Inés Toscano is an Argentinian architect (MA) and PhD candidate for the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Germany. Through her website she is critically mapping and performing architectural couplings as a labor strategy towards gender equality in architecture. Currently, Inés is a lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture, Facility Management, and Geoinformation of Hochschule Anhalt in Germany. She teaches the classes 'Gender Masquerade' –a proactive feminist pedagogy where master students role-play couplings– and of 'Mapping Bauhaus Couplings' –a feminist pedagogy where students link the past and present of Dessau through the lens of famous Bauhaus couples. She has presented her research at international conferences and symposiums on Architecture and Gender.

An activist at heart, Inés considers herself a feminist architect and believes in collaborative, interdisciplinary, and tolerant ways of working in architecture. By personally being in a creative-intimate partnership, the couplings’ tactic is being tested and set into action daily.

Luana:  In my master thesis, I am researching design pedagogies and how they are still mostly based on a Western idea of Design. One aspect of the research is to underline what people have been doing to defy norms, such as gender, race, and sexual identity in the teaching of design. In this process, I have conducted talks and interviews with Design students and educators to understand the challenges of teaching and learning Design while dismantling such norms.

As a starting point, I focused on the Design department of Hochschule Anhalt as a context. I wanted to investigate the experience of international students at Hochschule Anhalt, knowing that most of them come from outside Europe (currently, there is only one European student in the international department). Judging from my own experience, most of what I have been taught in design school was based on (white, male) European authors and the way they see Design, even though I have graduated in Brazil. Not surprisingly, most of my colleagues had a similar experience. At the same time, I also inquired with professors from the university to understand how they conceive their classes' curriculum and their motivations while building up a syllabus.

Your research deals with similar issues in the field of architecture. For this reason, I wanted to talk to you about the 'Gender Masquerade' class and your experience studying architecture. How was the process of transitioning from student to lecturer, especially being a female foreigner?

Inés: I also had similar inquiries, which brought me to start looking at Hochschule Anhalt and the architecture program, in which I was a student. In parallel, while criticizing the program and the department, I also analyzed my bibliography to understand architecture education and what is the problem in architecture education as a whole. There are a lot of levels of issues. I tried to see those things at my university, so I can actually criticize them with more knowledge. Not only statistical aspects like how many female teachers or the amount of females references in my bibliography, but also look at the students. I did a questionnaire for the students to understand their perceptions of how they are learning architecture. I wanted to understand their experience here and in their bachelor’s. It's important to realize that there are problems in their previous experiences, so you can understand a bit more about the whole picture. And then, I began to look at case studies. Do you also have some case studies of design pedagogies that you admire?

Luana: Yes, there are some approaches. There are a few professors in Germany who are trying to build more flexible syllabi, with a focus on decentering their pedagogy from the European canon. There are also some essential references like what Sheila Levrant de Bretteville did in the 60s' at CalArts in the United States. I also have your research and pedagogical approach as a great example from inside Hochschule Anhalt.

Inés: So you're approaching feminism more in a decolonizing way.

Luana: Yes, as well as from the gender perspective. I believe the best way to put it is to say that I am adopting an intersectional feminist approach, which takes into account the correlation between different power structures. But yes, the colonial aspect was one of the first issues I spotted in the context of Hochschule Anhalt. For example, when I attended the Design Theory class, I noticed that although the professor makes efforts to improve and keep a balance, still the majority of authors are either from the US or the UK. Several things can be improved.

Inés: Yes, definitely. I was in an international architecture and gender symposium in London last June. I presented 'Gender Masquerade' as a case of feminist pedagogy. It was fascinating because we were so many speakers from all over the world, Australia, South Africa, discussing the topic of decolonization and architecture education. I think it is quite relevant to what you are approaching. Of course, the focus is not design, but still, I think it applies.

The symposium was organized by Dr. Emma Cheatle and Dr. Catalina Mejia Moreno. Around the occasion of the symposium, Catalina participated in the Podcasting Education University Of Brighton, where she introduced the work of Silvia Cusicanqui. Silvia is a female professor with a focus on depatriachy and decolonization, which I think relates to your topic. Well, nowadays, we can say that feminism should be intersectional. I tried to do that with 'Gender Masquerade,' asking students to bring examples that are not primarily from white males. I think it's adequate because here at these universities we have so many people from all over the world. Each one of them brings their own backgrounds and share with others.

Luana: That was what I had in mind when I invited people from my program for a conversation. What I found out was that one of the things they miss the most is having a platform to speak. It was exciting to talk to the students, even if not everyone is engaged in the topic of gender and decolonization, everybody has experienced something that relates to these topics. For example, there is a colleague from India who first had to study to be a nurse so she would have money to later switch to design. She had to go against her family's will to do so. Sometimes people don't fully realize they are somehow also connected to the issue.

