We live in a design culture which continues to grow in importance. Design has developed into a vibrant and important cultural and economic sector in recent decades. Product design, graphic design and fashion design are burgeoning as a service industry, as street culture and as art. Design is an integral part of our daily lives. Policymakers at national and local levels are stressing that the Netherlands should profile itself culturally and economically through innovation in the ‘creative industry’ with design playing a leading role. And rightly so, because the Netherlands has built up an excellent international reputation with past and present talent in graphic design, product design, artistic design and fashion. We can boast many famous names including Piet Zwart, Thonik and Irma Boom, Artifort and Philips, Droog Design, Hella Jongerius, Jurgen Bey, Alexander van Slobbe, Monique van Heist, and Viktor & Rolf.

However, as an academic discipline, design appears to be something of a slow developer in the Netherlands. Industrial Design, which is taught only at universities of technology, seems to be the only academically acknowledged branch of this vast domain. Effectively, design has been sadly neglected by the Arts and Humanities as a field of academic study. But this is changing. Since 1 September 2010, the Department of Comparative Arts and Media Studies at VU University Amsterdam offers the first fully accredited, internationally-oriented Master’s programme in Design Cultures.

The MA in Design Cultures restores design as the core object of academic interest without detracting from the cultural and material context in which it operates. The focus is on both the designer as ‘author’ and the complex chain of production, sale, consumption and criticism in which design operates and derives its many different meanings. The programme combines a generalist, comparative approach to design with an emphasis on history and theory.