Arts & Culture: Design Cultures

The critical study of design and fashion in a broad diverse cultural context
Programme ofArts & Culture
TitleDesign Cultures

The specialisation Design Cultures, of the Master's programme Arts and Culture, focuses on design in relation to our direct environment, interior spaces and buildings, graphic communication, dress and fashion, and other artefacts. Both material and digital design coexist in our society and they require adequate analysis. Design Cultures offers this analysis by taking a humanities perspective and connecting today's material cultures with their historical context and particular media. In doing so, this master explores design history and theory in connection with contemporary issues such as identity, sustainability, and multiculturalism.

Introducing the Design Cultures Master

Master's Arts & Culture
Design Cultures is a programme of the Master’s Arts & Culture. We also run a programme that specializes in the cross-overs between art and media, called Comparative Arts and Media Studies. The MA is part of the Graduate School of Humanities at the VU Amsterdam.

The programme Design Cultures is a one-year, full-time, English-taught study which is worth 60 credits. Though the programme is built around a core set of obligatory courses, students will have ample opportunity to define their own individual tracks by means of electives, internships and, of course, the Master’s thesis.

Core courses (30 EC)
The programme is built around five main courses, a Master Thesis and Electives/Internship:

Methods of Design Analysis: The Meanings of Design (9 ec)Period 1-2
Design, History and Culture (6 ec)Period 1
Trending Topics Arts & Culture (3 ec)Period 1-6
The Arts and Crafts of ‘Dutch’ Design (6 ec)Period 4
Design in Words: Criticism, Writing and Theory (6 ec)Period 4
Master Thesis (18 ec)Period 3-6
Electives/Internships (12 ec)Period 1-4

Arts & Culture: Design Cultures courses in study guide.

Master Thesis (18 EC)
The programme culminates in the Master’s thesis, which gives you a chance to demonstrate your research skills, your competence as a critic, and your ability to systematically gather, select and interpret information and to argue a case in an independent, objective and responsible manner. Your thesis plan is due on January and you give two public presentations of your thesis in February and April.

Electives/Internships (12 EC)
You can customize your programme by selecting subjects from a broad range of interdisciplinary electives in the fields of visual arts, architecture, literature or history. We recommend these electives:

Tutorial Design Cultures A+BPeriod 1+26.0 or 9.0
Collecting Curating and Display I (limited availability, elective at UvA)Period 16.0
Reading Concepts of IntermedialityPeriod 1-29.0
Transmedia StorytellingPeriod 16.0
Seminar Contemporary ArtPeriod 1-39.0
Seminar ArchitecturePeriod 1-39.0
Collecting Curating and Display II (limited availability)Period 2-36.0
Media AestheticsPeriod 26.0
Media Art History: The Digital DividePeriod 26.0
Academic English: Advanced Writing for Master StudentsPeriod 23.0
Academic English: Remedial Writing for Master StudentsPeriod 26.0
English Text Editing MAPeriod 26.0
Crossmedial ExhibitionsPeriod 46.0

Or you can choose an internship with a research dimension if you would prefer to gain practical experience in the field of media and arts.

ModeRoodBlauwe stoelExcursie

Critical and engaged

Completing the Master’s programme in Design Cultures means you will have gained a sharp understanding for all kinds of design, and you will also be able to situate these in their various contexts. Our graduates are nowadays chiefly active in the fields of editorship, teaching, academic research and brand development. For most students with a practice-based BA, having an academic MA degree has been decisive to get their jobs. The main skills that students gain at the MA Design Cultures are developing knowledge, learning to do research and improving their writing skills. You will have a solid grasp of the cultural landscape and you will be able to think, speak and write about relevant topics at a highly advanced level.

Nina Serulus

Design Cultures Graduate, Curator of the exhibition ‘PANORAMA: A HISTORY OF MODERN DESIGN IN BELGIUM’ at the ADAM in Brussels

Our graduates have careers as:
-    projectmanager (Modemuze, Dutch Design Foundation)
-    editors in design and fashion magazines (Vogue NL)
-    book authors (nai 010 Publishers)
-    lecturers in design history and theory (Hogeschool Willem de Kooning, Rotterdam; Hogeschool van Amsterdam; University of Technology, Sidney)
-    museum curators (Vitra Design Museum, Art and Design Atomium Museum in Brussels (ADAM), Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich)
-    PhD candidates (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, University of Antwerp, Northumbria University).

