Jack Eichenlaub's experiences in Delft
INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS SHARE THEIR EXPERIENCES AT IDE
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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!
Student Organizations and Ultimate Frisbee
Coming from an American university, student clubs and organizations were a foundational underpinning of the social experience. Universities (such as my undergraduate home) would advertise having “over multiple-hundred active student clubs” as a draw for potential students. Despite not such vocal promotion of their own resources, TU Delft has a deep network of student clubs and associations ranging in focus from sport to career to purely social. I’ll briefly highlight what is available and share my experience joining Force Elektro, TU Delft’s ultimate frisbee club.
First and foremost, clubs and associations are a fully optional experience with varying levels of commitment. Some students focus purely on their studies, and there’s nothing wrong with that choice. I would, however, personally recommend that everyone at least try to join some sort of organization for the diversity it brings to your daily life. The full list can be found here!
If you’re looking to get heavily committed to a social group, perhaps the most intense are more classical “student associations” that mirror a combined fraternity/sorority. Two of the largest in Delft are D.S.V. Sint Jansbrug and Delftsche Studenten Bond (DSB). These organizations are most often joined by Dutch students starting their bachelors, but some will accept the dedicated international student as well. With tight-knit social circles and appreciable time commitment, these associations are for those wanting to buy into typical, traditional Dutch student life.
There are plenty of choices outside of Dutch social associations: related to one’s studies, each faculty or master will have a study association. For IDE, we have “I.D.”(https://studieverenigingid.nl/), which seeks to provide both social and academic experiences to members outside of their official studies. This manifests in workshops, career fairs, social events, and even social outings and trips! Study Associations also offer great opportunities to gain leadership experience on committees responsible for planning the events. Membership is cheap and easy, and I highly recommend all IDE students join ID, especially as we move to in-person activities again. Expanding your network of like-minded, intelligent classmates can never be a bad thing!
For international students missing a connection back to their home, culture, or communities, there are also a large variety of cultural organizations that link students of common background or interest. For example, the Indian Student Association or Outsite, the Delft LGTBQ+ group both offer community for people that could feel isolated after moving to Delft from their homes around the world. And of course, in accepting Dutch fashion, anyone is welcome regardless of your identity.
Most important to my experience has been Force Elektro, the local Ultimate Frisbee club. For the uninitiated, Ultimate Frisbee is a team sport that combines the endurance and running of football with flying plastic discs, scoring in endzones, and borrowed elements from other sports. With over 18,000 college ultimate players the US alone (and over 1100 competitive players in the Netherlands), the sport has large reach and is growing rapidly. More importantly, it’s been an exceptional way to meet people from all corners of TU Delft and share in their experiences.
This past month, we welcomed over 60 new teammates of varying experience levels to the program, each one a potential new classmate and friend. Deep in the corona lockdown last year, joining a sport club was one of the only allowed social activities and has proven to be incredibly valuable as a physical and social outlet for me. Sometimes the stresses of school can be overwhelming, so to have an energy outlet is a great benefit to mental and physical health. And of course, it is all the better when surrounded by new friends.
Your time in the classroom at TU Delft is a period of learning and discovery, so why not mirror that outside of school hours? There are enough clubs and associations for everybody to find something they match well with. Enjoy some new friends and new activities, and I might even see you out on the sports fields. Until next time!
More articles by Jack
Social Initiatives for (International) Students – IDE and MoTiv
Jack Eichenlaub | April 2021
It is no secret that the coronavirus has put many aspects of our lives “on hold.” As the local cherry blossoms bloom and the world awakens again in spring, we all want to get back to life as we used to know it. This past Easter Monday, I had the opportunity to bask in that feeling of normalcy when I was hosted for lunch by a lovely Dutch couple named Irma and Paulus. The “MoTiv Connects” program, arranged by TU Delft-affiliated group MoTiv, allowed individual students to join a Dutch host in their home and make a new, personal connection. This program was also offered over the winter holiday (when I first participated). Over the same break, the faculty of IDE also opened their doors as a gathering place for students not returning home due to travel restrictions. All in all, these experiences have been very valuable to me as I adjust to life abroad, so I wanted to share and inform the wider community!
Over Christmas, I joined one friend in travelling via train and tram to Rotterdam to meet a young TU Delft employee at her cute, top-floor apartment. Nestled near a public park that contained a playground and some very bizarre fruit-shaped seating, we watched the sun slowly settle over the neighborhood from the warm indoors. We ate various Dutch lunch staples while listening to the yearly “Top 2000” broadcast (I highly recommend you go check out this year’s list!). Afterwards, we learned about our host’s life growing up in the Netherlands and what life is like as a grown, working adult. We ended the day with a fascinating game called “Regenwormen” which deftly combined luck and strategy to guarantee that I always lost! Despite the repeated defeats, it was a lovely day, and we definitely overstayed our welcome. Walking back to Rotterdam Centraal Station in the early evening darkness, I had to reflect and appreciate the opportunity to have a meal with a stranger so far from my home.
