Residency and Exploration in Design Thinking


ReProgram was an intense three-week international graphic design residency program that connected me with some of the best designers and design thinkers in the Netherlands. While the sessions have a focus on making, building, coding, animating, writing, photographing, videoing and other forms of articulating an idea, this is not a final product centric experience; rather an exploration of design thinking. 

Based in Den Haag, my travels included visiting design studios, museums, private collections, design schools, and lectures from various guest critics in a variety of Dutch cities, such as Amsterdam, Arnhem, Breda, Eindhoven, Rotterdam and Utrecht.

The following is an exploration of how my ideas evolved in the three week period, along with what I created therein. 

Pictured: cool studio

Pictured: The sun in my eyes.

Project 1:

Bob van Dijk, Dutch graphic designer and mentor for Project One, introduced an open ended exercise: create or find a new perspective from what we had explored throughout our time in the Netherlands. Take the simple and mundane, and make it extraordinary using our unique viewpoints of the country. 

My time traveling the Dutch countryside had both inspired and confounded me. Dutch was not a native tongue of mine, with street signs and much of the city's infrastructure only doing so much to supplement my misunderstanding. It was alluring to walk down a city street with only half an idea of where I was headed, lost amongst stores built into beautiful Dutch architecture.

Pictured: A Euphoria Shop local to The Hague

I thought of it as "window shopping" a whole country - only half engaged based on my understanding, with worlds both inside and outside these stores that were foreign to me. This experience led me to deconstructing the city around me, based on my peers’ and my own perceptions of it, literally through windows.

Pictured: The same building with the windows removed

Pictured: Windows with the building removed

Pictured: Windows I built to express my understanding through "window shopping" a country

Pictured: My peers holding the windows in front of their faces, embodying our misunderstanding

Project 2:

Our second project was led by Dutch Designer Rob van de Nieuwenhuizen of studio DRAWSWORDS. In this stage I expanded on my ideas around perception and exploration from Project One. Now that my peers and I had spent much time taking in The Hague, we were tasked with going back to somewhere we had been previously, and finding a common theme to design around. Additionally, whatever we decided to produce from our exploration would soon be showcased in a gallery exhibit that we were to curate on our own. After a short discussion, we decided our investigations would be based around a loose theme: "Fuck the Internet". 

Open to interpretation, we set off to find inspiration. Many took the prompt as meaning avoiding the internet entirely, opting to visit a nude beach to further disconnect from any aspect of technology. I personally decided to visit Leiden University, a Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, hoping to visit their expansive library and learn about the school’s history. Instead I found the school and its students in flux, frantically finishing their final projects for the school’s soon to be public showcase of its graduating master’s students’ work. 

Pictured: Graduating Masters Students scraping paint from the schools walls

Opting to learn about the school through talking to its students, I befriended two students in particular- Malou Bumbum and Anna Kieblesz. Following my intuition, I spoke with them about their experiences with the school, while assisting them in setting up their work.

Pictured: Anna preparing a scene to display her photography

Pictured: Anna dancing

Malou nearing her graduation with a master’s in photography, expressed to me her disinterest in the reality of her craft’s industry. "I've used it as a form of therapy for myself... I really want to work as an art therapist later on". Myself having just graduated from the College for Creative Studies the month prior, I empathized with that sentiment; kinship between us two unsure college graduates. 

Pictured: Malou and I

My talk with Malou grounded my thought process in photography and self expression. Why do we take pictures of ourselves? Why do we visually document the world around us? What do the pictures we take say about ourselves? What do they say about the people or places they depict? Inspired by Malou while having avoided the internet in my exploration, I sought out further insight into the school and its students through photography. 

I wanted to create a platform for them to express their frantic thoughts. This led me to utilizing Instagram; disrupting the website’s usual status quo of personal accounts ran by individual people, by making it accessible to nearly infinite people, fully embracing the theme of “Fuck the Internet”. 

I printed a mountain of flyers to post throughout the academy, displaying the login for a sacrificial Instagram. Anyone would be allowed to log in, edit the account and post whatever they pleased, whenever they pleased. After the posters went up and the account was now in the hands of the public, things got weird, but it was out of my control.

Pictured: Posted flyer

Over the course of two days, over 100 photos were posted from anonymous students and peers. A slowly compounding showcase of photos from anyone who stumbled upon the account. A mess of ideas, memes, and the innermost feelings of complete strangers.

Pictured: Instagram horror

My portion of the gallery would showcase the photos that find their way onto the Instagram account.

Anyone in the gallery could take a photo and see their ideas shown in real time.

It wasn’t long before one of the anonymous users logged on and changed the password, locking anyone with the prior log in out of the account, including myself. Today, remnants of the account still exist, but I no longer have access. It stands as a monument to an obscure corner of the internet, and a handful of anonymous manic students, with little flashes of ideas shown in photographs.

What I Learned:

The entirety of my experience during ReProgram changed my perception on what it means to think through a design problem. The most expressive ideas can often be found where least expected, and engaging with those ideas and the people or culture they exist around can often lead to the most engaging results. It’s a process that’s both natural and precise; creations made from a perception informed by everything but myself; speaking on their own merit.