Lisa Goudsmit en Jan Jansen

Design Cultures Graduate, Author of the book Jan Jansen's Shoe, published by NAI 010

Postgraduate studies
A degree in Arts & Culture qualifies you to carry out independent scholarly research. Students who have performed exceptionally during their Master’s studies may wish to apply to the Research Master’s in Visual Arts, Media and Architecture.

Irene Maldini

Design Cultures Graduate, Lecturer at AMFI and PhD Researcher on the involvement of users in fashion design and its implications for the sustainabilityof clothing.


Studying in the city of Amsterdam is a unique experience. The urban setting and the multicultural mind-set of the people of Amsterdam, combined with the presence of a thriving cultural city life give your education a special dimension. 

Cultural collaboration
The opportunities for collaboration between the design sector and cultural institutions in Amsterdam are endless. In our wide-ranging academic courses you can test and explore the dimensions of these contexts and combine them in unique and exciting ways. 

Alternative approaches
Our programme is very broad, but you will still have plenty of opportunities to develop your own personal interests in, for example, fashion, industrial or graphic design. A Master’s degree in Arts & Culture, with the programme Design Cultures, will deepen your insight into 20th- and 21st-century developments in design as a practice, a product, a discourse and a cultural environment. You will learn to identify and analyse crossovers within and between product, fashion, and graphic design in a wider social context. You will also learn to put theory into practice, as a writer and researcher and, during your internship, as a member of a cultural institution. 

Staff networks
Our staff is actively involved in numerous local, national and international networks. Their knowledge and expertise stretch across the entire spectrum, from the theory and history of design and fashion, art and architecture, culture and media, and material studies to film and television, digital media and a host of crossovers along the way.


Cyril Tjahja

Design Cultures graduate, PhD candidate

"Many of the theories and skills that were taught during the course I still apply or refer to quite often in my research"

Cyril Tjahja

Overview Arts & Culture: Design Cultures




1 year



1 June for Dutch and EU-students. 1 April for non-EU-students.


1 September



Admission Requirements

Admission Requirements


Art, Culture and History

Enya Moore

Design Cultures graduate, design editor and lecturer in Design History

"I learned that the subject of design is made up of layers of complexities, which makes for rewarding academic research and analysis"

Enya Moore

Internships offer you opportunities to prepare for your professional career. As a master student of Design Cultures, internships are possible at a wide range of organizations for design, media, art and culture located in and around Amsterdam. You will be encouraged to find an appropriate internship according to your own interests.

Note that a valid internship for this program should be focused on research; that means its main scope should be to answer a research question relevant for the organization with which you are working. Finding a research internship is your own responsibility and we cannot guarantee you will find a place. The process of finding an internship takes time; therefore students are encouraged to start developing proposals for particular organizations before the beginning of the first semester.

Some of the institutions where students did their internships were:

Some examples of the content of internships and how our students experienced their internship:

Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
The Museum für Gestaltung in Zürich is Switzerland's leading museum of design and visual communication. Our student Serge Germann’s research focused on packaging design, more specifically on the food value brand M-Budget. As an outcome, suggestions for further acquisitions were made, followed by the conception of an online exhibition to be published on their eMuseum website. After this internship, Serge was employed by the museum.

“Particularly in a competitive environment like the densely filled shelves of self-service supermarkets, packaging design is a key factor in the buyer decision process. Against the common understanding that (good) design increases cultural and economic valuation of products, the means of design also allow for influencing the perceived product value towards the opposite direction. The salient and contested packaging design of the own-label value line M-Budget by the largest Swiss retailing company Migros represents such a case of a strategic 'devaluation' by design.” - Serge Germann

Submarine Channel
Submarine is a production company specialized in innovative and creative content for broadcast, video, DVD, online and other platforms. At the moment, Submarine was producing a series of short films conceived as portraits of Dutch designers that were commissioned by the institution DutchDFA (Design, Fashion and Architecture). In the production process, our student Liselot Francken conducted background research regarding the portraits of the Dutch designers (Dutch Profiles). All the resulting short films are available online.

