Each year, from February onwards, some 100 second-year students on the Communication and Multimedia Design programme at Avans Hogeschool in ‘s-Hertogenbosch work on a design project that involves scrutinising social problems in a critical and contrarian way.
The students explore issues through complex connections and triggers, with an eye on possible creative challenge or confrontation. The theme, ‘playful interaction’, makes space for a lively exploration of activist, challenging design directions. Various outcomes, and a range of projects that have served as inspiration, are collected here: www.ontwerpkritiek.nl.
One outcome of the most recent edition in 2023 was the ‘Dash-Blocker’, an innovative browser extension that automatically blocks all mention of delivery times or fast delivery pledges from websites. The Dash-Blocker was the result of an investigation into the poor working conditions of parcel deliverers. The extension that students designed exposes the connection between online promises and the exploitation of delivery workers, and it actively intervenes with online shopping.
Dash-Blocker: Amber Damhuis, Dwiky van Bosstraten, Maud Keijser, Thijn van Bokhoven and Alma Borkes.
Taking a more satirical approach, the Alluvium group considered society’s resistance to behavioural change in the context of environmental degradation. According to Alluvium, there is only one real solution to this predicament: if we seriously want to improve the ecological outlook, 56 per cent of humanity will have to die. Those who remain will not have to adjust their behaviour, and the earth will be preserved. Alluvium devised a points-based system, drawing on the concept of the ‘overshoot day’ – the day in the year when humanity has used all the resources the earth will generate that year. The user is given a choice: to reduce their points, or to sign up other people as ‘victims’, and continue living undisturbed. Alluvium designed informative flyers and posters and created a website on which users can calculate their points score or built their own desk and banners.
Alluvium: Ruben van den Berg, Stijn Derijck, Robin Huismans, Jennifer Lammers and Jia Xin Wang.
Another group realised ‘Project Dystopia’, a playful appeal for young people to get involved with politics and make their voices heard. The project predicts dystopian outcomes for those who do not take part: they will find themselves ‘sitting pathetically on the couch with daddy and mommy’ because they cannot find a house; pet guinea pigs will go hungry as food becomes too expensive; people will continue to fly off for holidays as the North Sea dries up.
Project Dystopia: Kaya Verbeek, Tijmen Overklift Vaupel Kleyn, Iris van Gelder, Jarmo Habraken and Hidde Steenwinkel.
Other design group proposals involved a gender-neutral football team; a new version of the game Risk, showing how war is ‘played’ today; and a range of projects addressing different social issues through sticker campaigns, documentaries, games, posters and other interventions.
Education and research
Caradt’s Cultural and Creative Industries lectureship was involved in the design of this educational project. This facilitated collaboration with external experts such as researchers Bart Stuart and Klaar van der Lippe, who helped students question assumptions, underlying issues, and inherent politics. The project also involved collaboration with Bedrijf de Liefde, which acted as a client and, where relevant, helped students to expand their projects beyond the teaching period.
Principle investigator Eke Rebergen
Other researchers involved Bart Stuart
Klaar van der Lippe
Collaborators Students of 2nd year design project Playful Interaction (CMD AI&I, ‘s-Hertogenbosch)
Avans University of Applied Sciences
‘Disrupting our contemporary society can be a serious design goal.’
Eke Rebergen is a researcher within the Cultural and Creative Industries research group and a tutor at the Communication & Multimedia Design programme at Avans University of Applied Sciences in Den Bosch.
Rebergen, E.; Eikelboom, W. & Olma, S. (2021) ‘Looking for Trouble: Raising and Tackling Problems Through Design Research’, P. Joore, G. Stompff, J. van den Eijnde (eds.) Images of Design Research, Rotterdam: NADR, 100–110. Nederlands: Looking for Trouble. Problemen oprakelen en aankaarten door ontwerponderzoek. In P. Joure, G. Stompff, J. van den Eijnde (Reds.), Beelden van Applied Design Research. Nederland: Network Applied Design Research.
The research group Cultural and Creative Industries investigates the role of artists and designers as creative innovators and drivers of social and economic change. Affiliated researchers analyse the cultural and creative industries from a critical point of view and examine the conditions under which timely forms of aesthetic expression and social connectedness can actually take place within the precarious reality of this field. What economic models are required by artists and designers to create a meaningful practice within the aesthetic, social, and economic intentions of the cultural and creative industries? What skills sets are required for those artists and designers who don’t just want to follow movements, but actually shape novel social and economic models of the future?