The preliminary assignments of Aalto University’s Design Programme 2022 – Analysis

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Preliminary assignments for Aalto University’s Bachelor’s Programme in Design 2022 have now been published! After the bachelor level studies, the student is admitted the right to continue in Aalto’s master’s programmes in media and design. Our teachers took the assignments for analysis and will share their tips in this post! You will get ideas e.g. to what you should focus on and what the selection board will likely appreciate!

The application period for the programme is 5.1. – 19.1.2022. Applications are submitted through studyinfo! Preliminary assignments must be returned no later than January 26, 2022 at 3 p.m. More information about the application process can be found on Aalto’s website.

PRELIMINARY ASSIGNMENTS 2022

This year the preliminary assignments consist of three parts. The assignments this year test e.g. the applicant’s motivation, argumentation skills, as well as technical skills.

The assignments are analyzed by Laura Aalto-Setälä, Master of Arts, designer, and our corresponding teacher! Our other teacher Eeva Jokinen, Master of Arts, teacher of art and design for 20 years, and ceramics designer also provided some additional comments. So you get to learn from the thoughts of two experienced art professionals!

Assignment 1: How design influences the world

Write a one-page essay about how you as a designer could utilise design to create a personal and collective impact on our world.

Evaluation criteria: Personal motivation and its relation to design; clear and concise communication.

Laura’s comments:

– Motivation letter is one of the evergreens of preliminary assignments. This time you are asked to focus not only on you but to reflect your interests and ideas to the more general impact of the whole field of design. Notice that ’impact’ does not have to be grand, but that there is impact in almost whatever we do, as long as your lense is wide enough. Think big here! Don’t think too much on what would have a grand impact, but ideate on what you are interested in. Be genuine!

It is important that you let someone else read your letter before submitting it. We all become blind to our own text, and there are almost certainly unclear or unnecessarily long sentences in your text. Fresh eyes do wonders to the clarity of any text! Try to avoid empty sentences, such as ”I have always been interested in design”. This is probably true for most applicants and it does not tell anything new to the reviewers. Start with sentences like ”design interests me because –”.

Motivation letters are an opportunity to introduce yourself. Be specific! Tell about your interests and through them on your suitability to the field. A common pitfall is to leave the letter as the last task to write just before the submission deadline and not have enough time to mull over things to say. The letter itself can be easy to write, but only after you have thought deeply enough on yourself, and your views of the field and its future. In the end, the applicants are the future of the field, and the schools want people with fresh ideas and views for the future.

Design is a very diverse field and this motivation letter is also to test your knowledge on the field. It is also to separate those genuinely interested in design from those applying just because it sounds cool.

Eeva’s comments:

– This is the chance to explain why you are interested in design and what is your perspective on it and also to show a little bit about you and your personality. The title question leads you on a bit, it implies that the design is not just how things look, but how things or services  work and affect people’s life. This assignment tries to assess how well you know the field of design and how you look at our chances of changing the world. I’d approach this with a mind-map and also with a small interview with your friends/family/random people in the bus etc, to find out what works/doesn’t work in their life. And then write about your thoughts.

Assignment 2: Visual and emotional impact

Choose one image from either a local or a global news stream. Use that as a starting point for insight and inspiration to create a poster that influences the viewers to act.

Write a short and effective headline that summarises your call to action. Also include a short text that explains your argument in a well-reasoned manner. You can include some relevant background info, if needed.

Write the source of the original image clearly in the bottom right corner of the poster. Include the name of the photographer or the illustrator, the media agency or the platform, the original news headline, the date of the publication and a link to the news item, if possible.

Technique and physical format can be chosen freely.

Evaluation criteria: Visual and emotional impact of the design, clear and concise communication, convincing and rational argumentation, quality of visual composition.

