The design profession today is generally future-oriented and denies history. This is odd, Timo de Rijk stated in his inaugural lecture as professor of Design, Culture and Society, as the future is obviously determined very much by the course of history.

At WDCD Timo de Rijk gave his inaugural lecture as professor of Design, Culture and Society at the Universities of Leiden and Delft. For the occasion a long row of faculty members in black gown had entered the theatre hall together with the university’s beadle.

‘One of the constant values in our culture is the predilection for change,’ De Rijk told his audience. ‘This future-oriented approach with a perpetual motion of change has penetrated deep into design practice, into design education and the practice of design history.

However, ‘unlike architecture or the visual arts, the discourse of design is hardly based on history,’ De Rijk continued. In fact, instead of a future determined by history, in design it is the other way around: ‘The way in which history is written depends on how the future is presented or envisaged. And that is the only form of historiography on which designers appear to focus: that of historical legitimation.’

But the future sometimes takes its own course, and needs constant redefinition and response. This is what sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has called liquid modernity, and for long designers and institutions for design education have not been able to cope with this.

‘Even today, the field of design lacks a form of critical debate,’ De Rijk said. In his vision the most important thing the Chair of Design, Culture & Society can contribute to the design world is self-reflection, based on historical knowledge and critical cultural analysis.

‘In the first place, the expertise of the Art History department in Leiden can serve as the basis for a resumed academic study of historical modernisation processes and a critical examination of the role of design and the designer in the world. The work of the department at Delft will enable Leiden, in turn, to form a much more accurate picture of the practice, discussions and ambitions in today’s world of design,’ De Rijk ended.

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