So I think my topic is the conclusion that we need to open those spaces to get to know people’s experiences.

Inés: From this symposium in London, there were a lot of people come coming from South Africa. They also have a lot of issues with decolonization. Luckily, there are a lot of females from this area, doing some really fantastic work. I remember Sumayya Vally in particular; she is working with textiles with her students, discussing activism through these designs, addressing the scars of colonialism in South Africa. They had a lot of problems in their university with segregation, so they are really working on that. It is a whole year studio format, the work is beautiful.

Luana: I would love to have more references from Africa.

Inés: It would be useful for you to have different continents. Also, when you start to look to case studies, I don't know if it happens to you, but it occurred to me that the references were also really Western, it is where they are doing more things about it.

Luana: Yes! I have been trying to look in Brazil.

Inés: Do you have something?

Luana: There were some attempts, some things from the past. In the 50s, Lina Bo Bardi created the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea (IAC), where she wanted to focus on traditional knowledge and processes into design. It lasted just two years. And I have some things from contemporary schools too. They are mainly small initiatives both inside institutions and outside self-initiated approaches.

Inés: Yes, but that is helpful for you because the ones that fail are good for you to see why they have failed.

Luana: Yes, but it's a little tricky because a lot of the people I managed to talk to are mainly from Europe. The problem originates here, and also people trying to defy it are from here. It's great that people are trying to change things, but It would be interesting to have more diversity, having examples from other places as well.

Inés: And also, every country is different. It's challenging to implement. Even in Europe, it is not easy to have an agenda.

Luana: One of the things that I wanted to ask you is the transition you made. You studied here, where you started your project, and then it became a class. How was it?

Inés: Well, I was fortunate. I did my thesis here, and I designed this course as my thesis. First, I analyzed the problems that I see in architecture education, then I analyzed case studies, and at the same time, I would work on couplings. Then I combined it all to what I think is my contribution. I proposed a course to tackle the issues I encountered in the educational environment. The idea was to engage students with those issues while they are still studying. It makes a difference to go into practice knowing that these things happen. So I did a small pilot to test the class, which I repeated a couple of times, made corrections. Even now, every semester, I still make adjustments. You always have to change and adapt, see how it works.

Luana: It's an open thing.

Inés: Yes, it's completely open. And I am also super accessible for the students to come and share. It makes more sense that they show me their perspective because I won't be able to have the same insight about a Brazilian couple as you would have. We are all learning together.

Regarding the transition, I designed this class as my thesis. For my final presentation, my thesis tutor, Prof. Dr. Jasper Cep, was the former director of the architecture department, and one of the juries was an influential architect from New York. He was really fascinated by the work I had done and suggested that the only way to know if my proposition works would be to try it here at Hochschule Anhalt.

Prof. Jasper is a really conservative person, but he always listens. That is a good quality for somebody who is on an upper level like he is. You can disagree with an idea, but you have to listen and be open. So he followed the suggestion and allowed me to try the class at the university. With a lot of doubt, but he offered me the opportunity, the only condition was that I needed at least five students. In the end, I had 22 students.

Luana: I think even if people are not so interested or never thought about this topic, they might be curious to go and hear what you have to say.

Inés: Yes, but people are still very apprehensive. For example, in the first class, I think I had only eight students. They are students, but also usually people who are more open-minded, who actually know what gender is and so on. Those first students came, and then in each class, more people started coming because the attendees began to spread the word. People were first apprehensive about it, even scared because it's really a taboo topic. It is complex, of course, and some people think that it is something we should just not be talking about. But when they heard what people from the same age told them about it, it started pouring, suddenly I had 22 students attending.

This semester I am teaching two courses, with seven students in each class. In 'Mapping Bauhaus Couplings' I'm talking about the couplings of the Bauhaus time and the gender issues related to them. There is this idea that everything was perfect at the Bauhaus, but it was actually not. The 'Gender Masquerade,' we discuss similar issues but looking at architect couplings in general.

I would say that the first year I taught this course was kind of hard because people don't know what to expect, but you have to go slowly. We have to start somewhere, right?

Luana: Yes. And from the university side, after they saw that students attended your course, did they receive it positively or is there still some kind of resistance?

Inés: The directors didn't know much about it. The first time the class happened, I invited them to the final presentation, but they couldn't make it, though it seems they were aware that it was good.

And then the second semester that the class took place, the department said they had really few electives courses to offer the students because they had to cut everything in half. So they informed me that I would not teach again due to the cuts. I was ok with their decision, but I wanted to make it clear to the university that there was a need for the students to have space. I told them that if not in my course, they should have something addressing issues of gender because people were just really cathartic, expressing a lot of their feelings. Things that they see and feel but don't know how they are named or how to deal with it.

