The secret reasons behind the acclaim for this Swedish design school

The world got its first designer in Leonardo Da Vinci. His works, a revolutionary merge of supreme functionality and great beauty, has driven change and development in our world. Half a millennia from his death, design is in a new dawn.

In other words, it has never been more exciting. Growing technical complexity, rapid technological advancements and the sheer speed of information flow bring unprecedented challenges, but also boundless opportunity.

Design drives change. Through innovative products that benefit people and the environment, designers have the ability to lead the way. In transport, China’s 27,000km of high-speed railway awes us in sheer breadth. Connecting us and products is interaction design, the best of which is exemplified by the simplicity of apps like Uber and the influence of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter. Design is powering humanity’s progress and evolution.

Designers make all this possible. It takes an admirable set of skills to make things and make things happen; to know what the world and society wants and needs; to maximise the potential of matters, materials and environments.

In Sweden, there is one school that specialises in all of this: the Umeå Institute of Design.

Only a handful of colleges and universities worldwide offer postgraduate studies in specialised design. Umeå is one of them. And it stands out for offering three internationally-oriented two-year programmes leading to Master of Fine Arts degrees: Advanced Product Design, Interaction Design and Transportation Design.

There are many reasons why the Swedish school is known as a launchpad for tomorrow’s design visionaries. For one, there’s the enviable string of awards, taking top spot in two leading rankings on design education in the world: Red Dot and iF. It was the eighth year in a row that the school ranked number one, and the third consecutive year at the top of both influential lists.

What’s the secret?

Students, alumni and industry point to UID’s unique combination of traits: it’s collaborative, friendly, international and user-centred. Together, it’s a potent force that not only makes UID students great designers, but also highly appealing candidates among industry bigwigs.

“At UID, you don’t just learn the skills and crafts that is demanded by a designer, but also how to communicate, collaborate and teamwork, with people from all over the world,” said former student Akansha Aggarwal.

Originally from India, Akansha graduated from the Interaction Design Programme in 2018. Today, she is working as an interaction designer at international digital consultancy company, Making Waves in Oslo. While at UID, she completed month-long internships with Samsung in New Delhi, India, design affairs GmbH in Munich, Germany and Google in London.

Akansha herself won awards as a UID student. Her project, Traders of the Climate Data, focusing on underprivileged female fishery communities in coastal India, won Student Runner Up Design for Social Impact Award at the Core77 Design Awards 2018.

“The collective atmosphere means that you are not just designing in your own bubble, and I think that shows in the designs that students end up producing. The student projects that come out of UID seem to always carry a societal relevance while at the same time working with the possibilities and consequences of technology,” she explained.

Access to state-of-the-art facilities, 24/7

Former Transportation Design alumnus Alberto Villarreal, now Creative Lead Designer at Google, remembers the “amazing facilities and resources” available to students 24/7.

Villareal, who is responsible for developing the Google Pixel Phone and the Google Pixelbook laptop, described it as an atmosphere of passionate and enthusiastic people “who really want to be there”.

“Everybody’s talking about design, inspiring each other. While you’re developing your own projects, you’re learning so much from the other students, exchanging ideas. It’s a very unique educational environment. It really felt like a design office,” he said.

A pool of talent for global recruiters

Progressive pedagogy. Putting people’s needs first. A strong presence of professional design practices. A commitment to teamwork without sacrificing individual student needs.

With all these factors at play, it’s not hard to explain why some of the most influential design companies in the world are recruiting from UID – and increasingly so.

Global design firm IDEO – which helped design the computer mouse and whose clients include Bank of America, Microsoft, Swarovski and Levi’s – is one of them. More than 30 students from UID have been accepted into IDEO in the past decade or so. To CEO of IDEO Tim Brown, UID is one of the schools from which they recruit their “best talent”.

“In our view, UID competes with the likes of Stanford University, MIT and the Royal College of Art in London. The students possess an extremely high quality. It’s a school that develops great designers that are very good at working collaboratively in teams. The fact that the programmes at UID are so international in their scope tends to create designers with broad perspectives.”

Follow Umeå University on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram

Liked this? Then you’ll love…

European Design Schools: Where talent meets opportunity

LASALLE College of the Arts: Taking leadership in art, design and culture