Justin Maguire and Ralph Bremenkamp are working together on
various programs at frog design and in November they visited
Umeå Institute of Design to hold a workshop for the APD students, a
workshop with the challenging topic of smell. The two designers
came back in January just recently to see the students&
What are you doing at Umeå Institute of Design?
Justin: Initially, we were introduced to Thomas Degn,
programme director for the Advanced Product
Design programme through one of our employees. Thomas came and
visited us in Munich and we discussed the opportunity to provide
some stimulus and help run a workshop for the students. We agreed
upon the notion of smell, or dealing with products and forms that
deal with smell.
We came to Umeå in November and ran a FrogThinkTM
workshop. It was a facilitated workshop to jumpstart the project,
generating a lot of ideas early and quickly. So now we came back to
see the results of conceptualizing the ideas. The students
presented their ideas yesterday. We chose a very hard topic - smell
- what is smell? And we intentionally did not give the students
specific directions; we left it very open. We saw a stunning
variety in the results: students who developed product concepts,
ready to be built, students who went into prototyping, students who
went into the story, creating a narrative for the product. A short
but extremely rich project. It was great!
Is there anything you find particularly positive about
Justin: Everyone I have been in touch with from UID was
very professional; the faculty and team seems are very smart, with
a general curiosity and an open approach to think differently about
problems. I perceive a great freedom to explore methods. The
students and the professionals that I have met seem freed from
scholastic procedures, but know their toolkit well. I truly
appreciate that sort of pioneering spirit driving students to
Ralph: Having almost the allure of a brand name, UID
seems to me like a community: there is a connection between
disciplines, a connection between students and alumni, ensuring a
view across levels and insights to post-graduate life. That seems
to be very impactful if you look at the level of graduate work
Is there anything you would like to improve at Umeå Institute
Ralph: Well, all our lives are about continuous
learning, right? Without being too familiar with the faculty
exceeding our co-operation, according to my impression, UID
students really manage to make things real and think of products in
their context: imaginable, doable, and ready to go into
I talked to one of the students this morning about his diploma,
he wants to build an airship. He said "I have seen a lot of
concepts, but I want to make it believable, I want to make it like
it works." The potential downside of this approach for sure is, the
risk of losing the freedom in idea generation, in exploration.
So, if there was anything to improve at UID, it could be
reducing processes, ensuring freedom, adding a little playfulness.
In particular as it probably is the one and only occasion for the
creative to work without constraints ever in their career to
Justin: Creating culture and shepherding culture is
really difficult, it is like cooking where you don&t control
the constantly changing heat. In addition you have to face the
variables of both the broader changes and expectations around. From
an industry point of view we have the change through new students,
their backgrounds and influences, which grants us an ever-evolving
set of expectations to the discipline, also for ourselves. In fact,
I think schools go through periods of creating the most exciting
output or cutting edge creations, being spurred, when leaving the
cycle to re-enter it a new.
Umeå Institute of Design has great momentum right now, some
magical time where you have gotten it right, for a variety of
reasons; the professors, the location, your size has a lot to do
with it, and the rigorous standards you have for entrance. There
are always people who will push the boundaries, and you want these
people for the strength of their point-of-view, but you still need
a strong centre that manages to balance that.
So in fact from my point of view, there is nothing to change at
UID, but it is to keep that, respect being in a magical time,
understand what it took to get here and figure out how to keep
that! Furthermore, I think it is so important to shut off the
computer from time to time, get your stuff onto a wall, pull five
people together and create a mini research department - draw them
in and make the idea even better!
What do you think are the reasons for the good reputation of
Justin: Aside from all of the things we already talked
about, the fact of the matter is that advertising works. If you
have a great story, which UID has, if you have smart people and
good work, if you don&t let people know about that, then they
Ralph: Make sure that your students get a fantastic
education and broadcast it to the world - that is the best driver.
If I hire someone from Umeå who is great, I will keep that in mind
and I will talk about it. Plus, this for sure will also reflect on
the selection of future candidates.
Justin: I think you are in an interesting time, with
this tuition fee introduction, that is going to have a measured big
impact on you. Getting political fights the small boutique-appeal
of your current offer, which is part of your strength. I heard
concerns from the faculty about having less time with students and
needing more time for paperwork and political stuff, a change to be
What will you be doing in ten years?
Justin: I hope in some time in the ten years I want to
take a year off and sail to New Zealand, explore the world a bit
and see it from the water, and not be near a computer. Connect to
the world in a very visceral way, but that&s me.
Ralph: Not knowing it, is part of the dream.