Stedelijk Museum Breda (formerly MOTI Museum)
This internship was divided into three assignments. The first assignment was to write a policy plan for the Overwerk lectures, held once a month. In 2011 three sessions were held as pilots and the museum aspired to continue and fine-tune the series in 2012. The second assignment was to write a research paper on the visual communication of Occupy and other protest movements for a lecture at the museum. Our student Vera Butter also assisted in organizing the event and wrote a communication plan, which included writing texts about the event for the website and social media. The third assignment was a research on the visual communication of the Dutch hip-hop band De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig and possible concepts for an exhibition. This band is well known for commissioning trendsetting designers and artists to develop their video clips, set designs, artwork and merchandise.

“I began researching the visual communication of Occupy and protest movements in general. I was enthusiastic about the topic because it was about a current event and was multifaceted; addressing politics, social discourse and design. My research was largely based on conversations with curator Dennis Elbers and Jeroen Holthuis, a Occupy protestor. We chose to split the topic into three sub lectures. This forced me to be very clear in the ideas that I was presenting and taught me the importance of simple examples and clearly formulated conclusions.” - Vera Butter

Iris van Herpen
Katarina Vuletic and Jelle Boddaert followed their internship at the studio of fashion designer Iris van Herpen, who has implemented new materials and techniques in her clothes, including 3D printing. Master internships are evaluated individually, therefore this internship consisted of a joint and an individual component. There was a joint developement and implementation of an archiving method for van Herpen’s collections since 2007. Alongside, Katarina studied the more traditional side of van Herpen’s collections and Jelle investigated her technological innovations.

“During the archiving process, we discovered some recurring elements. For example, van Herpen often starts with a base dress, applying two identical layers in order to insert boning. This base dress seems to function as a white canvas, or a point of departure. Along with the use of a base dress, more recurring elements can be seen per collection. For example, various shapes are cut out of tulle and stitched on tulle strips. Subsequently, these strips are molded onto the dress and sewn on by hand” - Katarina Vuletic and Jelle Boddaert

Symposium Jewellery Unleashed
Jewellery Unleashed was a symposium organized by MMKA (the Museum of Modern Art Arnhem) and ArtEZ (Art Academy Arnhem) in February 2012. Its focus was on the presence of art jewellery in the creative world. They argued that despite significant developments within the field over the last 50 years, art jewellery still remained relatively unknown. The symposium discussed questions such as, what can be done to broaden this presence and what is the role of museums, galleries, curators and critics in this process? What can be gained from the collaboration between jewellers or with other fields such as fashion or design? Our student assisted in the content research of the symposium and collaborated in finding suitable speakers and specific subjects. She also participated in the practical organization of the symposium and wrote the text for the leaflet.

I-D magazine
I-D is a cultural magazine that is both published in print and available online. The magazine focuses on creative content such as fashion, art, photography and music. This research compared the English print edition with the Dutch online edition to give insight in the way the digital Dutch version is formatted. Alongside, Suze van As wrote articles for the magazine, collaborating in every step of the editorial process.

“As fashion journalism is something I aspire, this internship was a direct link to my future job field. Being immersed in an organization with such an internationally well-known image was a great opportunity. I was never treated as ‘just another intern’, I always felt like a normal colleague as everyone in the office treated me with respect and valued my ideas. I learned from their feedback and I never felt inferior.” - Suze van As

Les Canaux de la Mode
For her internship, Flore Vollaard worked for Les Canaux de la Mode, an international platform of network and co-creation, which connects conceptual Dutch fashion designers and French couture craftsmen on both creative and business levels. She conducted a research on the fashion and craft field and the market with its different target groups, consisting of competitors and possible partners. The focus of this explorative research was on The Netherlands, France and Belgium and content partners within the scope of museums, academies and professionals. This research was helpful in deciding which new activities the organization should take on and which parties could be linked to. Indirectly, it contributed to the development of a new business plan.

