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Masters in Arts & Culture: Design Cultures

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
1 year
Full time
Master's degree
September 2019
Application deadline: 01 June 2019
2,083 EUR

Program description

Design Cultures: the study of product design, graphic design and fashion in a broad diverse cultural context

We live in a design culture which continues to grow in importance. However, design was long neglected by the Arts and Humanities as a field of academic study. But this has changed. Since 1 September 2010, the Faculty of Arts of VU university Amsterdam, offers the first fully accredited, internationally-oriented Master’s program Design Cultures.

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. Especially in the Netherlands design 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, Maarten Baas, Thonik and Irma Boom, Artifort, Hella Jongerius, Jurgen Bey, and Viktor & Rolf and many others.

The MA program Design Cultures is all about the study of product design, graphic design and fashion in a broad diverse cultural context. 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. Design Cultures restores design as the core object of academic interest without detracting from the cultural and material context in which it operates. The program combines a generalist, comparative approach to design with a clear focus on history and theory. 

The program in a nutshell

Design Cultures is a program of the Master’s Arts & Culture. The program Design Cultures is a one-year, full-time, English-taught study which is worth 60 credits. Though the program is built around a core set of obligatory courses, students will have ample opportunity to define their own individual tracks by means of electives, internships and, of course, the Master’s thesis.

The program is built around four main courses. The first semester consists of two introductory courses on the history and theory of design. In the second semester students get acquainted with "Dutch" Design and learn to write critical appraisals.

  • Design, History and Culture paints a thematic and chronological overview of the history of design. It traces the main international movements and historical debates on the basis of case studies that place past developments in a modern perspective.
  • Methods of Design Analysis: The Meanings of Design considers design from different methodological angles – design as a process of production, distribution, representation and consumption – with specific attention to the complexities of meaning and interpretation in an economic, social and technological context.
  • The Arts and Crafts of “Dutch” Design deals with the origins and development of Dutch Design, a worldfamous name, synonymous with graphic, fashion, product and interior design in the Netherlands. The course casts a critical eye on the role of “being Dutch” as invented by designers, labels, critics and the government.
  • Design in Words: Criticism, Writing & Theory trains you to look critically at primary and secondary discourses on design and to write critical appraisals. At the end of this course you will be able to evaluate design and write and assess critiques.

You can customize your study by selecting subjects from a range of interdisciplinary electives. Internships offer you opportunities to prepare for your professional career.

The program culminates in the Master’s thesis, which gives you a chance to demonstrate your research skills, your competence as a critic, and your ability to systematically gather, select and interpret information and to argue a case in an independent, objective and responsible manner. Students are offered opportunities for practice-based research accompanied by written reports.

Admission requirements

Admission requirements:

  1. A Bachelor’s degree from an accredited research university including at least three full years of academic study amounting to a minimum of 180 ECTS or equivalent.
  2. Bachelor’s in either design, fashion, art or (visual) cultural studies (or other disciplines of the Humanities (history, journalism, communication studies) or in anthropology or sociology, with a major or specialization in design, fashion, art or visual culture equal to a minimum of 30 ECTS).
  3. Proof of sufficient proficiency in English (English language proficiency test).
  4. A motivation letter and two letters of recommendation.

Tuition fees

The cost of this program for students of EU/EEA countries is €2,060.


MA in Arts & Culture

Career opportunities

Career prospects

The Design Cultures course is taught in English. It is an internationally oriented course which has close ties with real-life practice. Besides studying the theoretical and historical background of design, students get a chance to do their graduation project in association with key players in the design world. Students of Design Cultures can look forward to careers in cultural institutions (editor, project manager), museums (researcher, curator), media, (author, critic, producer), government (administrator, advisor), design agencies (researcher, consultant) and educational and research institutes (teacher, researcher).

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About school

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Welcome to Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (‘VU Amsterdam’) is an internationally renowned research university founded in 1880. The university offers over 170 English-taught programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD level to more than 24,000 students from all over the world. Students and staff...

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Contact info

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam
Netherlands, the

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