Photo: Boudewijn Bollmann, DAE
Photo: Boudewijn Bollmann, DAE

Applied Design Research / Experimental Industrial Design

As researcher, I create design processes and concepts for installations, digital publications, experiences, workshops, and exhibitions. A specific set of methods, influenced by design thinking and my experience as a furniture designer, helps shape these processes openly and sustainably.

Design Studies

As a design scientist, I engage with the intellectual history of design, its concepts, and relate them to practical applications. I present my ideas in lecture formats and through publications.


As an educator, I am interested in the connection between science and applied design projects. An attentive, empathetic approach in dealing with various projects is helpful. Empirical and scientific work are interwoven with design practice in a reciprocal manner.

Events: Talks, Lectures, Workshops

The Non School: An alternative future for design education

What if design education would be open, accessible and participatory? What sounds like design education utopia, became more real in spring 2020 when design education all around the world suddenly shifted online. The dynamics of the institutions immediate transition from traditional atelier work to online plat- forms was reaching from enthusiasm to disappointment. The material, social and communicative aspects of the schools were at stake. After a while, Students wanted to re-enter the academies, teachers stopped communication with each other and university politics as well as administration seemed to decline (see an article on Düsseldorf Academy of the Arts in Monopol magazine, meme instagram accounts of vari- ous schools in Germany, for instance: @burg_memeichenstein). The political discussion in leading media centered around bureaucratic aspects and the status and privileges of the different stakeholders.

What was almost forgotten during the discussion about how to establish digital learning formats within a short time, how to exhibit online and how to socialize is the simple but striking fact that digital design education is not just the simulation of the bodily presence on a screen. We cannot simulate the social situation of the classroom. Instead, digital formats enable blended learning and hybrid designing and lecturing. For instance, Illustrator Nadine Kolodziey was meeting her students at HfG Offenbach in the online game ‚Animal Crossing‘ (see her instagram: @nadinekolodziey).

Most fundamentally, digital formats decouple learning and discussing from being in a particular place. Differently said: We do not need to be in London to study at RCA. This simple fact has been discussed widely when Harvard and other Ivy League Universities had started to stream some of their teachings online 10 Years ago ( However, design courses, particu- larly in Germany, have never adapted to this strategy. In Feb. 2018, at the X. Conference of the German society of Aesthetics, this topic was discussed in a panel on aesthtic education – Philosopher Christoph Mencke claimed that in contrast to digital formats ‚education is essentially based on intersubjectivity‘ (see: He claimed that the lack of intersubjectivity would automatically hinder the success of digital formats in design and art education. A consequence of such presuppositions made by important stakeholders in the field is that design education is still focused around singular institutions and around ‚schools‘. The chance to digitize, but to also restructure design education around new paradigms of learning and collaboration was missed so far.


During the lockdown, I saw possibilities in participating in other schools‘ courses from my network while also opening my own courses to people from other schools. I told my students to let their friends from other schools participate for the advancement of their own individual designerly position. I was rejected by HfG Offenbach with my request to be in a seminar on design and critical theory, but I could participate in the Colloquium of IXDM in Basel and in a weekly seminar at the centre of digital cultures at Leuphana in Lüneburg. To document the digital semester, I created a simulation of my home-office that could be entered and that contained additional learning materials and essays as well as references to our topics (see that here:

Idea and method

Starting with these observations, I would like to propose a project that aims at applying Open Design strate- gies to digital learning in design. The question is how design education is being designed. I wish to research and visualize and test the possibilities of opening ‚the school‘. I plan to center the curriculum around the individual student’s interest via mentorship and a particular career plan. What I am aiming at is not necessarily just a technological solution (e.g. designing interfaces) – as digitality is not just a technological, but also a social phenomenon (see Felix Stalder: Culture of Digitality, 2017).


