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by Danielle Arets


Why a master design writing and curating and why now? With that question the third Milan talk immediately faced the facts. As for Jan Boelen, one of the heads of this new master, there is a strong need for critical thinking. “Many of our students like to express their voice in other ways than a designed product. One of the first ones to do so was Tamar Shafrir, who graduated 2 years ago with a text as a product,”explains Boelen.

Tamar Shafrir is surprised to hear that she was a pioneer in this field. “I never considered myself as a writer but I found out that I wasn’t such a good product designer and that I could express myself in different ways.” As for design critic Justin McGuirk the new master is no surprise. “ The world is bursting with critique and many institutes offer courses in this field. It definitely serves a need. But on the other hand we see that there are fewer and fewer podiums to allude critical voices.”

Design for journalism
Tracy Metz brings up the question whether a design school should actually train design writers and critics. Shouldn’t we leave that field to journalist?

Justin is not sure whether it helps to be a designer to become a critic. “You don’t need to master the discipline but it is good that you are aware of the vocabulary that is used.” As for Jan Boelen it is interesting that designers use writing in a similar way as they design their products. “Through the making and creating the text is evolving.” Architect Rianne Makkink brings in that design can also be used as a perfect mirror to reflect on your own ideas.

But what happens to objectivity when designers are also becoming critics?
As for Justin it is very clear that he as a design writer would not consider to write about the friends he has in the field. Jan Boelen mentions that the discipline could use more critical points of view. “For me designers are now too diplomatic. There is a subtle form of self-censorship. I hope that will  change.”

The new master will also address design curating. Rianne Makkink explains how she recently curated the exposition Living Spaces for the textile museum. “The museum knew already that they wanted to work on era rooms, but we had to do a lot of historical research to make a clear story of it.” Tracy Metz also asks Jan Konings, who curates the exhibition in Milan together with Thomas Widdershoven about his curatorial ideas behind the show. Konings explains that the exhibition is part of a bigger story that started during the graduation show. After that they made a show for Van AbbeMuseum where they showed a selection of graduation projects next to the work of alumni.  For Milano the subtitle Where objects and issues meet is a crucial base. “The objects go into a dialogue with each other. We also use Milan as a platform for design thinking by organizing talks and performances.”

Rianne Makking questions why there are no essays in the exhibitions, as a lot of the graduates write about their work. Boelen replies that it is definitely something to work on for future exhibitions.

Collaborative writing
The talk concludes with the question whether design can also be a collaborative activity especially since the need for joining forces in the design field is mentioned so often.
Jan Boelen believes that it can be really beneficial to have a dialogue with text. He often collaborates with his ghost writer Tamar Shafrir; “trough our dialogue the text is evolving.” Also Rianne Makkink has these dialogues in their office.

As for Justin McGuirk it’s a complex issue. “I never tried it but I have the feeling that the text would become a bit of a mix-up. But the idea of ghost writing is interesting. Guattari and Deleuze had this relationship as well. Deleuze typed in the ideas and polished it up. I respect that kind of relationship. I just read the autobiography of Julian Assange written by his ghost writer. It’s such an insightful read, I would recommend it to all of you.”

With that we conclude this 3rd Milan talk.

Published: 11-Apr-2014 20:26
  • Mastering the art of design writing and curating

    Tea Talk Friday 11 April

  • Mastering the art of design writing and curating

    Jan Boelen

  • Mastering the art of design writing and curating

    Justin McGuirk

  • Mastering the art of design writing and curating

    Todays panel

  • Mastering the art of design writing and curating

    Tracy Metz

  • Mastering the art of design writing and curating

    Discussion with Jan Konings

Photography: Ilco Kemmere