Open Set is an independent education platform that promotes the social relevance of design and visual culture. Our organisation began as a Dutch Design summer school in 2012 and has grown to include a broad spectrum of year-round activities.

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In a world of accelerated change where the future is increasingly uncertain, Open Set advocates for the growing critical role of design and visual culture. However, we reject the current view of design as a panacea for global challenges.

This simplistic approach de-politicises the roots of present-day issues.

Our ambition is to re-complicate design’s engagement with contemporary problems by opening up the conversation between different schools of thought, disciplines, and cultures.

We contend that the social impact of design lies in strategies rather than solutions.

By influencing the way people interact with the world, design creates new collective narratives and lexicons; our focus is on the power these tools have to shift mentalities and generate alternatives.

If we are to re-define the roles and terms of design, we need environments that structurally facilitate experimentation and the ‘unlearning’ of professional conventions and expectations. The seed of this transformation in design thinking is the ethical position of an individual designer, situated in and committed to a specific time and place

 — regardless of professional niche



Operating across the institutional interstices,

Open Set provides a speculative territory where young creatives and organisations can temporarily step out of the confines of the design profession and into collaborations unbounded by category or standards.

Any investigation into contemporary challenges requires exchange between radically different design philosophies, in addition to the insights of a wide range of other fields. Recognizing this, we connect practitioners from a diversity of discourses and institutions. This collision of perspectives sparks the process of ‘de-familiarisation’: a questioning of professional conventions and the first step in discovering new approaches.

In an anti-classroom classroom, we estrange participants from the dominant design and educational settings as a way of breaking down automation in the design process.

The aim of these interventions is to enrich methodologies with new dimensions and open doors for transdisciplinary collaboration.

We help ambitious designers and artists anchor their practices in theory and latest developments in visual communication.

Exposure to other disciplines allows participants to see the wider social and political relevance of what they do; this in turn helps them establish a strong ethical position — the compass that guides designers towards a sustainable practice.

Ever-changing in theme and form, Open Set is a new model for school, laboratory, and community hub

 — an alternative learning environment developed for and in collaboration with our community


In a short but intense period, participants build meaningful relationships and networks that criss-cross institutions, disciplines, and cultures.

Our guiding values:

  1. Human Agency The ethical position of an individual designer is the engine of design’s active role in contemporary society. We challenge participants to identify the values that drive them and to discover how these commitments can be lived out through their practices.
  2. Plurality Because the collision of different professions and worldviews spurs innovation, we are firmly committed to assembling a diversity of voices
  3. Interstitial Thinking Organisations outside of and in between institutions are invaluable because they are enable to recognise, and ultimately re-envision, standardisation in design production. As para-academic intellectual space, Open Set temporarily frees designers and artists — as well as institutions — from the inherent limitations of established structures.
  4. Experimentation A non-instrumental learning environment where designers and artists can critically reflect on their practices is essential to the creative process. Open Set provides a reprieve from the financial and practical pressures of the professional world — a place where perceptions can be refreshed and innovation can flourish.
  5. International Embedding Today’s socio-political challenges are global, and design practices should correspondingly be internationally oriented. By connecting practitioners across generations and cultures, Open Set helps young creatives as well as established institutions build transnational networks
  6. Life-long Learning In a world where practice becomes rapidly outdated, designers and artists must stay continually up-to-speed on theory and developments within the field. Open Set provides flexible education in both the physical and virtual realm, reducing financial and geographical barriers and creating a community that people can stay involved with as their careers evolve.
  7. Public Engagement A stage is needed to introduce new designers, methodologies and collaborations to the general public. Via the channels of our international media and organisational partners, Open Set gives participants the opportunity to present their work and shape the dialogue on design and society.

Organization & Contact

Open Set was initiated as an independent summer school in 2012 by Vlad Butucariu and Irina Shapiro. Since then, Irina has remained involved as the programme director and curator. In 2023, Victoria McKenzie joined her as a co-curator.

  • Board members:
  • Max Bruinsma — Chairman
  • Joanna van der Zanden
  • Vlad Butucariu
  • Advisory Board of Alumni:
  • Xandra van der Eijk
  • Lisa Maione
  • Cristina Noguer
  • Yurr Rozenberg 
  • © 2012-2023