During their second year, the BTS apprentices make a one-week study trip abroad. We have joined a project called Carrousel, creating links with several other European design schools, and we have just returned from the Windesheim School of Engineering and Design at Zwolle in Holland.
Zwolle is a very old town in the centre of the country, established as a trading stronghold with the nearby German border. It’s a beautiful place with the inevitable canals, and perfectly proportioned town houses with very big windows to make the most of the light in this rather grey climate. Everyone commutes by bicycle, including our group, bravely heading into town from our chalets at the campsite every morning. We were lucky with the weather, and only had rain on one day.
Groups had been formed for the whole week, with one French apprentice to two Dutch students. Ton Horsten, the head of design there, had prepared some good activities for the first hour, with the design of a recognisable logo for each group, and then some fun illustration problems where he had deliberately made false translations between Dutch and French to check how the teams were communicating.
We headed out of the city by coach in the afternoon to visit the Philips electric shaver factory at Drachten. After a fascinating guided tour we sat down in their conference centre for a project briefing. This year the teams would be working on an ambitious design project for male grooming (from the neck upwards), with just three days to be ready for a five-minute presentation on the morning of the last day. High-pressure stuff for these young designers, and probably their first presentation to a prestigious company like Philips.
Back at base the next day, teams were busily brainstorming, talking about their own experiences, and going to shops to see competitor’s products. Some were soon found in the model shop making ergonomic rigs to check the geometry of their ideas. Meanwhile, there were many conversations going on, and plans being made for evening activities.
On Wednesday afternoon we all took a coach to Amsterdam, to visit the Stedelijk Museum, with a rich collection of products, furniture, jewellery, and glass, as well as modern painting and sculpture. Then there was some free time, and some of us took a tram into the outskirts to visit an exhibition on the works of Pixar Studios – certainly not a particularly Dutch exhibition, but a wonderful collection of the original drawings and models of all of their films. This got the students very excited, with a clear link for them between the pencil sketches and coloured illustrations, and the techniques they are learning to use as product designers. Some of us stayed on into the evening, enjoying the rich culture of the city before finding our own way back to Zwolle by train.
Then, suddenly, it was Friday morning, and teams were grouped together in the coach, practicing their presentations, even finishing slideshows as we drove. This is the mobile, “just in time”, generation, armed with today’s tools, and ready to hit the ground running. They put on fifteen presentations that morning to a jury of three senior people from Philips who showed considerable interest, and asked a lot of pertinent questions. They finally selected two teams and handed out some Philips products as prizes. They were impressed by the quality of analysis and creativity for such a short project. Their questions were more about how to make things work, than why they were designed that way, which gives a good indication that they were thinking forwards, rather than being critical.
Presentations are hard work, so we were all pretty tired by the time we got back to Zwolle for a buffet lunch laid on by the school. There were some speeches, and more prizes, and lots of conversations about new projects for next year.
There were sad faces as we left early on Saturday morning. I don’t think this will be the last we hear of or relationship with Windesheim.
Course leader for the BTS in Product Design
(Photo credits : Catherine Lucas DP2)