Alumni Work: Maaike Papeveld

Wed 24 Jan

Meet Maaike Papeveld, a Product Design alumna of WdKA. In 2020, she marked her graduation with a toolkit and workbook designed for socially engaged designers—an innovative project that set the tone for her future endeavors. Following this milestone, Maaike delved deeper into the realm of education, completing the Master Education in Arts at the Piet Zwart Instituut. Currently she works as an educator, coordinator, and designer. In this interview, Maaike reflects on her transformative journey at WdKA, discovering her passion for socially engaged design. Read more and discover Maaike’s insights into her experiences at WdKA, the evolution of her design philosophy, and her inspiring dreams for the future. 

photography by Diana Oliviera


How did you end up at WdKA? 

When I look back at where I started and where I am now, it feels like I've become a completely different person.  I was very young when graduating high school, and was unsure of the kind of career I wanted to pursue. I decided to study something I enjoyed, which led me to MBO fashion and tailoring. However, I felt confined within that framework and craved a broader spectrum of materials and techniques to work with. WdKA became the place where I discovered the world of design. Starting my bachelors with a somewhat naive idea of design (and the world), I soon found out a commercial approach to design was not fulfilling to me., I gradually transitioned to more critical and social design approaches. This exploration became a crucial part of my journey, shaping my understanding of the impact a product designer can have on society. You can see the result of this thought process in my graduation project, a toolkit and workbook for socially engaged designers who aim to rething the ways in which they can contribute to a better world. During this project, I also discovered I had a passion for education. 

How did you experience your time at WdKA? 

 My time at WdKA was a profound search for  ways in which I could apply my skills to make a difference in the world, specifically in the face of today's societal issues that seem to become ever more complex. Simultaneously, I grew increasingly skeptical of the contribution designers can make using traditional frameworks and methods. Even now, I haven't entirely found what I was searching for back then. Rethinking how design practices can contribute to society became my main focus. And this is still a work in progress,  it's a journey I’m currently undertaking at RASL as well. The critical process of questioning and searching for ways to contribute to the world beyond the creation of products remains a significant challenge.  I see my work as an educator as an important part of that search: just like I help my students question their work and methods, they continue to inspire and surprise me with inventive approaches. In that sense, teaching, designing and designing for teaching have become intertwined in my practice. 

 During my master's, I developed my pedagogical practice further. My research was about reflection, since I realised that this theme kept returning in my design and teaching. I made a series of propositions for facilitating reflection otherwise in higher education. Post-master's, I continued exploring my role as a designing educator at RASL, and besides that, I picked up some freelance design work again.  Simultaneously, I'm delving deeper into the meaning and range of application of designerly knowledge—that I think goes far beyond creative thinking—to explore the various ways we, as designers, can contribute to collaborative processes surrounding complex societal challenges. This introspection and exploration began during my second year at WdKA, even though I couldn't articulate it as clearly then. 


What position does design have in your life? 

 Addressing the role of design in my life carries a somewhat pessimistic undertone. I hope my ongoing research will transform this perspective. The process of self-awareness led to a loss of confidence and joy in the act of making physical products. Soon into my bachelors, I began questioning the relevance of adding more creations to the world, considering the environmental impact. My hope is that articulating the purpose and relevance of making—for example by diving deeper into the idea of designerly knowledge--will rekindle the joy in the process. While I no longer engage in a physical making practice, but instead I identify as a designing educator, viewing education as the place where research, design and pedagogy come together in a productive way. The same passion and creativity that fueled my early days in product design now drive my approach to education. 

 In my freelance work, I use design as a tool for the generation of new knowledge and the visualization of future possibilities in the context of socially relevant projects. This shift in perspective and approach to design is an aspect that developed during my time at WdKA. 



On what kind of project do you currently work? 

 Currently, I'm deeply involved in teaching within the RASL minor. Collaborating with Claire, we help students unpack and concretize core concepts of the minor: undisciplinarity, collaboration, situatedness, making public. The goal is to enhance understanding through lessons and exercises that unpack and reflect upon these concepts, supporting the projects and collaborations within the minor. 

Additionally, I contribute to Ex Machina, an honors program involving a third-year project and exhibition. I'm part of the team as a teacher, guiding and facilitating the students through their projects. 

 My role as a coordinator of the RASL spaces in Hillevliet (a centre for culture and society in the South of Rotterdam) revolves around exploring why and how RASL can operate in an in-between space. Understanding the challenges and opportunities that come with this unique position within a community building like de Hillevliet is a key focus. It's about navigating these challenges and fostering an extended sense of community. 

 I'm also involved in providing exam support to dual-degree students and contributing to a RASL module in the education program for dual-degree students. This module aims to bring together their artistic and academic knowledge in a hybrid practice. 


What are your dreams for the future? 

 My aspirations involve contributing as a designer to local projects addressing societal problems. I'm on a quest to find a meaningful way to do so, aligning my design skills with the community's needs. My hope for the future of design is that we, as designers, can contribute to  creating new knowledge that is so urgently needed in the context of complex societal concerns. I strongly believe that collaborating beyond disciplinary boundaries--and especially: doing so in an equal way--is crucial here. This involves applying our skills beyond creative thinking and  aesthetics, or better: 'making things look pretty'. It's about embracing a new role for designers in collaborations that goes beyond traditional expectations. 


What was the most valuable thing about your time at the academy? 

The most valuable aspect of my time at the academy was the immense freedom to self-develop in a way that felt personally relevant. This freedom, coupled with the challenges posed by various practices, created a unique environment for growth. While product design initially imposed certain boundaries, the Honors program offered liberation and expansion beyond those constraints. 


What advice would you like to give to current WdKA students aspiring to pursue a career in education? 

 My advice would be to use your time at the academy to radically experiment with alternative  artistic and design practices that may or may not be commercially viable yet. We already know, more or less, where the paved paths lead us. Why not invest some time in exploring what we can achieve if we try something different. This was particularly valuable for me. By immersing yourself in what genuinely interests you, you have the potential to create a new career path. Take advantage of the time and freedom to delve into something intriguing—it's an opportunity that won't come again. Embrace the uniqueness of this experience and worry less about the opinions of others. Follow what you believe is the right path for your project; staying true to your vision could lead to great things.