In my research, I link thinking and concept to design. I thus want to use the methods I am familiar with as a designer in connection with literature research. I have previously researched the topic of Open Design during my PhD on Improvisation and further worked on this topic for a book project on hybrid interfaces that I am currently completing as well as in lectures and shorter publications (see my CV). By applying the structures and the thinking of open design to design education, I want to research the question of what digital design education could be in publications. What structures of power and what interdependencies exist in the network of design education? How can these be restructured using Open Design? The goal is to imagine an experimental non – school. In that scenario, teachers can become students, schools do not form as institutions but as fluid discourse entities and around individual interests of students. The non-school is an open space for discussion. I wish to cooperate with stakeholders from my network and conduct a field study with a number of people who visit the other stakeholders schools classes. Via mentorship, they design their own curriculum. As results next to publications, I will create a platform and an exhibition to communicate my idea and the results of learning by the people partcipation in the courses on the platform.

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In 2024, The Non School is becoming a lab at Muthesius

Webbook on hybrid interfaces, ongoing project researching new methods of direct publishing:

AR Experience ‘Process World’ at DAE graduation Show 2021, as part of my ‘Non School’ professorship 2021-2023

Applied Design Research


Design is the practice of creating plans for daily artifacts, for systems, and signs. Due to its simplicity and its inconspicuousness, many parts of design often remain invisible (Burckhardt 1995). These parts of design should not be overlooked. Design can also tackle transport networks and political systems which are usually not immediately associated with ideas of design.[1]

Every intentional action with a specific goal in mind relates to design. Opposed to that power and importance, design does usually not play a role in political decisions or even in many business contexts. It is rather considered to be a sub-discipline of the arts, mainly in the area of furniture design, fashion design, or consumer goods. Such a common view of design (that is extremely narrow) hinders the creation of a differentiated picture of the design discipline, as the complex process of making plans for novel daily artifacts and interactions, is reduced to designed products and their shapes. It is neither taking systems or signs into consideration nor the contexts in which designs are located. This is because design products appear simple and self-evident when we encounter them. The context, meaning, and correlation of a designed object are defined beforehand in an invisible activity: the design process, which I consider as the biggest part of design. 

Designing is a complicated, lengthy, and exhausting practice. It includes research and visualization, it relies on the use of language and writing although it results in a simple (nontextual) object. Designing is never the result of a single person’s work, it is a non-linear, collaborative network-like structure (see Latour 2008: 6, 12). A reason for an otherwise reductionist view that is also tackled by the poster can already be seen in the term itself: Designing as a practice and its products – ‘the design’ – are sharing the same English term, as ‘design’ can be a verb and a noun. We thus need to differentiate between, firstly, design as a practice and, secondly, design as its outcome and – thirdly – the discipline including the discourse around the question of what the term design means. 

Although contemporary design discourses such as the Actor-Network Theory by Bruno Latour with whom we can define design as the practice of many actors in network-like structures reject the idea of design as creating novel, revolutionary ideas, yet the concept of novelty remains a driving force in design. It is of importance here to say, that in my concept of design, every product (or system or sign) marks a difference to previous designs of the same kind. Novelty can be created by using a new material, technique, or by referring to a social or theoretical concept as it is often the case in gallery design pieces. 

[1] That very wide view of design relates to the English term that can also mean computer sciences or engineering. The German term “Gestaltung”, in contrast, particularly addresses the creation of artifacts of daily use. See, for instance: Diefenthaler 2008: 177.

(From my Routledge article ‘Improvisation in Design Processes’, 2021)






Interfaces are not just surfaces of websites; they are rather – starting with, for example, the handle of a hammer or scissors – necessary for us to use everyday objects. The simplification and design of digitized communication also come into focus with the COVID-19 pandemic because it has decoupled university teaching formats, which were previously based on immediate intersubjectivity, from physical presence.

Everyday products such as household appliances, smartphones, and even virtual installations are heavily reliant on interaction with us as users. Without interfaces, we cannot understand or use products, and, pragmatically speaking, they do not fulfill their intended purpose for us. Without an interface, things are essentially ‘mute’ to us. It’s only through use that things become meaningful actors in their context with additional techniques, actions, and users. In short, we only become aware of the functionality of these things when we use them, and by using them, they can unfold their effect as objects. Heidegger described this as ‘resistance’ and demonstrated in his analysis of tools how we only notice this effect of the object when an item no longer functions.

