Life in Umeå: UID

Umeå Arts Campus is located on the Ume River between the main university campus and Umeå city centre. Within the Arts Campus is the Umeå School of Architecture, Umeå Institute of Design (which I will refer to as UID), the Umeå Academy of Fine Arts, and the Bildmuseet (the university’s art museum). These four different parts are all located in separate buildings on the Arts Campus but connected in the partially underground bottom level by a cafe and restaurant.

Within UID, there are three taught design disciplines: industrial design, transportation design, and interaction design. All three programs are offered at the master level (2 years), while industrial design is also offered as a 3 year bachelor program and a 1 year introduction program (for those looking for a career change). Each incoming year has on average 10 incoming students per discipline. In all the masters programs, it is very common for students to take a year off in between their first and second year to do a few internships at different companies and in a variety of countries. Therefore, the number of second year students in a program can vary depending on the number on internship. Since I already have 5 years of working experience I am leaning towards completely my 2 years back to back.

All the masters programs are taught in English, the BA program in Swedish, and in general the masters programs are VERY international. In my class their are 12 students total – representing Sweden, Germany, India, Canada, Australia, China, Japan, Denmark, Poland, Great Britain, and USA (me!). In the Interaction Design program specifically, we all also come from different design backgrounds, which furthers this lovely diversity of perspectives.

All in all, before I begin describing my first month of classes and projects, I would say this place is pretty damn awesome. One of the main reasons I wanted to go here, aside from academics, was the sense of community I felt through my online research of schools. From day one of school, the community atmosphere was beyond palpable, and I’m so excited and thankful to be a part of it.

Umeå Design Campus

Umeå Arts Campus view from further down the river (river behind tree on left)

Umeå School of Architecture and Bildmuseet

Umeå School of Architecture and Bildmuseet

Ume River

Ume River

Umeå School of Architecture

Umeå School of Architecture

A large part of this semester for first year Interaction Design students is a combination of getting to know one another (almost all work is in groups throughout the two years), and building up some basic skill sets. All first years in the different programs (BA and MAs) of design school began the first week with the annual Kick-Off project (description and video on my teams project), which was hosted this year by John Edmark of Stanford and involved an installation with an ‘animated drama.’

The second week began my classes in Interaction Design (IxD). We don’t select specific courses, but rather all IxD first years follow the same schedule as one another. So far we’ve been learning about haptic technology, processing, common IxD terms, the Habraken Silent Game, New Media, and trying to figure out if its even possible to define ‘Interaction Design’ (I think not). We also have a weekly literature circle in which we discuss an assigned reading.

One particularly interesting exercise we’ve been doing is learning how to interview. This might sound odd at first, but since Interaction Designers work so closely with the human experience and behavior, it’s actually very important for us. For example, our clients next semester are children undergoing radiation therapy. We will be working closely with them and their family to help design an experience which can make the process of understanding and preparing for radiation easier (for both children and parents), as well as designing the actual radiation procedure.

To learn and practice our interviewing skills, we’ve been practicing on who else other than each other! Therefore this has also been doubling up as not only getting to know each other, but learning to trust one another. The latter perhaps even more important in design group work. We first had to interview and write a paper on one classmate, which will next week be handed off to another classmate who will take a photograph of the person inspired by the paper. This will be proceeded by two more relay ‘hand offs’ in which we will each do a typographic exercise and an animation.

Outside of classes, I competed in an IxD 24 hour international competition with four of my classmates two weekends ago. While intense, we pretty much had an absolute blast designing a concept regarding the enhancement of in-person collaboration by taking advantage of cloud computing, current devices, and near future technology. You can see lots of process shots on our team blog as well as watch our final and outtakes videos below. (Note (1): Special shout out to a super cutie who cooked us dinner!)(Note (2): Yes, I am being intentionally creepy in the video!)

Final video (check out Kelly’s cameo at the 25 second mark!):

Process video:

Our team name was the Swedish word ‘Lagom,’ despite the fact that we had no Swedes in our group. We wanted to use the Swedish word for ‘just right’…. but during the competition, upon further research of our team name, we began to wonder if in fact we named ourselves ‘eh, moderate’ or ‘mediocre.’ This in turn caused some hysterical laughter at our lost in translation error. The following week upon checking the translation with our professor, he said it means ‘not too much, not too little’ or ‘just enough,’ but also said that it was a good name choice because its very Swedish to act in moderation and lagom can have a positive association. Close call…

Since the competition was 24 straight hours (based out of Australia), starting at 2am Friday night/ Saturday morning, we were pretty excited when it was over.

Team Lagom Celebrating

Team Lagom Celebrating

Also outside of classes, we’ve had some immensely inspiring guest speakers and lecturers, including two guys from Tellart (responsible for Chrome Web Lab, aka IxD dream land), Jamer Hunt, John Edmark, and John Bowers.

If you want follow all the exciting stuff we are up to, I recommended checking out our IxD facebook page, where you can also see all the fabulous experience prototyping projects of the 2nd years.

Last but not least, the social culture is pretty fabulous. Every Friday, IxD first and second years get together for ‘Friday fika,’ in which one or two people take turns baking for the week. Fika, essentially is Swedish coffee break, which usually involves sweets. We actually have Fika a couple times a day, at least, but on Friday it always involves some fabulous homemade goodies.

This past Friday, the BA second years organized an epic dinner and party for all first year design students with a Midsummer’s theme. I highly recommend watching the hilarious video below explaining the holiday (which is officially in June).

Our ticket to the Midsummer’s dinner was to make a wreath for ourselves. Mine held beer…

Midsummer wreath hats

Midsummer wreath hats

We were also required to learn dirty Swedish drinking songs. I decided not to post a video of two of my classmates practicing. Hehe.

To view more pictures, head over to my UID photo diary post!


  1. Pamela
    Jul 02, 2014 @ 02:37:56

    Hi! I was wondering if you could tell me about internship opportunities for students. Are they paid? Does the school have important partnerships with companies to secure at least one job during the course?

    Thank you!


    • admin
      Jul 08, 2014 @ 18:11:26

      Hi Pamela – I didn’t go on internship myself (for personal reasons I did my two years back to back), but a majority of masters students do. They are typically paid but depends on the specific company and position. The school does have great relationships with companies, but there is no guarantee, it is largly up to each student to secure a place (but a lot of companies come to the school looking for and interviewing students). Overall, it is rare for a student to not find an internship, and a lot take them all over the world! Hope this helps =)


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