As a Designer, I’m an Expert, I’m an Amateur


Reflecting on my own changing design practice made me aware of the importance of the contribution of design as a discipline towards current complex ecological issue’s; design can play a role -although a humble one-. To deal with future ecological problems designers need to be educated for these changing practices because these new practices require a different set of skills  and competencies.

This was the starting point for my research at the Master Education in Arts at the Piet Zwart Institute Rotterdam. In June 2017 I graduated with a research that resulted in the thesis ‘As a Designer, I’m an Expert, I’m an Amateur; Operating on the fluid boundaries of the design profession’ and the educational project ‘GO TO THE MOON AND BACK’. This was presented at the graduation exhibition in TENT Rotterdam. 

Image taken at the graduation expo in TENT. I presented the thesis and research situated at the ‘earth’, and presented the educational project GO TO THE MOON AND BACK on the ‘moon’. The content of the research was presented as an audio fragment by me talking as ’the astronaut-captain’ where I invited the visitors to take the role of astronauts themselves as well.

Living in the Anthropocene, we are facing climate change and global inequality. These ecological issues require inclusive transdisciplinary cooperation. A city lab provides a ‘safe’ ground for experimentation and development of new knowledge, where all participants are the experts and amateurs at the same time. City labs are recent phenomena where ‘the city’ is used as a ‘canvas of reality’ for cooperation (between various experts, designers, and locals). Designers take on different roles in these transdisciplinary design practices and have an essential function within these newly built lab settings. The emerging fluid boundaries create a potential for the urgently needed new knowledge in regard to ecological issues, provided that it bears in mind a critical framework. This is essential otherwise the fluid boundaries will hollow the professional standard. The response of design education is urgent, as it should implement an ecological literacy into the curricula, as well as a critical framework that allows future designers to critically operate within the fluid boundaries of the profession and be an expert as well as a pro-am. I used the pedagogical strategy ‘learning to unlearn’ to create a critical framework, and developed this into the educational project GO TO THE MOON AND BACK. In order to understand the consequences of ‘learning to unlearn’ I tested the workshop in different design academies. GO TO THE MOON AND BACK takes design students in an imaginary trip to the moon. The moon provides a canvas to deconstruct embedded professional knowledge and routines, because the elements that we take for granted on earth are so different on the moon (gravity, time, oxygen, life, etc.), which makes it possible to completely deconstruct these embedded and fixed notions. The moon also allows us to reflect back on earth, therefore reconnecting to reality and making it possible to critically examine the elements that shape the professional context, like values, positions, scales, time, and perspectives. The workshop has ecological awareness in its DNA.

This research consequentially demanded me to reflect on my own position as  a researcher. For this research it meant that I had to operate myself on the fluid boundaries in order to gain new knowledge and insights towards this topic. I created a counter narrative that pops up as small particles within the thesis which allowed me to take on different roles and positions myself. These positions and roles follow my personal fascinations. I took seeming opposite roles of the #pirate (hero) and #amateur (anti-hero), and a zoomed in position #dust and a zoomed out position #galaxy. In other words: the research investigates the reality of design practices on ‘earth’ the educational project involves ‘unlearning’ on the ‘moon’, and the ‘counter narrative’ is settled as invisible particles in the ‘intergalactic vacuum’ and connects the earth and the moon.