    Kunstlicht, the magazine
    Kunstlicht is a journal for the visual arts, visual culture and architecture from antiquity to today. The magazine is associated with the Department for Art and Culture. Since 1980 it has provided a platform for academic publications about art in all its facets. Students and art historians, as well as authors from other disciplines, publish the results of their research in Kunstlicht.

    Kunstlicht 2The editorial board of Kunstlicht consists entirely of students and recent graduates. To keep the threshold for publication as low as possible while still achieving a high level of quality, a member of the editorial staff closely supervises every contributor during the writing process. Students who are interested in publishing an article in Kunstlicht should contact the editorial board. Students in the Department of Art and Culture who are proficient in Dutch may also join the editorial board of Kunstlicht and gain valuable editorial experience.

    A subscription to Kunstlicht costs just € 17.50- for the first year. For more information visit Contact:

    Kliché, the student association
    Studievereniging Kitsch Since 1984 student association Kliché organises activities to widen en deepen students' study experience and strengthen bonds between students, teachers and alumni. On all study-related excursions students are accompanied by experts or teachers of the Arts and Culture department. 

    Other Kliché activities are a monthly movie night and a trip abroad in the second semester. In addition to the study related excursions there are more socially activities such as opera, ballet and social drinks. Another great help for you study is the discount Kliché offers you on your study literature.

    More information about Kliché (Dutch).

    The Master's programme Design Cultures takes part in national and international research programmes.

    Core membersInternship CoordinatorAssociate Faculty

    Find more information about our staff and guest lecturers on our blog.

    The master programme Design Cultures is part of the Graduate School of Humanities of the VU Amsterdam.

    • What happens after registration on Studielink? 
      You will receive a letter from the VU with information about the registration procedure. It may take several weeks before you receive this letter.
    • Can I apply directly for the master or do I have to follow the pre-master?
      Look under Admission Requirements.   
    • The administration of the VU says that I am not permitted to study, but I think I am a perfect candidate!
      Please send your resume, motivation letter, diplomas and course descriptions, bibliographies and thesis/essays/publications to . They will be assessed by the Examination Committee.
    • What does the admission procedure imply?
      Look under Admission Requirements.
    • When are the Information Days?
      Check the dates here.
      If you have any further questions, please contact the study advisor:
    • I have a foreign diploma, what should I do?
      Look under Admission Requirements.

    • What are the job prospects?
      Look under Career Prospects.

    • Is there room in the programme to combine a thesis with a project?
      The programme is open for individual additions in consultation with our professors.

    • Is it possible to attend a lesson, just to see if the study fits my interest and background?
      Yes, please contact or look under Meeloopdagen (Dutch).

    • Is it possible to follow (parts of) the programme in other forms like:
      1.       Part-time
                No, part-time education is not possible.
      2.       Evening courses
      No, evening courses are not possible.  
      3.       Starting the course in February
      No, starting the MA in February is not possible.
      4.       Join a course as a student from another university in the Netherlands
                Please visit the site for Bijvakstudenten 
      5.       Non-examination student (Contract onderwijs/toehoorderschap) 
                Please visit the site for Contract-onderwijs            

    Dutch students

    Admission to the MA Arts & Culture, programme Design Cultures is possible with an academic BA degree in MKDA, art history, art, industrial design, graphic design, architectural design and fashion. Students holding an academic BA in history, (visual) cultural studies, anthropology or sociology, are required to have followed a minimum of 30 credits in courses related to the history and theory of the decorative arts, dress, design or fashion. The MA programme starts in September and takes one year. It is not possible to do the MA part time. Students with an interest in history and theory are particularly welcome.

    Those with an applied MA (HBO-MA) in art, industrial design, graphic design, architectural design and fashion have to submit their application to the Examination Board for assessment.

    Students, who have successfully completed an applied BA (HBO) in design, can take a Design Cultures Premaster's programme. Beware that the Premaster’s will be in Dutch and is not accessible for students who don't speak the language.