Laura’s comments:

– This is a very exciting assignment! On the surface it seems like a very straight-forward poster design assignment, but as every aspect of the design (including topic, theme, purpose and the imagery) is to be chosen by you, it becomes much more demanding than the traditional version. Again, the ideation phase requires a lot of time, do not underestimate it! The final poster might be rather fast and straight-forward to execute, but only when the design groundwork is laid down well. A good starting strategy here would be to start really looking at the imagery in your news stream, and analyze why this image has been chosen for this piece of news and what emotion are they trying to convey.

It is worth mentioning that this assignment makes it possible to take an image to a completely new context and that allows a more layered message for the image. It is also for this reason (but naturally due to copyright reasons as well) why they are asking to be able to see the image you have chosen in the original context. They want to compare the emotional impact you are conveying to that of the original story.

Lastly, there is the important element of visual communication as this is a poster design assignment. This is a place for you to show off your skills of composition, use of colors, and typography. Consider all of this when designing the final poster. Put the most important aspects to the most prominent place of your poster. And remember, you win with your strengths: as technique and format is free, do the poster with the technique most familiar to you. If digital drawing is not your strength, do the poster by hand, and vice versa. This is not a place to show a variety of techniques but all about communication ideas. You express yourself best when using your strong techniques.

Eeva’s comments:

– This assignment asks you to design a poster as the end product. The concept is important, choosing a news event that evokes a feeling to act. Then you must, via visual material and text, create a poster that communicates the message you want to deliver. Using fonts and an impactful headline and engaging but concise text is important. The news should be something you feel passionate about, but usually something more local than too general will provide a more focused message.

For example, general climate change news easily leads to quite often seen imagery (ice bears on melting ice, pollutive pipes etc.) and too vague (we must act now) message. Instead if you choose a news article about a local event caused by climate change, you get a more detailed message (let’s fix this thing now!)  and the action you evoke may be more powerful and understandable for a real event.

Assignment 3: Non-representative sculpture

Make an abstract (i.e. non-representative) sculpture that expresses an emotion. Take a total of six pictures – four of the design and the construction, and two of the finished sculpture. Explain your idea and thinking in 200 words or less. Put the pictures and text onto one page and save the page as a PDF file.

Material: Play-Doh, clay, Plastiline or any other easily malleable material 

Evaluation criteria: 3D thinking, understanding of materials, and crafts skills.

Laura’s comments:

– This assignment continues the theme of emotional expression. This time the task is to ideate an abstract shape that would carry a certain feeling or emotion to the viewer. It is important to keep in mind the rule of thumb with all 3D assignments: choose only one leading idea for the shape, while keeping other ideas only as supportive ideas. If they are not helping to communicate the leading idea, they should be omitted from the project. One sees too often projects with many good but contrasting ideas all in the same piece, all fighting for the viewer’s attention.

This assignment requires a lot of ideation work – which is very typical for design school assignments – and if too little effort is spent in the ideation phase, it shows in the finished project. As a general rule: the shorter the ideation phase, the more unoriginal your ideas are.

It is good to keep in mind that the choice of emotion is also a way to tell about yourself to the review board. Not all emotions are as interesting, and it is better to choose a more complex emotion (such as feeling of guilt or insufficiency) than a more simple emotion (such as happy or sad). As there is the possibility of using text, you can show the depth of your emotional thinking.

Good luck and start ideating the assignments right away!

Eeva’s comments:

– This is a straightforward sculpture assignment. Non-representative means that it should not be a realistic sculpture, but an abstract form that also evokes something in the viewer. Usually a good way to approach that is via contrasts and opposites. Big-small / heavy/light / soft/hard etc. 3D-thinking means that the end result should be interesting and have depth from all angles, not just from one side. If it brings something new to the view from different sides that is usually interesting. Remember also that having one formal idea and it’s variation could be easier to control than having many ideas in one work.

Clay and other plastic materials make it possible to create organic shapes and textured surfaces. Think about that while you work. It is also possible to use skeletal structures made by for example wire to support your sculpture. Just remember to cover all supporting structures with clay/other material you use so only clay is visible. Showing the structure inside in your process images is a good idea since that tells how you think about the technical side of your design.

Image: Tuomas Uusheimo, aalto.fi

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