Design Cultures and Society research group

The Design Cultures research group places design, material culture and the history of design within a broad social and cultural context. We study how social groups and communities shape their surroundings and how they create, use and appropriate design products. We also examine how design reacts materially and symbolically to cultural, social, economic and political relationships. We focus not only on the production and application of design, for instance by considering  the function and effects of materials, but also on consumption. With an eye on the society of the future, we also study the long-term visions of designers.

Focus areas/methods
We study various forms and aspects of design:

  • Objects and Product design
  • Creative practices of artisanship
  • Design and technology
  • Graphic design
  • Fashion and clothing
  • Interior design
  • Interaction between different cultures

We also adopt a thematic approach, looking at specific contexts that involve design, such as interiors and exhibitions, as well as the interactions between different cultures.
Our research fits in with contemporary scientific approaches: design and gender, design and national culture, design and image culture, and the interaction between materiality and visual culture. We also aim to subject the history of style, the design canon, and the principle of progress to critical examination as current historical viewpoints and attitudes.

Institutional embedding
Our group is a part of VU’s CLUE+ Humanities Research Institute. Within CLUE+ we work on the research field ‘Paradigms of creativity, Practices of Production, mediation, and Reception in Media, Art, Literature and Design’.

We are currently working on the research project MoMoWo, Women’s Creativity after the modern Movement, financed through the EU programme EACEA Creative Europe, which will continue up to October 2018. MoMoWo is a cooperative project with five other universities from Italy, Slovenia, France, Spain and Portugal which investigates the contributions made by female designers to architecture and design over the last 100 years. The project organizes exhibitions and presents its findings in publications in an accessible manner.

Mmow logo

Design Cultures and Society staff members

  • Rieta Bergsma, specialist in the history of graphic design and of modern visual arts from the 19th and 20th century. She is especially interested in art and cultural history around 1900 from a comparative perspective.
  • Javier Gimeno-Martínez, lecturer and senior researcher. His research addresses design and the shaping of national identities and gender identities; design, fashion and consumption; and design and artisanship from 1950 up to now. His interest in design and artisanship also extends to the interaction between globalization and the marginal histories of design that do not belong to the known canon of western design. He recently published Design and National Identity (2016).
  • Marjan Groot, senior lecturer and senior researcher. She is interested in the broad field of design, the historiography of design and applied art, and the history of design in society. Gender is one of the focuses of her research, as well as design, nature and biotechnology, and cross-cultural influences between different cultures. She is the Dutch participant in the MoMoWo project. She recently completed her research for the exhibition Living in the Amsterdam School. Interior designs 1910-1930 in cooperation with the Stedelijk Museum, and Modern Dutch Design in cooperation with the Wolfsonian-FIU in Miami Beach, Florida. Visit Marjan Groot’s blog.
  • Joana Ozorio de Almeida Meroz is currently conducting PhD research on the concept of design and its relationship to shaping Dutch identity and design history in the Netherlands between 1945 and 2010. Visit Joana Ozorio de Almeida Meroz’s web page.