In the end, the director found out that there is funding coming from the Hochschule Anhalt, for courses or activities related to gender. When they found out about the budget, they decided to continue with the course. After the success of the class, the directors of the architecture program wanted to have it again and offered me another slot. That's how things came to be. Step by step, I am slowly trying to get there.


Anja Neidhardt is a design researcher, writer, curator and educator. Together with Maya Ober she co-creates depatriarchise design. She writes for various international design publications and teaches Design History and Theory at the Academy of Visual Arts in Frankfurt/Main. In 2016 she graduated from Design Curating and Writing (MA) at Design Academy Eindhoven. From 2012 until 2014 she was a member of form Design Magazine’s editorial team. She is currently a PhD Student at the Umeå Institute of Design and the Umeå Centre for Gender Studies.

What was the impact of your experience as design students and practitioners on the way you do research and the way you teach?

I studied communication design in my bachelor at the Academy of Visual Arts in Frankfurt am Main in Germany. It's a quiet small academy, with more focus on theory and on concepts rather than on realization. Realization was of course part of it, aesthetics and things like that. There was more graphic design and advertising in focus, more than other design disciplines, but we had a strong focus on the concept and we always had to base it very strongly.

We had to explain what was our topic, what was the question that we were trying to answer, our intention, what we wanted to achieve with each project we did to then in the end, look into it and decide 'Ok, maybe this can be solved in the best way with graphic design and a poster or maybe we should rather do a video, or we should maybe rather go into some other kind of medium'. We had to first think about the topic and the question behind it and then look into what might the result be.

Often I think that in design education there's this thing that people start by saying 'I want to do a poster!' but not really knowing for what kind of reason, what the actual aim or goals with that is.

I think this had a bigger impact on how I think about design, it already fitted really good with how I was thinking anyway. I'm more into creating concepts and into thinking about design or writing about design than designing things myself.

So in the bachelor I already realized that it's really difficult for me to just design or to produce something visual, something that is made by hands. That was always very difficult for me and very time and energy consuming, but I realized that I was good at writing and that it went so easily for me without any difficulties.

There was one course about writing and research that I really enjoyed. I got in touch with different formats of writing and also with format for interviews. In this period I decided to do an internship at a graphic design magazine, mainly working as an intern in the editorial team and not as a designer. Then after graduating with a Bachelor degree, I started to work in the editorial team of form Design magazine, from Germany, where I worked for two years.

I went directly into design journalism, I never worked as a designer. But still, being trained as a designer leaves you with a certain way of thinking and with a design perspective on things. I guess that is different than being trained in an academic way as an academic writer, or if I had studied journalism or art history and then moved into design. I would have another perspective, I would not understand the discipline from within as an insider but only as an outsider. I think my perspective is very much influenced and shaped by my own education as a designer.

And then after after working for two years on the editorial team of form, I decided to do a master at curating and writing at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, in the Netherlands. I was really looking for a program where I could improve my skills in terms of writing, going more into a theoretical direction. What I really liked in this masters was that we were writing in different formats, always in between journalistic writing and academic writing.

The thing with design journalism for me was that it's often not critical enough. Design magazines are often focusing only on the ‘good’ aspects of a design. They mostly select only designs that are somehow evaluated as good or representative, the said ‘bad examples’ or the ‘bad kind of design’ don't make it into the magazine at all. You end up writing a lot of good things about certain designers and certain design projects, kind of praising them or putting them on a pedestal, rather than being critical. I was missing that critical perspective.

I like to focus on topics or bigger questions, rather than only on one design result or one designer or individual. So I really enjoyed this aspect in my master, to look at design from a more critical and more theoretical perspective, but still to keep a creative approach to writing and to have this combination. And that of course also influenced how I write and how I do research now.

After my master I then went to Berlin, where I worked as a freelance writer and design educator for another two or three years. Now, I just started my phD in Sweden at Umeå Institute of Design. This program is a collaboration with the Center for Gender Studies in Umeå. I look at design from a feminist perspective now in my phD. All of these experiences that I had before have impacted my writing and my approach towards research and writing.

As an educator, what are your main concerns regarding the construction of a curriculum? 

I came into teaching after my master studies. The academy in Frankfurt where I did my bachelor approached me and asked if I would be interested in teaching design history and theory, and to do it not from the classic point of view and to not teach the design canon, but rather to do it in a different way. I was quite free to decide how I want to do it, which was of course great because then I could approach it in a non-linear and less Eurocentric way.

I could try out different teaching formats as well. To not stand in front of a crowd of students and teach or to present my knowledge as if it's The truth and The only true design history. But to rather ask questions and open up discussions and dialogue, to discover things together with the students so that we learn from and with each other, instead of me telling them what I know.

