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Design and the Deep Future


Admission requirements

There are no admission requirements for this elective course.


Today, as a global population, we produce 1.3 billion tons of municipal solid waste per year, waste, that in English Literature professor Brian Thill’s conception, ‘lays thick blankets of our chemical age across the entire planet, into every rocky outcropping, to the bottom of every sea’s floor, nestling in the trees and bogs and pools of the world’. The damage being done to our planet by the products, processes, and values generated by design is increasingly visible and measurable. When we look at a phenomenon like plastiglomerate, a new rock conglomerate made up of natural debris mixed in with molten plastic, we see directly and tangibly the ways in which the fall out of past design decisions are being laid down in the very strata of our planet for future generations to understand us, and to question us by.

This course provides an introduction to some of the issues and ideas with which to parse, interpret and evaluate design’s role in climate change, from a humanities perspective. We will examine a range of historical and contemporary responses by critics and designers to the conundrum of product and information overload, and explore some speculative projects that hypothesize on how product design and its criticism might be conducted more accountably in the future.

To augment image and object analysis, theoretical insights will be elicited by close reading and discussion of some key texts, concepts, and manifestoes by design philosophers, cultural theorists, and designers such as Tony Fry, Bruno Latour, Timothy Morton, Donna Harraday, and Isabelle Stengers, among others.

With a strong emphasis on fieldwork and on-site reporting, the course will encourage students to use a broad array of research methods, ranging from more familiar techniques such as interviewing, archival and database research, image and textual analysis, and direct observation to methods derived from other disciplines such as internet scraping, walking and mapping.

The final project of the course will collate essays on key terms written by individual students to make a Design and the Deep Future lexicon, which will be presented performatively to other members of the Leiden and KABK communities.

Keywords: Design, climate change, Anthropocene, critical design, speculative design, trash, waste, plastiglomerate, geology, design philosophy, deep time.

Course objectives

At the end of the course the student will have:

  • engaged with some key texts and gained some conceptual tools and theoretical perspectives with which to read and interpret design in the context of the Anthropocene.

  • a deepened and refined knowledge of design and its social, political and environmental implications.

  • the ability to analyse and critically appreciate design objects, systems, processes, and values.

  • experience with wielding expanded set of research tools with which to interrogate and understand design in its multiple contexts.


Academic year 2019-2020, first semester

Dates and times

Mondays from 11.15 to 13:00 hrs.

Lecture dates:
9 September 2019
16 September 2019
30 September 2019
7 October 2019
14 October 2019
28 October 2019
4 November 2019
11 november 2019
18 November 2019
2 December 2019

Exam date:
9 December 2019


The lectures/workgroups take place at Lipsius building, Cleveringaplaats 1, 2311 BD Leiden, room 002.

The exam on 9 December 2019 takes place in room 147 of the Lipsius building.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures

  • Seminars based on close reading and discussion of set readings

  • Peer assessment workshops

  • Fieldtrips and activities such as: visit to AEB Amsterdam, waste incineration plant; a selection of critical design studios whose work engages with expanded timescales; various exhibitions and Museon, The Hague, to see the plastiglomerate exhibit; The Hague beach clean up.

Course Load

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

  • Seminar: 11 seminars of 2 hours = 22 hours

  • Field trips: 18 hours

  • Self-study (reading and research): 50 hours

  • Assignments & final essay: 50 hours

Assessment method

  • 40% weekly seminar assignments

  • 40% final essay

  • 20% active participation in class


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Assignments

  • Literature

  • Announcements

Reading list

Here is a small list of (non-compulsory) literature, as reading suggestions for those students who want to prepare themselves on the main topics of the course. Additional articles will be distributed during the course.
The Responsible Object: A History of Design Ideology for the Future, ed. Marjanne van Helvert, Amsterdam: Valiz, 2016
Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Experimental Futures), Donna Harraway, Durham and London: Duke University Press Books, 2016
Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence, Timothy Morton, New York: Columbia University Press, 2016
Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene, eds., Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Nils Bubandt, Elaine Gan, Heather Anne Swanson, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.
Are We Human? Notes on an Archaeology of Design, Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, Lars Müller, 2017
Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability, Eyal Weizman (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), 2017
Sifting the Trash: A History of Design Criticism, Alice Twemlow, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), 2017


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Lecturer: Dr. Alice Twemlow
Coordinator: Dhr. ir. R.T.W.L. Schneemann


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