During the weekday afternoons of the winter holiday, international MSc and PhD students were invited (with proper precautions, of course) to congregate at the faculty to socialize and meet in an informal, “living room” style setting. I personally went for 3 of the available days and met some fascinating fellow international classmates. I was able to flex my dormant table tennis and foosball skills, participate in a “pub quiz,” eat too many oliebollen, and perhaps most importantly, meet fellow IDE students! Alongside learning of what brought them to the Netherlands, I was able to get a better understanding of the variety of people who come to TU Delft to study. Despite vastly different origin stories, our mutual desire to move the world forward through design was a common thread connecting us all. Leaving the holiday season with new friends and familiar faces was a boost to my morale and renewed my appreciation for my classmates and their journeys.
More recently, I hopped on my bike and rode to the Delfgauw village (just east of campus) to meet Irma and Paulus in their home on Easter Monday. Walking in the front door, I was greeted by a modest but homely atmosphere and the smells of at least 10 different foods. They really went all out in preparation, filling a large table with different foods and treats for me to sample. The Dutch paasstol, or Easter bread, was unmistakable and filled on large platter at one end of the table, while a large vase of tulips adorned the other end. My hosts were very curious to know what brought me to the Netherlands specifically, and if I enjoyed the country and the people. In return, they shared tales of their life journey and lessons they learned along the way. Despite being from different cultures, they reminded me of my own grandparents, and were just as eager to show off pictures of their various vacations and adventures as one would expect from grandparents.
As we ate, we watched the sky rapidly change: first, hail fell, only for sunlight to break through the clouds minutes later, and then more hail fell! In that moment, I learned firsthand that “April doet wat hij wil,” or “April does what it wants” (loosely translated) when it comes to weather. The phrase was never more true than on my bicycle ride home that afternoon, when the wind gusted so strong I was stopped in my tracks! Even in the abnormal chill, I left with such a warm feeling inside knowing there was someone looking out for me and willing to welcome me with open arms.
These two events were organized by MoTiv, a “centre for personal development in education and business” that is affiliated with the university. 130 students were hosted over the winter holiday, and another 40 at Easter, with significantly more interested. Recently, MoTiv has been focused on offering resources for students and lecturers needing support in the coronavirus environment. For example, they offer things from online courses in yoga and meditation to more personal assistance like a student support phone line and message platform. Devoted to helping students in their personal and professional development, MoTiv understands the challenges students face in academic life and seeks to be a resource for all.
I would be lying if I said living in coronavirus times is easy, but anyone reading this already knows that. I am both reassured and grateful that programs like MoTiv and the IDE Living Room exist to help all students (but especially international students) in integrating in Dutch life. Hopefully, these opportunities continue in the post-pandemic era so I can meet more local and international people (perhaps even some reading this article). That’s all for now, until next time!
Who is Designing Design Anyways?
Jack Eichenlaub | April 2021
Most of us go to university to acquire collective knowledge that has been built for many years, all around the world. IDE masters students not only do that, but also learn from professors at the forefront of design, who are actively creating new knowledge and writing the future of our field. One particular focus is on designing design itself, specifically in the form of exploring design methods, theories, and approaches.
If you do not recognize this vibrant blue book, you surely will soon. It is a proud export of our faculty of Industrial Design Engineering and a critical learning tool used both in our classrooms and in other global contexts. The Delft Design Guide contains a multitude of 2-page spreads that succinctly describe all manner of design perspectives, approaches, and methods to use while tackling modern design challenges. Many of these are well known historical approaches, and many detail modern ideas developed here at TU Delft, such as “Vision in (Product) Design.”
The role of methods in a designer’s practice is often debated. Are the best designers successful due to their intuition, creativity, and inherent talent? Or does the rigorous application of structured methodological approaches yield successful design solutions? Coming from the engineering world, I am trained to believe the latter, but there is no unequivocally correct answer. Design methods exist for our own benefit and are to be applied selectively as they further our goals and fit our individual processes. While this uncertainty is intimidating for some, the Delft Design Guide and other resources exist for us to leverage in our times of need for structure and process.
As first year master’s students, we are encouraged (well, required really) to reflect on the role of design methods in our own practice in a shared master course called Design Theory and Methodology. This course very explicitly does not aim to teach specific methods and theories, but rather asks students to critically evaluate different methods and how they influence our practice. What methods do you use? What is your design philosophy? How can you adapt your design process based on reflective practices?