Translating Heidegger’s thought to design means structuring systems or structures in such a way that their underlying structure does not become visible. Therefore, it is also a challenge of interface design to make the interface ‘disappear’ as much as possible, to make it ‘invisible’, as in the case of Elon Musk’s implanted chip. Paradoxically, the interface, as Lucius Burckhardt once said regarding urban planning, is ‘invisible design’ that becomes problematic only when it becomes visible and asserts itself in the foreground. In this respect, the interface differs from what one might initially expect from design as a science of symbols, forms, and techniques. The interface is not a surface; rather, it is a complex relationship between processual interaction and concrete (form) design. According to design theorist Gui Bonsiepe, interfaces are entities that transform the existing into the ‘ready-to-hand’. Without an interface, a thing is merely present. The interface also escapes concrete sensory experience by structuring such experiences in relation to utility items or even spaces, rather than representing these structures. The observation is that the interface does not have a representational character; it has a structuring character – I will come back to this in the discussion of screen design.

The success of interface design lies not least in the fact that, after a long period of focusing on the technical understanding of design as mediating between form and function, design finally placed users at the center of the design process. Therefore, Gui Bonsiepe described a paradigm shift in his 1992 text ‘Interface. Reimagining design’ away from the previous focus of modern design theories on functionality. Building on Heidegger, Gui Bonsiepe delineated a concept of the interface that captures this connection in an ‘ontological diagram’: “Instead of the view that the designer creates shells for the technical structures designed by engineers, a hermeneutically differentiated schema can serve for explanation – the ontological design diagram.” (Bonsiepe 1993, p. 19.) Bonsiepe further explains that the diagram is divided into three ‘domains’: a ‘social agent’ who wants to perform an activity, a ‘task’, and a ‘tool or artifact’. These domains are related to each other by the interface, so that they are interconnected. Ontologically, one might presume, the diagram is in Bonsiepe’s description because it establishes the ontological character of design itself. “Interface is the central area on which the designer focuses attention. Through the design of the interface, the user’s space for product usage is structured. The interface unlocks the tool character of objects and the informational content of data. Interface transforms data into understandable information. Interface transforms mere existence – in Heideggerian terminology – into readiness-to-hand.” (Bonsiepe 1993, p. 20). For example, scissors can only be used as scissors because of their handle. The blades alone do not make the scissors into scissors, and the handle connects the body with the tool, creating ‘structural coupling’ between body and tool, enabling an action to be performed (Bonsiepe 1993, p. 24). Scissors enable use as scissors due to their shape and structure. Bonsiepe assumes that interfaces cannot be reduced solely to surfaces, such as the surface of a screen. Rather, everyday objects also form an interface. The material implementation and the concrete form of the scissor handle significantly determine our interaction with the product.

(From my Webbook ‘Hybrid Interfaces‘, translated using Chat GPT on March 21, 2024)

Designing Design Education

Paradoxically, in design, something is concretized that doesn’t yet exist because it emerges through the process. The design process is thus taught and learned differently than ‘normal’ subjects. Learning to design means creating projects. Tacit knowledge and experimental iterative work are essential when creating designs. This process has, for example, inspired the method of Design Thinking.

Nevertheless: When looking at contemporary design education, for instance, we can observe that it suffers from a paradigm of patriarchal power that is often overlooked. Only because we design new shiny things this does not mean that the teaching process behind these innovative projects is shiny and new, too. What if design education was open, accessible and participatory? Overturning traditional concepts of the ‘design school’ and questions how design education I am currently experimenting with new practices of networking, communication and digital learning spaces to challenge the idea of the school as an enclosed, spatial entity.

What if we applied principles of Open Design to design education and thus hacked the art school as an institution with its problematic power structures?


