A selection of articles by our international master students
How to choose your electives for your IDE master programme
Jack Eichenlaub | June 2022
Hey everyone! Did you know the third semester of each master programme at IDE is reserved for electives? That is if one does not follow the master variant for engineers, of course. If you were not aware, this 20-week period is used for exploring the absolute range of what it means to “design,” and to discover one’s own interests within the field. When searching for master programmes, the existence of the elective semester a TU Delft was a key driver in my interest and application. I am glad to say that, generally, the semester met my expectations and truly helped me to broaden my horizons! Before I share my favorite electives and how they have influenced my design philosophy and capabilities, it’s first important to know how the electives are structured at IDE.
The curriculum calls for a 30EC semester of electives, where courses range in EC from 3 to around 12 (and 15EC for an internship) depending on their planned scope and commitment. Courses are scheduled in morning and afternoon blocks and have a weekly repeating schedule. Some courses only occupy the one 10-week quarter, where some run the entire semester. It is also worth noting that one is not required to finish all 30EC of electives in one semester; given enough time and money (and an infinite student visa) one could take electives over multiple semesters. Notably, electives do not normally count for your required credit unless taken in the third semester or later. The reality is that most international students will do it in one semester-long block in the 3rd semester for cost and logistics-related reasons. That’s the crash course introduction on how the electives are structured, but how does one truly “do it right?”
The key to (elective) success is planning: the lists of elective courses offered are published twice per year, and while they vary every semester, many of the best courses are run year after year. Reference past course guides and seek out professors and courses that pique your interest. Write them down so that when it is time to register for courses for your second year, you already have a body of knowledge as to what is offered. The university recommends not signing up for 2 courses in the same day due to potential conflicts in schedule and group work. Having ignored their advice in the first quarter, I learned firsthand why this can be challenging due to the schedule juggling I had to contend with. However, if your two favorite topics are on the same day, I would not skip either to conform to the 1-per-day policy. If you can live without one of the conflicting courses, though, it’s best to spread out your workload evenly through the week. Now, onto my favorite courses.
In an attempt to broaden my knowledge, I sought out elective courses that better fit within a Design for Interaction knowledge space (though there’s no master-specific electives). Design for Emotion, Introspective Design, and Vision in Product Design were my favorite three, so I’ll share what stood out from those experiences.
Design for Emotion ran as a “block course,” an intensive two week stretch at the start of the semester where it was my singular academic focus. That “all day” mentality helped us really embrace the work and dive deep into leveraging emotions as a design tool. The course reframed the idea of “requirements” when designing a product, even suggesting that designing from the perspective of unmet emotional needs could result in more impactful experiences. We practiced methods such as the holistic “micro experience scan,” as well as designing for dilemmas and creating “rich experiences.” Led by Professor Pieter Desmet, a pioneering figure in design for emotion and wellbeing, the course truly reset my perspective on design and how we can approach “problem solving” in the field.
Introspective Design, a new elective for this year, continued in the vein of Design for Emotion but sought to dive deeper into “the self.” Led by recent faculty appointee Professor Haian Xue, the course “guides students to rediscover the unique value of the enlightened self and subjectivity of the designer to human-centered, evidence-based design” (from the course description). In the IDE faculty, we often learn that the focus of design research and practice should be on the needs of the target user. While this statement is undoubtedly true in a broad sense, the course offered a unique opportunity to recenter our own experience and skill as a design tool, and to address real and present human needs through reflective and emotional self-evaluation. In completing various readings and assignments, we were challenged to express our own interpretations of our movements through life and our subjective views, culminating in a design project to inspire humor through the production of a “chindogu.” A chindogu is an object that paradoxically solves a problem we encounter while also being functionally useless. Sound confusing? It is, until you see examples (click here for some good ones). The course was a mind-boggle at every turn, but again served to wholly redefine my understandings of design as a field and practice.
The third of my favorite courses was ViP, or Vision in (Product) Design led by Professor Paul Hekkert. ViP is a design method developed at TU Delft by Hekkert and Matthijs van Dijk that approaches complex design challenges and “re-frames” them to precipitate novel solutions. Traditional design methods often ask for “requirements” as a constraint, which can lead to stalled innovation and challenge in creating something truly new. The ViP method encourages designers to construct their own vision of the future (as it relates to a specified domain) and develop design interventions to move our present world closer to this future, one that better supports human wellbeing and social equality. For this year’s course, we worked with “transitions,” or a targeted movement from our world today towards a commonly agreed better future. One example is “the protein transition,” our global need to shift towards a plant-based diet for ecological health. I would explain all the nuance of my own project, but that could be a whole article to fully detail. Regardless, I really enjoyed tackling a complex problem in a robust way and learning a whole new method for my Designer’s Toolbox!
In reflecting on my electives experience while writing this article, I began to clearly see just how influential this semester has been on my general design philosophy and interests. These three highlighted courses all re-centered the value of our complex and emotional experience of the world. Further, I saw that designers have both a role in and responsibility to enable access to the nuances of life for all people and to serve a socially beneficial purpose. I also saw how “self-focused” methods are not inherently negative, but rather that we can leverage our own lived experience to design more relatable and impactful creations. Overall, the elective semester was incredibly important in formulating my outlook on design, my career goals, and perhaps most immediately important, my graduation project! Look out for another article detailing that process. Until next time!