to their future practices.
The programme is a crossroads for international writers, curators, editors, and designers, who share their insights and experience. Students also benefit from affiliations with the Design Museum in London and the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, with the potential to gain an insider’s view of, and participate in live curatorial projects.
Students meet in at least twice-weekly guided seminars for in-depth group discussions of foundational texts and exhibitions and to workshop their own writing and curatorial thinking. In addition to individual assignments, students have the opportunity to work on several collaborative projects, such as publications and conferences, with members of the course, other Masters students, and organizations beyond DAE.
The programme is taught in two locations: in a purpose-built seminar room in the Masters department of the Design Academy Eindhoven and in the Werksalon at the Van Abbemuseum. The seminars taught at the Design Academy focus on critical thinking, writing, and exhibition-making, while the seminars taught at the Van Abbemuseum concentrate on curating in the context of museological practice, although there is considerable cross-fertilization between the two.
FIRST YEAR CURRICULUM
1. Writing And Exhibition Curation: Tools & Formats
Over the course of the first year, students are led by DC&W tutors in seminars that introduce some of the key ideas shaping the way design is made, used, and understood today, as well as core skills necessary in the expanded toolset of today’s writer/thinker/curator. These interrelated seminar series analyse and experiment with different forms of research and writing (from articles and reviews to blogging and broadcasting) and with many approaches to exhibition-making (from collage techniques and video to digital and physical modelling). The aim is to understand the craft and possibilities of each form, and to develop a distinct and personal perspective on design that can be articulated in expressive visual and verbal critical language across a wide range of media outputs.
2. Museology And Curating
Led by members of the Van Abbe curatorial team, this aspect of the programme looks at both the historiography of curating and the practical business of making exhibitions happen in the real world. Students learn about seminal exhibitions and how they changed the curatorial landscape as well as understanding how galleries and museums operate today. Time is spent understanding the nature of exhibition-making, loaning artefacts, building museum collections and the way that museums and galleries seek to create a dialogue with the public. Close and critical analysis of components of the museum including its archives, collection, programming and constituents, lead to a consideration of what’s at stake in curatorial and museum practice today and to questions about how we might best use the different curatorial tools at our disposal.
For both aspects of the programme, students are expected to read widely and independently around the thematic topics, and to do close reading and make notes and short presentations on specific texts in preparation for group discussions. Students also need to read one another’s work and participate in constructive peer critique and editing workshops. Most weeks, short writing and curating assignments are set, and at least once per trimester students will give formal presentations of their work to the tutors and invited critics.
As well as inviting several guest lecturers per year to the DAE, the course comprises numerous visits to museums, design studios, and other design institutions. Students meet leading curators, designers, critics, and commentators and in each case students will need to conduct thorough research and be prepared to ask insightful questions, and, in some cases, to lead the discussions.
SECOND YEAR CURRICULUM
The second year is largely dedicated to a personal research project that will result in the Master’s thesis. The DC&W thesis allows students to explore a specific research territory connected to design, architecture, urbanism, or visual culture, which will sustain further investigation even beyond the MA.
This entails deep research, the clear and compelling articulation of a point of view in the form of a lengthy essay, a curatorial project, materialisations or prototypes of aspects of the project, and an oral presentation. Most importantly the thesis should argue a position, make imaginative connections between ideas, and should represent an original and significant contribution to knowledge.
A Thesis Development Seminar provides structure and supervision for building a robust thesis. Through group meetings and one-on-one consultations, students are guided through the process of honing a critical research question, analysing secondary literature, conducting wide-ranging primary research, and translating a thesis argument into a curatorial project. Students are expected to make periodic thesis work-in-progress presentations to panels of invited faculty and critics.