Opposed to planning and often associated with dysfunctionality, improvisation is typically not considered to be a part of design. Typical associations with the term improvisation would be unpredictability resp. unplannability, novelty, spontaneity, speed, freedom, openness, and volatility. All these factors also seem to guarantee the aesthetic autonomy of an artwork (Landgraf 2011). They characterize the most common modes in which we can experience improvisation – mostly in a performative situation – in the arts. But when having a closer look at the process of design, we can observe that the products of design, although not aesthetically autonomous in the sense of an artwork, are neither emerging solely from careful planning and thinking, nor are they the result of autonomous artistic practice. They emerge from a process that is located somewhere between art and engineering (Munari 2008: 30).

(From my Routledge article ‘Improvisation in Design Processes’, 2021)


In a common understanding, design means the process of conceptualizing things that will be industrially produced. It is a central feature of these industrially produced artifacts that they all look alike. Therefore, when considering only the finished and perfect serially produced object, we cannot see improvisation that was necessary to design them anymore. In order to ensure quality, industrial processes need to be repetitive; they need to use the same steps of production over and over again, and thus the shape of the industrial product has to be the same each time. But still, the fact that these objects have to be produced in a planned and repetitive – industrial – process does not necessarily mean that the process of creating them has to be planned and repetitive as well.

As a next step, we now have to distinguish between product and process – not only when looking at the particular phenomenon of improvisation – but also when developing a more general concept of design. In a very problematic way, etymology here comes into play: The English term [design] (design vs. to. design) we are using means both: product and process. When looking at the German word design in itself – Entwurf // Entwerfen– we can understand Entwurf as a product – but also as a practice.

Unlike other, mostly historical approaches that look at the finished and enclosed products of [design], my project now shifts the focus from the product to the process [process-product-difference]. Within that concept, more other presuppositions have to be taken into account, in particular the material dimension of design. Materials, techniques, and the subjectivity of the designer all influence the design situation and therefore the emergence of the product. The design process in itself is unpredictable, as every particular situation of design is unique and cannot be decoupled from the materials and techniques that are used to make drawings, models, simulations, and prototypes. Furthermore: we cannot know what the outcome of a design process will be, as this outcome is the design in itself. Designing therefore gains a paradoxical quality, by designing, we develop a product, object, or system that we cannot know yet.

This process is also completely driven by digital tools and interfaces since the early 1990s, but still these materials, techniques, and the designer’s subjectivity obviously haven’t become obsolete.

Insisting only on idealistic or maybe utopian concepts and ideas of design – such as the concept of good design, on the contrary, would cover the real materials, circumstances, and techniques of the process. However, that would be Modernity’s view on design – here designers appeared above all as individual experts, and design appeared as a mere cognitive achievement. A canonical example from this discourse on planning and expertism would be the Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander show Patterns or diagrams with feedback loops which Bernhard E. Bürdek discusses in his thesis on design methods at HFG Ulm.

Network and Openness as well as the design of interfaces form the core elements of contemporary design. We are neither designing mere industrial products nor can we focus on artsy singular pieces. Design within the culture of digitality is process- design as we are dealing with hybrid objects between digital and analogue.

(From my inaugural lecture at Muthesius Academy of the Arts in Kiel, 2017, translated by me in 2020)


Network and Openness as well as the design of interfaces form the core elements of contemporary design. We are neither designing mere industrial products nor can we focus on artsy singular pieces. Design within the culture of digitality is process- design as we are dealing with hybrid objects between digital and analogue.

(more here:

Design Research

Two phenomena characterize the present. The first phenomenon is a new kind of product culture in which the boundaries between design process and the product are blurred. The semantic turn, thus the transition towards interaction and usage processes, requires that even the “invisible” aspects such as processes of knowledge dissemination through design must become accessible and understandable. In particular, it must be conveyed how existing resources can be used, as we cannot rely on endlessly growing resources. The second phenomenon is a new form of work culture: In the sense of an „I would prefer not to,” we no longer wish to endlessly grow in our work. Productivity is rather understood as a meaningful connection between work and life. In this context, projects dealing with new spatial configurations or collaborative projects merging living and working spaces emerge.

