Some of the most beautiful products in the world come from nearly seven thousand kilometres north of the equator. Sweden, home to a world-leading design scene, is the birthplace of boldly-constructed cars, the jeans of choice of fashion editors, 100 subway stations each with unique art of its own and more.
They are as enduring as they are groundbreaking. Volvos seldom break down. Spotify continues to revolutionise the way we listen to music. Using augmented reality, customers can now test IKEA’s products in real time. Ericsson and ABB are joining forces to bring 5G to the factory floor.
More recently, the country is steadily gaining a name for sustainable design. Its cities are taking the climate crisis to task, from building energy-efficient buildings in Umea to using trees to produce more than 90% of the energy used for heating in the city Växjö. Swedish car brands are coming up with carpets made from recycled fishing nets and replacing plastic in its dashboards and centre consoles with flax-based composites.
Inspired? There is a design school to turn your artistic zeal into the highly professional, competitive and international finesse Sweden is renowned for: Umeå Institute of Design (UID).
Established in 1989, the Institute now provides one of the world’s foremost industrial design courses. Expect cutting-edge research and technical facilities — both are present in its four academic programmes. The Master of Fine Arts in Advanced Product Design, Interaction Design, and Transportation Design are run in English and open to international students. The Bachelor of Fine Arts in Industrial Design is run in Swedish and only open for students from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Iceland.
Mike Kruzeniski, Head of Design and Research at Twitter and UID alumnus said, “As a school, UID taught me a lot about design craft, new technology, designing for people and taking responsibility for the work that we put in the world.”
Kruzeniski is one of the more than 90% of UID students who obtain employment as professional industrial designers shortly after graduation.
The quality of education offered in UID’s programmes — which include practical skill-based courses, term projects, user studies and new technologies — explains the success of graduates like Kruzeniski. Many graduates would also argue the other half of the equation lies in its environment and people.
Maggie Kuo, User Experience Design Lead at Google and UID alumna describes UID as “like Hogwarts” to her.
“It is far away from everywhere, it is covered in snow and the night skies are painted by green lights,” she said.
“And the people that gather here from all over have their very own special magical skill set.”
UID maintains a small student body to ensure personalised attention, but it is by no means homogenous. More than 30 nationalities are represented at any given time — this academic year, 36% of the student body are EU/EES students and 28% are from outside the EU.
This combination leads to a compelling convergence of ideas. The annual grad show at UID is a spectacle to behold, and this year’s digital exhibition is no different. From a biotech wearable for people suffering loss to solutions for future firefighters in the wake of climate change, graduating students demonstrated clear user perspective, innovative storytelling, and visions for a better society.
A few months earlier, a trio from UID won the Student Prize at the IXDA Awards in Milan for Otto, a mouthpiece for asthmatics that use light and sound design to help patients monitor breathing patterns in order to adjust daily dosage. Before that, BFA students worked with Deutsche Telekom and Covestro in a pilot project developing creative designs for small 5G antennas.
At UID, it is a constant stream of ingenuity.
Social, supportive and futuristic
Picture a renovated industrial building with large spaces and even larger streams of light. Computer studios connected to advanced NC milling machines, laser engraving machines and rapid prototyping. Well-equipped workshops for woodwork, metal, plastic, clay modelling, assembly and painting. A typical Swedish sauna and a student kitchen. Close by is the Bildmuseet, a new museum named one of the world’s most beautiful university museums.
This is the Umeå University Arts Campus.
Located by the Umea river and close to the centre of the northern Swedish city centre, it is a place that hosts a dynamic mix of talent from UID, Umeå School of Architecture and Umeå Academy of Fine Arts.
Pontus Edman, who graduated with a Master’s in Advanced Product Design in 2019 calls this UID’s “secret recipe” to success. “In addition to skilled teachers, ambitious and purposeful students come together here from all over the world,” he said.
“We spur each other on and drive each other to perform, which is incredibly inspiring.”
The product designer at Stockholm’s strategy design agency Propeller Design remembers Umea as a great place where one can find everything. It is a hotbed of creative energy, but one with a calm that allowed him to really focus on his studies.
“There is a calm here that I find very valuable,’ he said.
For interaction designer and UID graduate Trieuvy Luu, this setting — people, campus, country — is the perfect living laboratory for design students.
“When you google interaction design and design awards, Umeå Institute of Design always pops up. When you actually come here you understand where that passion for design actually comes from,” he said.
“UID is a place that brings talented people from all over the world together. Being able to learn from each-other and push each-other is what makes the school so unique.”