A design department:
Questioning coloniality
In Design theory
and Practice

The design department at SAVVY Contemporary starts from a place of severe astonishment: how can it be, that the general design discourse has largely been untouched by questions on past and present coloniality, despite efforts being made from several sides? How can it be that precisely that practice that forms our everyday lives, habits and desires more intimately and continuously than any other, has somehow been kept immune to the outcries and endeavours of other disciplines to undo eurocentric biases, (neo-)colonial relationships as well as violent silences and silencings? [1]

For us, design is what has flown into the shape of tangible and intangible things in order to serve, sometimes force, our everyday interactions. That is to say: for us, it is the practice and outcome of a transformation of matter by an agent (the designer – virtual or real, collective or singular) according to the purpose that this matter is meant to have for another agent (the user – virtual or real, collective or singular) after the designer’s intervention, resulting in a constant negotiation and re-negotiation of their agencies within a largely designed environment, accepting its intentions, but also hacking and rebelling their way through it. Despite the fact that the designed world in which we live and whose propositions communicate with us on a constant basis – subliminal yet hyperpresent and woven into the fabric of our daily interactions, actions and non-actions – determines the paths and possibilities of interacting and acting, it is not at all a pre-given, is not at all set in stone or unshiftable. Design changes according to the underlying assumptions within given social contexts (including their political, economic, spiritual, philosophical and further dimensions), and can in turn shift these assumptions if the need is felt. It amasses its own histories and silences, but can equally act against them. Sometimes, it not only confronts the rebellious nature of its target audiences, but also of the equally rebellious nature of matter itself. It is malleable, fluctuating and continuously caught in feedback-loops between proposition and response.

At SAVVY Contemporary, we see design as a performative and performing entity. An important and powerful one, due exactly to its ubiquity and subliminal influence in shaping everyday interactions and possibilities. It is through this lense that we want to meet the questions formulated above and therefore endowed this department with threefold features.

One: It is a longterm research project. It aims to uncover design histories, practices and philosophies beyond the euro-american canon by focusing on past and present making that emerged before or despite the hegemony of the “west.” Additionally, it questions the myths of different design movements and education models as inherently “western,” focuses on the global influences and entanglements at their core, as well as their relationship to colonialism. Its third research pillar concerns contemporary practices and the still unfolding (neo-)colonial biases in design theory and practice. In order to realize these research aims, SAVVY Contemporary initiates an open association of researchers, that any designer or researcher, who is close to these topics, can apply to [2].

Two: The design department is a practicing entity, focused so far on visual communications, with its main perspective to recognize that design is performative by nature. As a practicing entity, it is responsible for the visual aspect of SAVVY Contemporary’s output of printed and screen-based communication but also engages in experimental approaches to visual languages, as well as the decoding and recoding of visual systems and their biases. This feature produces tangible results and can invite the larger public in the framework of practice-based workshops.

Three: The design department has an urge to share its knowledge and have an impact on the way design is thought about, taught and disseminated. This third feature is occupied with creating formats of dialogue and giving a public platform for the discourse around design, the research being carried out by the associated researchers, as well as other invited practitioners and theorists who enlarge our understanding of the practices’ complicity with (neo-)colonial power and production structures as well as small and large strategies of resistance through design.

The design department was initiated in 2018 by Elsa Westreicher, graphic designer at SAVVY Contemporary since 2014, and had its first yet un-framed implementation during a workshop at the Royal College of Art upon invitation by Dr. Rathna Ramanathan in 2017. In 2019 the design department will be the main actor at SAVVY Contemporary to initiate a school of design in Kinshasa (DRC) that will be “exported” to Berlin for one month, in the framework of the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus.


Architecture aside — whose research has often yielded more questions and research on this topic than other design practices.


Please write an email to design@savvy-contemporary.com with the subject: Application Association of Researchers, shortly outlining your interest, previous endeavours and the potential contribution that you would like to make. We will get back to you about concrete collaboration possibilities. Long distance associations are just as possible as a local residency at SAVVY Contemporary.