In those years that I lived in Berlin between my master and starting my phD, I became more and more interested in feminism and in the intersection of feminist approach and perspective. At this time I also started to work with Maya Ober and then became the second person to co-create the platform depatriarchise design with her. Through our work and through a lot of readings, for example reading bell books' "teaching to transgress" and also Andre Lorde, what she speaks about her own teaching experiences - all of that influenced my approach to teaching.

I experimented with different forms of how we could arrange the tables and chairs in a room and different kinds of projects. That of course was also influenced by feminism and by the work I did with depatriachise design. I try to further develop certain formats for enabling conversations, having different formats of presenting or of having discussions.

I try not to always use something like a PowerPoint presentation as a first option, neither that or something that only happens at the front of the room, at one end of the room and everyone is just looking. I prefer to rather bring books, pictures, printed out material and then gather around this and also change the positions of chairs and tables and experiment with those kind of things. This is something that I am definitely going to continue now as well as asking a lot of questions and being critical.

For me it’s also important to get students more into a mode where they think about their own position within the projects that they are doing, to discuss questions of biases or other things that might influence their projects and the outcome of their projects. How they could deal best so that their projects don't even become controversial or that they are at least aware of the responsibility and the great impact that is connected to design, to be aware of the structures that the design discipline is involved with.

Because as we know, design also discriminates against people on the basis of certain aspects like skin color, or gender, or abilities, disabilities, sexual orientation, religion, culture and so on. Of course these examples can be seen in things like the poor design of cars, the design of seatbelts, the design of facial recognition software, the design of pockets and so on.

Regarding curriculums, in many cases they are based on decisions made by others and people who came before us or by the school or even bigger institutions. Maybe even influenced by certain standard that is put out for education.Even though I'm not sure if this even exists in the design discipline, that there is a certain standard. At least in Germany there's none, not that I know. There's not really a standard that says if you teach design history you have to do this, this and that. Which can be a problem - there is no such standard but it can also be a problem to have such a standard, that there's two sets.

You also often work in teams or you collaborate with the other teachers in the school or at least all of these different things come together. As a student, you go through many different courses and they are taught by many different teachers. Then of course some of the teachers are more aware of certain discussions, biases and so while for other teachers this can be one of the challenges. How do you actually achieve to be at least working from the same basis, the same values? Very often it's about values and how you position yourself and how the school positions itself. I have the impression that many design schools are not really aware of what their values are or what kind of values they have in their design education. But they are very much needed in order for institutions to know what kind of guidance they can give to students.

Another challenge is also to be up to date as a teacher and as a lecturer, to know what the current discussions are and to not stop learning. Even if you are in this job for a very long time, you have to stay curious and to educate yourself.

How do you balance between what you bring as educator and what is built collectively from the experiences in the classroom?

That's a good question. I still don't have an answer for that. I'm trying different things and I'm bringing in materials as I said, like books and printed out texts and images. It allows me to start a conversation. For example, today I brought a few books into the classroom and then certain students already knew these books, others didn't know them. It was a good starting point for our discussion because then some students could say 'ok, I remember from this book this this this and that' and I think that it was relevant for me as a designer because then they could elaborate on this and then I could bring in why I had brought this book and why I think it is important to be in a conversation.

And then it's also again a bit about the guidance, about asking questions, making sure that it's not always the same people who are in conversation, but that everyone is engaged, that everyone is part of the conversation. Of course, some students feel less comfortable about speaking in front of a crowd, so I also try to do group work and to have them in smaller groups, then it's easier for people to share their ideas and thoughts and then later on, to discuss it in a bigger group. This way people might feel more safe.

They already went through some of their thoughts, they shared it with at least some of the students and they know the reactions. They have a clearer idea of what they want to say and then they might be more able to speak in front of a bigger group. Maybe there's even a representative of the team who would present the ideas in front of the bigger group.

That is to say that it's also about making people comfortable and feeling safe. To allow for different personalities to express themselves differently.

What is your process to construct a more diverse bibliography for your class? Is this effort something you make explicit to the students?

I try to be open about it and to talk about the decisions that I make openly with my students. To share with them the struggles that are also connected to that. I think it's important to be open about which decisions you make and why you make them.

Right now I'm doing a project with another designer. She's called Lisa Baumgarten and together we have created the platform 'teaching design', both online through Instagram and in real life. We are collecting and curating a list of literature for design educators who want to teach design from a more feminist and decolonial/postcolonial perspective. So what we do there is to ask people for their advice and to ask people to share the literature that have helped them.

For example, there are design educators submitting recommendations saying 'Oh, I think you should read this book or that book because of this and that' and then we look if this book fulfils the criteria of a feminist perspective and a decolonial perspective, that's where the curating part comes in. Then we make this list available on our website. That's an important aspect of the project, because we want to keep this open so that everyone can see this list and can profit from it. The idea is not only for us to profit from what people send in, but also that everyone who's interested in looking into this list can also benefit from the resources.