    Dutch students and international candidates with a Dutch degree can apply via Studielink before June 1st for the master programme Design Cultures under the label Kunst – en cultuurwetenschappen (Arts & Culture).

    After you have applied for the master in Studielink, you will receive within two days emails with your login details for VUnet (VU studentportal). Please complete your application in VUnet . Don’t forget to fill in your specialization on VUnet : Design Cultures.

    During this step you will be asked to upload the following documents:

    • Transcript of records (scan from original)
    • Course descriptions (i.e. for courses related to the discipline of the Master, and for courses on general academic skills)
    • List of literature (the most important literature used for the courses)
    • CV
    • Motivation letter (max. one A4)

    Please prepare these documents before you're going to complete your application in VUnet!

    Your application will be reviewed by the Admission Board of Faculty of Humanities. You will be informed whether you have been admitted via Studielink. 

    Als je niet voldoet aan de vooropleidingseisen, dan kun je tot de masteropleiding Kunst- en Cultuurwetenschappen, programma Design Cultures worden toegelaten nadat je de premaster met succes hebt afgerond. Daarin werk je je deficiënties weg.

    Als je tot de premasterclass bent toegelaten met een hbo-diploma, dan is deelname aan een premasterassessment verplicht.

    Je kunt je tot uiterlijk 1 juni aanmelden via Studielink voor de premaster Kunst- en cultuurwetenschappen. Kies in Studielink eerst 'Bachelor of andere niet master opleidingen' en daarna de premaster. Na aanmelding in Studielink ontvang je binnen twee dagen een e-mail met je inlogcodes voor VUnet (VU studentenportal). In VUnet rond je je aanmelding af en kun je je pasfoto uploaden. Vul bij specialisatie premaster Design Cultures in.

    In deze fase dien je de volgende documenten te uploaden:

    • cijferlijst (scan van origineel)
    • vakbeschrijvingen (m.n. voor de vakken in het vakgebied van de master, en op het gebied van algemene academische vaardigheden)
    • literatuurlijst (de belangrijkste literatuur die gebruikt is voor deze vakken)
    • CV
    • motivatiebrief (max. één A4 tje)

    Zorg er dus voor dat je deze al klaar hebt, wanneer je je aanmelding in VUnet gaat afronden!

    Deze toelatingsverklaring wordt afgegeven door de Toelatingscommissie van de Faculteit Geesteswetenschappen.

    You have now been able to form a general impression of the MA programme in Design Cultures. Some of the questions you started out with may have been answered, but perhaps you have come up with a few new ones in the meantime. Should you have any questions, we advise you to:   

    1. Attend one of our information days 
    The VU Amsterdam organizes information days for prospective Master’s students on a semi-annual basis. The specific dates are available on the general informational activities page as well as on each faculty page. Open days are designed to provide prospective students with detailed information about the MA programmes and with the opportunity to meet staff members and current students, as well as to get answers to specific questions.  

    Information days
    Meet us in Amsterdam!

    2. Get a taste of the programme
    Are you interested in sitting in on a seminar to get a better idea of whether the programme is something for you? Contact the faculty information officer, e-mail:

    3. Get in touch with the Programme Coordinator for specific questions regarding the content of the study
    Perhaps you want to know more about the subjects you would be taking as part of the MA programme, or about electives and the actual course load. For these and other questions please get in touch with the programme coordinator Javier Gimeno-Martínez,    
    4. Questions regarding practical matters
    For practical questions regarding your application, contact the Student Service Desk, call +31(0) 20 5985020, or E-mail:
    If you are non-Dutch you can contact Irena Paap, International Student Advisor,, t +31 (20) 59 85252.


    International students

    In order to gain admission to one of our Master’s programmes, you will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited research university including at least three full years of academic study amounting to a minimum of 180 ECTS or equivalent.

    Specific admission requirements for the Master’s programme Arts & Culture, specialization in Design Cultures.

