With much abuzz about the role of criticism in design, production and implementation, a handful of new masters programmes across the globe are looking to intellectualize the discipline and train a new generation of thinkers – curators, writers, historians, organizers and initiators. Among them, Design Academy Eindhoven now offers a practical yet theoretical post-grad course. Originally launched last year by recognized curator Jan Bolen, critic Louise Schouwenberg and graphic designer Joost Grooten, Design Curation and Writing relaunched this year under the direction of prolific British journalist Justin McGuirk. Frame spoke to the former design critic for The Guardian and Strelka Press founder about his vision.
How do you teach someone to become a 'design intellectual'?
Justin McGuirk: We need critics and curators who are able to do justice to the role of designers today; who aren’t only concerned with objects but strategies, experiences and other intangibles. One can only teach these skills to a certain point. Beyond the more technical aspects of the craft, good writing can’t be taught. However, you can expose students to the right material, engage them in difficult discourse and sharpen their critical faculties. It’s about encouraging them to build confidence in their own views. With writing and curation, one can teach skills and approaches but helping someone find their voice is trickier. It’s entirely possible that they will learn as much from each other as from the so-called 'experts'.
With art and architecture criticism already well established, do design critics need to operate with a different criteria?
I don't think so. It's often said that the reason why design criticism is less established is that design is a much younger discipline. Art and architecture are intrinsically linked to the question of value – traditionally bestowed by critics. That is less the case in design, where the market operated well enough for a long time without critics. Today, design is no longer defined by consumerism and is far more pervasive. The discipline has become an invaluable lens for talking about culture, commerce and communication.
How are the skills of writing, editing, consulting, and curating similar and different?
There's no doubt that they're different but the rapidly changing media and cultural landscape demands one to work with all of these skills. The days of maintaining a job at a magazine or newspaper for life are nearly gone.
How will the programme be different following its relaunch?
It began with this interesting notion that the course could rub shoulders with three other masters departments and effectively learn through collaboration and osmosis. That model can be difficult to organize. Relaunching this year, the programme will be more focused, structured and, based on my background, academic. However, I don't want to lose the sense of being in a design school – that brings a special quality that one won’t find in a history or theory department at university. Personally, I'm trying to see this new role as not being about me. I hope to steer the conversation, provide support and use the Design Academy Eindhoven as a crossroads for visiting writers, thinkers and curators. The course will always have one eye on how things work in the real world.