And if you reach out to people, if you look for people who have a different perspective, or maybe people of color, people from different cultures, from other backgrounds and so on. If you actively search for them, if you reach out and get in contact with them, asking about how they teach and how what kind of literature they use, you can learn a lot. That of course also leads you to create a more diverse bibliography.

And finally, could you share the titles you find essential or helpful in order to build a more diverse and inclusive design bibliography?

There are many. A lot of them, at least for me, are from outside of the design discipline. For me bell hooks is very inspiring, as well as Audre Lorde and Sara Ahmed. They are feminists and I can learn a lot from their writing and apply it and in the design discipline and in the design field.

But then of course there are people like Sheryl Buckley, who wrote a paper called 'Made in patriarchy' that had quite a big impact on both of us, Maya and me. Then there is the work that Dori Tunstall is doing in Canada, there's Griselda Flesler who works in Argentina. And other people in the design field who produce papers and books on the topics of feminism and decolonisation, such as Ramia Mazé, Mia C. White and most of the group decolonising design.

Just recently I read the book ‘Invisible Women' by Caroline Criado-Perez about data biases. Then there is another one called 'Feminist futures for spatial practices' and also a book called 'Making space - women and the manmade environment'. The later was written in the 80s by an feminist collective of female architects called Matrix.

Another reading that I find important is the 'The funambulist magazine’. There's also this literature list that is available online, it's called the decolonial reader, organized by Ramon Tejada. Those are my go-to books and readings right now.

Regarding other formats, there are also podcasts like '99 percent Invisible'. I really like it because you cannot see anything, so they have to describe a lot and you end up experiencing design from a different perspective, maybe about hearing and not seeing things. For example, they have one episode about the design of pockets, why the pockets in women's trousers and clothes are smaller than men's, the history of that. I find things like this very interesting, it inspires me to then dig deeper into those topics and to look into more academic texts around it.

And then also other things that are more linked to activism. It can also be that conversations are very important, or lived experiences as week. Something that you may experience as a person and then it inspires you to dig deeper, to look further into certain things.

Emily Smith is an educator, designer, and researcher focused on the intersections between graphic design, visual anthropology, and choreography. Her work applies observational, participatory, and conceptual approaches in reconsidering exhibitions and narrative practices. She is currently Vice Dean, Professor, and Head of Communication Design at the University of Applied Sciences Europe (Fachhochschule Potsdam), BTK Faculty of Art and Design in Berlin.

What kind of impact your experience as a Design student and practitioner had on the way you do research and the way you teach?

I grew up in Utah, around alternative, community-of-learning, non-hierarchical educational practices as a child. My BA from Pitzer College in Claremont (USA) was definitely a Marxist-leaning political science. I had several educators that attended Black Mountain and, as such, broke down the traditional hierarchies with a very critical voice (question everything) attitude. I began designing for an artist/music collective in upstate Michigan, where the process was highly collaborative and supportive. My BFA studies at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena (USA), were much more “traditional” design-wise. Still, the mind-set of radical questioning was already instilled in me, and many of the faculty seemed to welcome my engagement. Here I learned craft and complexity. A few of the professors also brought in feminist, decolonizing, POC, and marginalized views, but they were mostly far between. I noted this and sought out my own role models in LA, Anne Burdick, Denise Gonzales Crisp, Rebecca Mendez, to name a few that challenged the status quo of design practice.

Upon arriving in Berlin, I worked in a fairly traditional agency, Leonardi-Wollein, but what stuck out was that they welcomed designers from all over the world. We functioned mostly as a collective family, all sharing the task of cooking, pitching, budgeting, and cleaning — there was a sense of equality and family that I yearn for in all of my projects or work environments.

I received an MA in Visual Anthropology from the FU in Berlin. Here it all came together — ethics, the burden of representation, power dynamics, complexities of collaboration, self-reflexivity, agency, and so on. It gave me the language and confidence to adapt these topics in my teaching.

As an educator, what are your main concerns regarding the construction of a curriculum? Is it an individual process or rather something that is built collectively in the classroom?

Both. I do have the expertise to sculpt a structure that is directing the classroom with particular learning outcomes. But one of these is breaking hierarchies “everyone can learn something from someone” to misquote Ranciere. Opening the learning process to all involved takes some moderating, especially with first semester BA students. How do we all respect, contribute, critique, and collaborate? In some courses with upper semesters, I will start with "this is a lab, we are doing this together, we are all here to contribute. I have set up a general framework to move forward, but the direction this course takes is up to the group to decide." Often students struggle with this freedom, and it is my job to gain their trust. Usually, the courses end with a collective "WOW" that it was possible to develop a complex collaborative critical project without a master leading the way. This all said it is a risky path. As full-time faculty, I am also evaluated on student satisfaction and course outcomes — which is not always guaranteed.

