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DAE Ups the Master’s Ante

Just as the competition between Dutch design academies really heats up, the design Academy Eindhoven restructures its own Master’s course to improve the way design research is being conducted.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 17-03-2011

For the last five years, the Master’s course at the Design Academy Eindhoven has been two-pronged.  Students could either join the IM (Conceptual Design in Context) department or the Man and Humanity department.

But when Satyendra Pakhale unexpectedly quit his post as head of the Man and Humanity department last September, students were left in the lurch.  Rather than replace him, the school instead capitalized on its loss by completely overhauling the entire Master’s programme.
Gijs Bakker was asked to take the lead. He made the decision to create three research programmes within the Master’s course so it better correlated with the eight Bachelor’s programmes.

The course formerly known as IM was renamed Contextual Design with a focus on the connection between people and products, or objects and their environments.  “The focus in our department is on investigating the cultural and historical meanings attached to materials, techniques and shapes, and how people deal with that,” explains Louise Schouwenberg who is head of the programme as well as a Lector in Design Theory.

Social Design (formerly Man and Humanity) now has Jan Boelen at the helm.  “The Man and Humanity department never really worked,” says Schouwenberg.  “It suffered from too many heads and no clear focus.”

Boelen’s plan is to rectify that.   The focus will be on socially relevant projects.  Whereas Contextual Design deals with cultural phenomena related to art and architecture, Social Design always starts with a social agenda.  Issues concerning the environment, for example, and how to rescue craft culture are addressed.

The third programme is Information Design and will focus on new technologies.  Headed up by Joost Grootens, Information Design will deal with the over-abundance of information and how designers can play a role in that by mapping and understanding an increasingly complex world.

“This new department was really the missing link,” says Schouwenberg.  “Information design is not graphic design or communication design, and is an area where so much is happening.  Design Academy hadn’t really dealt with it until now.”

From a practical and communicative perspective Schouwenberg is now busy discussing with her colleagues how best to exhibit the work of Master’s students, which consists mainly of research.  “Our focus is on researching themes – we are somewhere between science, art, architecture and design” she says.  “In the last twenty years, due to the media, people have become accustomed to the idea that design has to be iconic or come across well in a photograph to be valid.  Now we have moved into an era where objects are not always the point, and it is up to us to better communicate that to the public.”

Selected Master’s projects from the DAE will be exhibited in Milan this April.

The Design Academy Eindhoven accepts around one fourth of applicants and has the luxury of being critical and selective. The majority of applicants consist of foreign students who are eager to learn about the Dutch approach to design. In the future more Dutch students with a Bachelor’s degree will enter the programme, due to the implementation of the BaMa structure.  

The government is now penalizing both students and schools if students take longer than the official four years to complete a Bachelor’s course. “These kinds of governmental decisions don’t seem to care much for quality,” says Schouwenberg. “Internationally, DAE has proven to be a very good school with a fantastic output. Forcing the school to limit the time students spend here, will surely not lead to better results. In the long run, the problem will be resolved when talented Bachelor’s students continue their studies in a Master’s course, here or somewhere else. A Master’s degree does not yet ring a bell for most Dutch design students. In the rest of the world it does.”

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