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The Design Academy Eindhoven has officially opened the academic year! The new creative director, Thomas Widdershoven, held his first speech in which he addressed the theme of the upcoming graduation show: Self Unself. In design you can find social relevance, altruism, collaboration, but also personal stories. Sometimes the self is more present, sometimes the unself is dominant. These opposite approaches are the starting point to look into (future) design and design education.

Thomas looked back on the student debate that was held in June, where, among others, Timo de Rijk discussed design education with students and teachers. Thomas wants to take these debates a step further by inviting people like Hella Jongerius and John Körmeling to host and shape their meeting with students.

Society is changing, and that will have its impact on design education. How will future design education meet the demands of society, industry and students themselves? Together with the new director of education, Tonny Holtrust, Thomas will restructure the educational system of the academy and present his plans by the beginning of the academic year 2014-2015.


Text of the full speech:


Here we are.

I don’t mean the royal ‘we’, which would mean that I mean ‘me’. I mean ‘us’. We. Here we are, in this room, in this school, at this academy. At this Design Academy. Here we are – in Eindhoven.

But who is ‘we’? Is there a common ground? What links us? What is this ‘we’?

The first ‘we’ is one that I would like to define as broadly as possible. We – the students. We  come here to learn. Students come here to learn, obviously. I feel a strong connection here, because with the students, I think all of us can say: we all come here to learn. All of us. This is the big we. The student debate we held last June was a clear example of what I mean. I learnt a lot that evening. The students addressed design education and we all became involved in a debate with Timo de Rijk – who was willing to be ‘the other’. A big ‘we’ needs an ‘other’ to position itself.

As a follow-up to the student debate I intend to start a series of evenings at the academy which I will call ‘Be My Guest’. People I value will be given the floor to host a debate or a show. Guests such as Hella Jongerius and John Körmeling will have free rein to set up their own programme. They can invite speakers, they can address certain themes, they will involve students. In this way ‘we’ will become bigger and bigger. And ‘we’ will learn.

I’m part of many groups in this academy. There are several different we’s in me. I will name a few.

We – designers. I’m a designer. I’m only a part-time Creative Director. During the rest of the week I am a designer. It is a characteristic feature of design education that its teachers also practise design. Many have their own studios. It is an essential part of design education. We are designers, I can say to a big group within this academy.

We – the Executive Board. This is the next ‘we’ that is important to define. During my first months at this academy I found Igor van Hoof and I shared a great deal of common ground. And I found the ideal Director of Education: Tonny Holtrust. We the board are a team. Igor has a tight grip on finance, the building and operations. And with Tonny on board I am confident we will find the next step in our educational future.

Tonny and I will get together with the Heads of Department and Compass, the group which I consider the next important ‘we’. I am really looking forward to this. With this group I want to start what will be a vivid dialogue on the future of design education. When I stand here next year it must be clear how we are going to restructure our educational system to meet the present and future demands in the world at large. Demands by students, by society, by the creative industry; they will lead to changes, I’m sure.

The next ‘we’ I feel is important to this academy as a group is ‘we – the third floor’. We share a floor. We share responsibilities. We share a set of tasks to keep this school running, together with the library, the workplaces and the ZBar. We have a shared interest. We share a passion for design, for the students, for education and for this institute.

And we have friends. Many friends. The Friends of the Academy help us with projects, productions and funding. Today I specifically want to mention the Keep an Eye foundation, as the nominees for this important award will be made public in a minute.

So here we are! And where are we going? To take the next step I have developed a theme. I think everybody will agree that social relevance is a big thing in design at the moment. Here at the academy I see projects being developed on collaboration, on care, on altruism, on interaction. But I’m also seeing a very personal approach, some very personal inspirations, a very personal drive. I see that one is linked to the other: the self-initiated projects and the unselfish inclination of the present generation. I call it the self-unself dynamics.

Using these two opposing concepts I think we can research the present state of design and the present state of design education. The stage will be our method of research. That is why, together with Jan Konings, I’m staging a graduation show with this theme: Self -Unself.

We are in talks with the Van Abbe Museum as a next stage and with O-C-T creative festival in Shenzhen, China, as a third. Milan – where we have had a strong presence for many years now – will be the fourth venue. By staging and re-staging our show we will develop this theme so we can position and re-position ourselves.

So here we are. On the brink of a new academic year at one of the best design schools in the world. The world outside is full of expectations, and we have high expectations of each other. The scope of what design is, is growing. Design can be a major factor in addressing real issues. There is a huge potential for design. And we are here, right in the middle. Glowing, shining.

I wish you – us – every success in this coming year.

Published: 04-Sep-2013 11:57


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  • DAE welcomes new students

    Opening Academic Year 2013-14

  • DAE welcomes new students

    Speech Thomas Widdershoven

Photography: Angeline Swinkels