How do you come up with a more diverse bibliography for your class? Is this effort something you make explicit to the students?

Yes. I have spent years collecting references outside the white male western canon. I explicitly start courses with a statement that the “story” I am sharing (references, oral presentations, lectures, bibliography) is subjective, and reflects my view of what is important, as is any other course they may take, there is no “one” version, but quite often there is a lot left out. I also actively include students (many of whom are not european, white, or identity as male) to do additional research that expands the references in the class. This might be regional, racial, or cultural — I end up leaning about contemporary trends that I had no idea were happening. It is a multi-directional sharing of references. These tend not to be academic “articles” or “readings” but rather hashtags, Instagram accounts, industry spotlights, etc. I think it is important to consider ‘bibliography’ beyond academic references, as the most significant number of young designers consume their design “vision” and expectations from outside the theoretical context. And perhaps even, the pop culture is pushing the conversation farther than much of academia.

My first-semester oral presentations are an active attempt to ‘decenter’ the canon. I had an experience 2-3 years ago where the students had to present in a colleague’s class at the same time, and I asked who they had to present. 22 Students each took turns sharing — other than Sister Corita Kent, they were all male, white and western, ALL OF THEM: Glaser, Seville, Rand, Bass, Eames, Aicher, Hoffmann… I pointed this out, and they didn’t even realize it. By the 6th semester, they know the jam. But even in the contemporary context, it is the same voices you can’t get away from.

And finally, could you share the titles you find essential or helpful in order to build a more diverse and inclusive design bibliography?

With the Fachhochschule Potsdam, we just put together a new reader that is just the beginning. I am looking forward to building from this.

Cheryl Buckley – Made in Patriarchy (1986)

bell hooks – The Oppositional Gaze. Black Female Spectators (1992)

Guerrilla Girls – The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist (1988)

Guerrilla Girls – Introduction and Conclusion to the Guerrilla Girls' Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art (1998)

Teal Triggs – Graphic Design Female Visual Culture (2000)

Sasha Constanza-Chock – Design Justice (2018)

Loraine Furter

Loraine Furter is a graphic designer and researcher based in Brussels since 2007. She specialized in editorial design, hybrid publishing, and intersectional xfeminism. She designs and edits paper publications as well as web and digital ones, and is particularly interested in the interaction between these media.

What was the impact of your experience as a design student and practitioner on the way you do research and the way you teach?

When I teach, I always try to remember what and how I was taught, as a way to critically reflect on ideas and values that are often transmitted in a (traditional) graphic design class. It is also an exercise of keeping in mind another perspective than the one of the teacher — I can also do that because my learning experiences are still quite fresh, less than ten years at least and because I keep on learning every day.

My experience as a teacher (and the changes I wanted to make compared with what I learned as a student) was actually a departure point for my current research project. I was asked to teach classes about the history of bookmaking and artists’ books. When I started preparing this class and looked back at what I learned and at my references for artists’ books, I could only see examples of white males. A canon I didn't want to reproduce, as I'm trying to teach, design, and research with an intersectional feminist perspective. So I had to dig much deeper. First, because it was quite hard to find documentation and as a consequence, it became more and more interesting… it became a whole research project that I am still busy with.

De-mystifying the practice of design helped me for sure. It helps me addressing urgent taboos like economic questions, which are also very political, and are linked to issues of access and privilege. On that topic, I'm very inspired by the works of the collectives Wages for Wages Against and Evening Class.

As an educator, what are your main concerns regarding the construction of a curriculum?

Being as much inclusive as I can, but not with universal rhetoric. I'm trying to avoid telling things as if they were “normal,” universal, neutral, objective. I try to show that everything is a construction, with a situated position, and to be transparent about the fact that building a curriculum is partial, it is a narration, and it can be questioned. It is very complex, and it needs a constant reflection, both at the level of content (what) and the way you are telling things (how).

How do you balance between what you bring as an educator and what is built collectively from the experiences in the classroom?

This depends on the type of class, as I teach both practical and theoretical classes. Each configuration brings its own challenges. Still, basically, I'm trying to ask questions rather than giving answers, and I'm telling stories or sharing experiences rather than “explaining” how things work or were done.

What is your process to construct a more diverse bibliography for your class? Is this effort something you make explicit to the students?

Yes! As I said in the first question — that's actually my starting point when teaching a new class. I explain how I built the syllabus and what are the challenges and responsibilities that come with such exercise. Also, we often build it together — I ask students to bring examples, to write on them, etc.

And finally, could you share the titles you find essential or helpful in order to build a more diverse and inclusive design bibliography?

That's a huge question. I will try to make it short, with a focus on resources which list other resources.