    The Master’s Arts & Culture is designed for students with an academic Bachelor’s in either design, fashion, art or (visual) cultural studies. You may also be accepted if you have an academic Bachelor’s in other disciplines of the Humanities (history, journalism, communication studies) or in anthropology or sociology, with a major or specialization in design, fashion, art or visual culture (equal to a minimum of 30 ECTS). Students with a historical and theoretical interest in the broad field of design are particularly welcome.

    You must always present official test results proving your proficiency in English. Only students who have completed a full high school/International Baccalaureate in English or bachelor’s degree in Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, New Zealand, or Australia may be exempted. You can already apply online without having the test results. In case you haven’t taken a test yet we advise you to plan a test date as soon as possible. Below you will find the minimum English test scores for the English taught programmes at the Faculty of Humanities:

    • TOEFL score (score 600 paper based with a minimum of 55 in each of the subtests plus 4.0 in TWE, score 250 computer based or score 100 internet based with a minimum of 20-23 in each of the subtests).
    • IELTS score of 7.0 overall band score (with none of the separate section scores dropping below a minimum score of 6.5).
    • Cambridge English: Cambridge Proficiency Exam A, B, C, or Cambridge Advanced Exam A, B, C.

    Please refer to the language requirement page for the general requirements.

    Admission is based on a strict selection procedure. The Faculty’s Admission Board will decide upon your admission after having evaluated your complete online application. If you have read the admission criteria below and feel you are eligible for admission, please take the following steps to submit your application. Note that the initial application procedure is fully online and that scans of your relevant documents are required.

    Step 1: Meet admission criteria

    Step 2: Prepare documents and apply online
    Please prepare the following documents. You can find an explanation of each document on the application page. All documents should be provided in English.

    • Copy of your valid passport or ID (ID only for EU residents)
    • Curriculum Vitae
    • Motivation Letter
    • Transcript of records
    • Thesis (or another sample of academic writing, at least 5 pages plus a list of used literature)
    • A description of the relevant courses you have taken during your previous higher education and a list of all the main literature

    After having prepared the required documents, please follow the online application procedure. After you have completed the application, our international student advisors will contact you via email.

    Step 3: Await decision on admission
    The admission board will review your application as soon as it is complete. Normally this takes about four weeks, but it might take longer in busy periods so be sure to apply as soon as possible. If you gain admission, you will receive a letter of conditional admission by email. You can start planning your move to Amsterdam!

    Step 4: Finalize your registration and move to Amsterdam!
    Make sure to finalize your registration as a student before the start of the programme. Here you will find an explanation what to do after admission. When all conditions are met you will be ready to start your programme at VU Amsterdam!

    Further information:
    Tuition fees

    As an international student planning to study at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, you can apply for a variety of grants and bursaries.

    Detailed information about scholarships and deadlines can be found on or

    You have now been able to form a general impression of the MA programme in Design Cultures. Some of the questions you started out with may have been answered, but perhaps you have come up with a few new ones in the meantime. Should you have any questions, we advise you to:

    1. Attend one of our information days 
    The VU Amsterdam organizes information days for prospective Master’s students on a semi-annual basis. The specific dates are available on the general informational activities page as well as on each faculty page. Open days are designed to provide prospective students with detailed information about the MA programmes and with the opportunity to meet staff members and current students, as well as to get answers to specific questions. Come meet us at the next Master's Event!

    2. Get a taste of the programme
    Are you interested in sitting in on a seminar to get a better idea of whether the programme is something for you? Contact the faculty information officer, e-mail:

    3. Get in touch with the Programme Coordinator for specific questions regarding the content of the study
    Perhaps you want to know more about the subjects you would be taking as part of the MA programme, or about electives and the actual course load. For these and other questions please get in touch with the programme coordinator Javier Gimeno-Martínez,

    4. Questions regarding practical matters
    For detailed questions about the Master’s programmes or the application procedure contact your International Student Advisor at the International Office:
    Irena Paap
    Tel +31 (20) 59 85252


    Some international students are happy to tell you about their experiences with living and studying in Amsterdam. These Student Ambassadors come from all over the world and have attended various bachelor's and master's programmes.

    Our student ambassadors are listed here on this webpage:

    Reach out to them and get their stories about being a student at VU Amsterdam!