Design research is part of all these projects. In the landscape of design research, methods are of great importance. Design research is helping to assess contexts, historicity, stakeholders, dispositives, narratives, structures, and techniques. It helps to integrate them into a meaningful whole in the design process. Design research has a preparatory character but is also repeatedly helpful during the process. Basic scientific work is as much a part of design research as the method of design thinking. Design research is part of Ph.D.’s but also of research in businesses. Design research cuts across various disciplines and shapes them.

(Seminar description text for my seminar ‘Introduction to Design Research’ at Muthesius, SS. 24)


The term Metaverse relates to Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, and retrospectively, the 1985 game Habitat. Another form of the Metaverse is the 2003 platform Second Life. The Metaverse is a continuation of the Internet, where databases enable a parallel world to the physical world: Real-time simulations allow experimentation with new forms of the physical world. Virtual environments created with AR, VR, and holographic technologies can tentatively map future scenarios of shared urban living, climate change mitigation, economics, and politics. A central component is participation. 

Talk of the Metaverse has caused more astonishment than enthusiasm in the design world (see here, for example, The vision of some high- tech corporations is in the process of merging this world into a single ‚Metaverse’, made tangible through VR goggles and data gloves, in which we will work, live and consume in the future. This seemingly dystopian vision, reminiscent of the film ‘Ready Player One’ (2018), has little in common with the democratic and participatory potential once inherent in social media. Who will create the content of the Metaverse? And who will make money from this content? Will access to this world be reserved only for the privileged who have elaborate technical equipment? 

Still, the idea of a 3dimensional Web offers many opportunities, in particular for designers. The Metaverse could instead of the dystopian vision become a new place of cultural production, learning, and research. We want to be an example of an open, transparent vision of the Metaverse – different from the dystopian scenarios of some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Wouldn’t it be desirable, just as in the development of the first FabLabs and the self-construction of 3D printers, to create open participatory access to the Metaverse, and to shape it within academic institutions as places of open knowledge production? After all, openness and participation are not exactly highlighted by the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs of the Metaverse. It is unclear, for example, how the Metaverse will be connected to the ‘real world’. Still, there are numerous technologies, such as augmented reality and 3D scanning, that make it possible to create an immersive experience that is also connected to the real world apart from just using VR Glasses. 

The term Metaverse is based on transferring the ‘social’ Web 2.0 into the three-dimensional virtual world. All kinds of marketing and future experts have gathered to sell the space and products of the ‘Metaverse’ before it even really exists. First and foremost is Matthew Ball, who initially wrote a foresighted essay on the phenomenon, but who became an agent of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and then became completely absorbed in the hype about the ‘Next Big Thing’. The most common definition of what the Metaverse is also comes from his essay The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find It, and Who Will Build It (See: Following Matthew Ball, the Metaverse is: persistent, synchronous, and live, it will provide every user with a sense of ‚presence‘, it will be a fully functioning economy, It will connect digital and physical, and will be ‚Populated by experiences and content‘ from an incredibly wide range of contributors. So it is easy, from the point of view of a cultural pessimist, to find most parts of the ‘Metaverse’ problematic. Perhaps it would be better to say Betaverse, simply to mark that there is more to it than just the idea of a radicalized cultural industry that no longer even sells ‘real’ products but only produces experiences, in the sense of Horkheimer and Adorno’s ‘fun’, and keeps us trapped in a permanent loop of distraction. 

Here, however, traditional structures of design and knowledge production are also renegotiated based on computer-assisted processes. It uses process-based design rather than product-based design. It is based on collaborative processes rather than on individual authorship. 

(From an EU-Proposal for the Project ‚Hybridlab‘ in cooperation with DAE and Prof. Dr. Sandra Schramke, 2022)

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write an email: frye(at)

Design is an infinite collaborative Process. We are constantly building things based on other things. Research is always part of design.