- (it lists all the significant recent platforms like decolonizing design, depatriarchise design, …) — Eye on Design is itself a useful resource, with groundbreaking articles on the politics of design;

- The Decolonising Design Reader by Ramon Tejada, which is also collaborative

- This one, too, is a very excellent pedagogical project:

- Instagram. Yes, not very ethical in terms of data protection, but today for some topics, it is a valuable source — “serious” books take the time of legitimation + means., for instance, fits in the resource about resources, and there are many more examples.

-More visually, the work/conferences and research/exhibition such as 'As, Not For,' by Jerome Harris — whom I'm inviting to a the graphic design festival Fig.Festival Inopiné de Graphisme, in Belgium, Liège in February 2020. I'm a big fan of his research and his analysis of graphic design.

Claudia Doms

Claudia Doms is a graphic designer and educator from Germany. She is a graduate of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie graphic design program and currently teaches at the British Higher School of Art and Design in Moscow.

What was the impact of your experience as a design student and practitioner on the way you do research and the way you teach?

Being a design student and a practitioner have been two completely different experiences for me. Possibly the only thing that stayed the same has been working in different medias; printed matter, videos, spatial design, web-related projects etc. Working in open media formats is an important aspect of my teaching practice, and especially in the Russian context, where traditionally the outcome is clearly described, this can be very challenging for students.

As a student my work has always been much about my (very personal) views on the world around me, things I found interesting, disturbing, funny, unfair etc.; I reacted spontaneously to certain references and topics, which was also due to the (short) timing of projects. As a result, the outcome often had an immediacy and boldness to it, not seldom also a nativity; it was surprising and new for myself and I enjoyed the discoveries I made.

Once I graduated I didn’t quite know how to apply such working mode to commissioned work. Suddenly, I was asked to have a plan, I needed to know what the outcome would be, even how it would look like. There were commissioners who also had their ideas, and I became very shy to impose my own impulsive interests on the work I was paid for (also didn’t quite know how to do that). I think money generally changed my perspective and approach immensely. Money is never something that got discussed during my studies – nowadays I try to implement this discussion in my teaching.

I have never engaged too much in theoretical research. Back in the days, when I was studying graphic design at the Rietveld Academy in the Netherlands, writing was pretty much non-existent within the programme. We didn’t have to write a thesis and, although we did have some theory classes, they were more philosophy-driven rather than reflections on graphic design (on top of that hardly anybody attended). I think that has changed now.

After years of working for various cultural and corporate clients, the latter being extremely depressing, nowadays my interest is mostly driven by visual phenomenon and artefacts outside the established world of ‘good’ graphic design. I am interested in the everyday visual landscape that surrounds us, all kinds of ephemera and vernacular design as well as decorative and naive arts. I collect visual specimen from this everyday world, digital but also physical ones.

This interest in the everyday plays very much into my teaching. Generally my teaching is heavily focused on ‘making’. I cover the so-called ‘Studio’ sessions as opposed to ‘Critical Studies’ (theory classes which require much reading and writing) – although this separation sometimes feels rather artificial. I believe the term ‘research’ is often misunderstood in our classes (and moreover in the industry, which calls even a mood board ‘research’), therefore I often try to avoid using it. I tend to speak about visual investigations, it seems more accurate in the context of ‘making’.

It can be said that the collecting, analysing, reflecting, interpreting and translating of our immediate visual landscape into new work is at the core of my teaching practice. In addition, an ongoing discussion during tutorials about different types of practices and modes of working after graduation make an important part of the class.

As an educator, what are your main concerns regarding the construction of a curriculum?

My main concern as an educator is to create a sense of community, of support and of curiosity towards the things and people that surround us. Therefore, the projects that I write and guide are dealing with aspects of everyday life, because I believe all other big subjects are mirrored in those aspects. Where students want to take their analyses and interpretation is up to their capacity, interest and will.

I have never been concerned with constructing a universal curriculum as such. In fact, it seemed always curious to me that educators would write a curriculum and apply this vision to various contexts. How could I teach the exact same methods and contents in the Netherlands as in Russia? Would the students have the same reaction? Maybe not? Shouldn’t these aspects be taken into consideration?

A student of mine told me the other day that she considers herself an intersectional feminist. I like this thought. There is no one-size-fits-all type of feminism; there is no one-size-fits-all type of education. Everyone has different needs and interests, influenced by various cultural backgrounds and patterns: an intersectional system of family background, gender, ethnicity, wealth, ability and others.

Three years ago I found myself teaching at the British Higher School of Art and Design in Moscow, a private school in which lessons are taught in English; however, to almost exclusively Russian students. It is a very particular context and risking to fail describing the circumstances accurately, I never the less will list some aspects of it, with the aim to give a rough idea of the situation.