This year, the course was delivered largely through “podcast” style lectures that brought eminent design theorists directly to our earbuds. We were able to hear from experts in conversation on design fixation, participative design, metaphors and creativity, the value of design expertise, and the future role of design methods. Led by instructors Dr. Peter Lloyd and Dr. Mieke van der Bijl-Brouwer, we were challenged to ponder and create our own “practice guide.” This document was to succinctly explain how we would instruct and onboard a new junior designer at our own hypothetical firm. In a few words, it showed our design philosophy, aims, methods and practices. I will admit it was quite hard to embody only the purest essence of one’s work and goals.
Exiting the DTM course, I feel much more secure in my understanding of my own design philosophy, and I know that I will be consciously reflective into the future. I may not have quite understood it when I arrived last fall, but TU Delft offers an approach to design that extends far beyond the bounds of what “is,” and looks to what design “will be” in our ever-changing world. At the risk of vanity, I have always wanted to operate at that leading edge; to help shape the future of design far beyond the bounds of my own individual creative output. I now know that resources exist at TU Delft to help me in this goal, so now it is up to me to make the most of them. If you’re interested in these same pursuits, come join us here at IDE! Or if you just want to live vicariously through me, check back soon for my next story on life and learning at TU Delft. Until next time!
Living in Delft: The Great Bakkerij-venture
Jack Eichenlaub | January 2021
Undoubtedly, many unique experiences await once you move to the Netherlands and join the bright men and women of TU Delft. Unfamiliar apartments, new friends, many many bikes, sideways rain, and of course, lots of foods at the store that you cannot quite translate correctly. Sometimes the rigorous schedule of academic work at the TU can be consuming, so in my first semester I attempted to take some personal time to focus on something thing I loved, and search Delft for the best I could possibly find. That thing? Bread and baked goods!
Coming from America, the land of “added sugar,” it took some experimenting to find what I was looking for. So many things are sickly sweet in the US, like for example bread from Subway restaurants. Ireland recently declared that Subway bread was too sugary to be bread, and taxed it more heavily. Luckily, good (unsweet) normal bread is quite common in the Netherlands.
In my search for delicious bread, I first stopped at two staple grocery stores, Jumbo and Albert Heijn. Students will know these well, as not only are they conveniently located near campus and in town, but also ubiquitous throughout the Netherlands. Fresh baguettes and loaves are put out every day throughout the day, although a few times I arrived too late in the day to get any! The bread on offer is quite basic, but extremely cheap. More bread than I could possibly eat in 2 whole days can be found for around 1 euro at each store. And it is good too! Maybe not “gourmet quality,” but tasty all the same. My personal preference is for the rustiek types from Albert Heijn. Often based on a sourdough starter, they are filling and have more complex flavor than basic white bread from either AH or Jumbo.
After figuring out my baseline favorites, it was time to experiment. There are no less than 14 bakeries in Delft, so the choices are practically endless. Conveniently located close to my apartment was a local family-owned bakery, Bakker Jaap V.O.F (Wijnhaven 5). Their yellow awning is hard to miss! I was not incredibly impressed with their full-size loaves (especially when the price is compared against AH or Jumbo), but I did become obsessed with their saucijzenbroodje. Despite the name, this 2-euro treat does not contain sausage, but rather a spiced minced meat within puff pastry. I have been enjoying these simple Dutch delicacies in our lockdown winter, as they are great for adding a warm, hearty touch to your lunch.
Next, I went upmarket and stopped in the Stadsbakkerij de Diamanten Ring (Choorstraat 9). Its building is a place of significance in Dutch history, previously being an inn at which the assassin of William I of Orange stayed the night before the 1584 assassination. Today, it lives quite a different life: with beautiful displays and a wide selection, the Stadsbakkerij is a patisserie selling cakes, muffins, and brownies alongside loaves of bread. The first, and so far, only, good chocolate brownie I have had in Delft was purchased here, as well as a nice red velvet muffin and some good krentenbollen (currant rolls). While more costly than my other baked goods purchases, the flavors justified the costs, at least when one needs to treat themselves.
After I demolished my brownie (instead of eating lunch), I noticed the smudged paper it sat on. It said Sinds 1796, or “since 1796”. That means my home country had only formally existed for 20 years when the Stadsbakkerij was founded. I felt a sense of wonder that Delft, its buildings, and its heritage, have been here for so many years. It was a surprising and quaint reminder of the depths of life that are available to discover in Delft and in the Netherlands as a whole.
So, armed with this small body of knowledge, good luck, and happy exploring! Be it bread, coffee, church windows, farm cottages, bicycle parking racks, or anything else you personally love, I hope you can take the time to explore life outside of our campus once you arrive! Delft may be different than where you come from, but it is easy to make it your new home.