Discomfort Dialogues

A collective formed to address tensions in design education.


Collective organising discussion and events

Core members:
Franziska Bax, Maxime Benvenuto, Camille Guibaud, Lina von Jaruntowski, Eva Lotta Landskron, Pedro Lobo, Afonso de Matos, Vítor Serra, Emma Sfez, Oshin Siao Bhatt.

Graphics by Jonė Miškinytė

"It occurs to us that, if designers are expected to take on bigger societal questions, the design discipline needs to care more about how to do design in a more fundamental manner. Caring about the practices, about the field, its discourses, its narratives, and in general about what it is that design does and how it is done. This care, first and foremost, needs to find its place in education, as it is where the professional culture of design stems from."

As a result from a felt unease in regards to how a design school approached societal issues through its assignments, a group of students came together under the name of Discomfort Dialogues. Assembled around an open letter that was written to the institution, the aim was to open up a space where the positioning struggles rising from the topics at stake itself could be addressed, discussed, and debated collectively. Through weekly dialogues facilitated in a physical setting (as opposed to the remaining online education due to lingering COVID measures), the focus that first stemmed from the assignment’s specificities started to resonate through larger questions. Throughout the weeks, questions on the role of the institution, the rights of students to position themselves, the problematic of visual approaches and appropriations in ‘humanitarian’ design, and for the most, the meaning of being a designer in the 'now' were addressed and debated.

The initial letter to the institution concluded our reaction as follow:

“We hope that as you read this letter, you will understand that our critique and our concerns come from places of care both for our practice and institute. We do not claim to hold answers, but we do have questions. We would like to propose the creation of a space where these can be addressed so that it may feed our work along the coming trimester, and possibly beyond. What space? That is something to be defined collectively. Nonetheless, if we are to take on such global and institutional challenges, it seems to us that it should be done in the most caring and careful manner, at the risk of otherwise seeing such an ambitious initiative be reduced into what may then seem as gimmicks that exploit the issue at stake.

With care, love, and consideration.”

Eventually, Discomfort Dialogues was invited to present its work on three different platforms during the Dutch Design Week 2021. An installation was produced for the Klokgebouw as a space for sharing to and with the public some of the questions the collective had been exploring. On another hand, a radio show was produced on Rararadio, during which some of these questions were unpacked with the participation of students from other student movements across Europe. Finally, a formal discussion took place on the Arena radio within the graduation show of the Design Academy Eindhoven, bringing in conversation the Discomfort Dialogues, Saskia van Stein (Headmaster of the Master program ‘Critical Inquiry Lab’ at DAE), and Myrtille Danse (Netherlands Food Program, partner of the ‘Hunger’ project that ignited this movement).

With care, love, and consideration.