My current students are very young, by the time they graduate with a BA their average age is 21. They usually live with their parents, not seldom they are already married. Not everyone can afford to study at the school I teach at, meaning a large part of students is from middle- to upper class background (although such terms don’t really apply to the Russian society). Sometimes students have their own drivers. On the other hand, some students have to work 30 hours a week in parallel to their studies to pay for the course. Some students study something else next to graphic design; diplomas, the actual pieces of paper, are a very important asset in Russian society. Some students are interested in the studies, some of them not so much. Most students are female – we currently have 5 male and 40 female students in the programme. This extreme ratio is due to the fact Russian male students have to go to the army, unless they study at a state school (which is not the case with The British Higher School of Art and Design).

The students grew up in Putin’s Russia, they have not known any other. They are not encouraged to speak out about their opinions and thoughts, not by the state and usually not by their families. They have a completely different idea about what ‘political’ is as ‘we’ do in the western Europe. Being political is not an option, politics are done by institutions who are ‘above’ the society. The only way to be political is to ‘fight’, to risk being put to jail over night without a reason or a fair trial. (I am putting words in quotation marks here, according to how I hear them from my students.) All forms of self-organisation are usually being prevented by local authorities, be it for propagandistic reasons or economic ones. In this climate, where everything is being politicised, most students consider themselves a-political. It can also be said that many students simply have too many everyday problems to deal with, there is no time to fight for a ‘fairer society’. But some do of course (often supported by the family), and kudos to them.

The international teaching staff (myself included) do not speak Russian, or hardly anyways. It takes years to get an approximate idea of the situation. I realise that it is impossible to free myself of the image of the better-knowing and better-off Westerner, as it is intrinsic to my situation and the position which I inhabit at a/the British university in Moscow. What I can bring in though, is a new perspective on the Russian (visual) context, to point out things that locals might not notice as it often happens with things one grows up with – and this momentum is also intrinsic to my position and leaves room for dialogue and exchange.

Relevant international (design) literature is hard to come by in Russia, we rely mostly on scans of books, which is obviously not the same as holding a book in your hands – especially for a designer. Once again, it can also be an opportunity to create something new, something outside of the context of the established.

All mentioned above has a huge impact on creating the curriculum, a curriculum that leaves room for, and encourages everyone to speak out about about what is on their minds, whether those are social issues or more unreflected personal topics and references – although those are often of course intertwined.

Finally, breaking the comfort zone inhabited behind the screen by many young students is another concern of mine. Facilitating and encouraging projects that require a large amount of dealing with the physical world that surrounds us is therefore incorporated in all projects.

How do you balance between what you bring as educator and what is built collectively from the experiences in the classroom?

I don’t really see a difference between what I bring in as an educator and what is built collectively from the experience in the classroom. I believe an educator must encourage and facilitate a collective learning process amongst students, as well as students and teachers. Depending on the process of the project some classes focus more on group discussions and feedback between peers, others (the minority though) are set up more like critiques with me as the tutor.

All projects are set up in a way that they become dialogues about our lives and interests and how we look at things that surrounds us, how we look at things that peers make and what (different things) we see in them. Therefore my teaching relies heavily on the curiosity that is brought in by the students and by myself towards all work presented in class.

What is your process to construct a more diverse bibliography for your class? Is this effort something you make explicit to the students?

If you are talking about writings from authors of different cultural and/or social background, I usually start with references known to me through my context of growing up in Germany and studying in the Netherlands which speak to me, so there will be many Euro-centric names. I try to embed, where possible, Russian authors, though I heavily rely on my Russian colleagues to advise me on literature, as hardly anything is translated. An important figure (maybe the most important one) when it comes to writing about Russian graphic design is Vladimir Krichevsky. However, once again, none of his many books are translated. We often discuss this situation in class, the fact that most prominent graphic design literature is coming from a certain group of people, what impact this has on the development of their own practice and how they can change this situation by contributing themselves. I am at this point not focused on specifically including writings from social minorities, if this is what your question is getting at.

And finally, what references, literature or resources have inspired you or were fundamental in your learning and teaching experience?

Looking at and engaging with the Russian visual landscape for a few years now has taught me a lot about my own (western) idea of making. Whereas I grew up with the idea of having to do something ‘new’ and ‘innovative’, an element of copying and re-making makes an essential part of the Russian approach. Possibly the most prominent example for such an approach can be found within Russian iconography: the best painters are not the ones who ‘invent’ new icons (this doesn’t really exists as there is a set canon of icon motifs), but the ones who achieve to give the icons something special, something transcendent. It is about creating the same, but different; to look closely at, and re-work the existing (tradition). It is also a very visual approach, as opposed to a more concept-driven European approach (‘form follows function’). This idea is something I (unknowingly) missed in experience as a teacher and practitioner in Europe and I am glad to have found it through teaching in Russia.