A decade of international design education
A decade of international design education

It started, like many great ideas in higher education, over a lively, collegial meal. One evening, more than 10 years ago, Philip Burton, Professor and Founding Chair, Graphic Design, had dinner with Michael Renner, Director of the Basel School of Design’s Visual Communication Institute, and Marcia Lausen, now Director of UIC's School of Design. Burton recalls, “Michael is Swiss, and like me, he studied at the Basel School of Design.” After graduation, Renner lived in the United States and worked for Apple, and by this time he had taken over the helm of the famous institute. As the three of them dined, they shared institu-tional aspirations, and Renner mentioned that he had ambitions to offer a master’s degree. “He wanted the Basel School to be the first in Switzerland to offer such a degree,” says Burton, “and right then and there, Marcia made the commitment to do all she could to make the degree happen in partnership with UIC.” Lausen saw the initiative as mutually beneficial: “Basel would acquire an internationally accred-ited master’s degree, and UIC Design would extend its global presence.”

Today the UIC International Master of Design delivered at HGK Basel is a seminal program of the UIC's School of Design. Students in the Graphic Design MDes program study either in Chicago or in Basel, and faculty from both locations review student work. To enhance the exchange between the two locations, Chicago stu-dents attend Basel summer workshops each year (where their adventures include floating down the Rhine and exploring European art and culture). Burton says, “They come back transformed. In Basel they are in the hands of different teachers who develop well-constructed projects, and the city is so beautiful and culturally rich.” Basel students and faculty also visit UIC every other spring, when they undertake a joint project with the Chicago students; participate in workshops, thesis reviews, and public lectures; and take field trips to places such as Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and Chicago design studios and museums. This international exchange is thus woven into the fabric of UIC’s graduate design programs. Lausen points out that the Basel program is among the ways that UIC School of Design earns its reputation for being on the vanguard. “With a commitment to traditions that honor the individual designer, we have extended this joint program into areas of interdisciplinary design, advanced image research, and evolving technologies,” she says.

With founding faculty members such as the great Swiss typographer Emil Ruder (1917–1970) and the legendary graphic designer Armin Hofmann (b. 1920), in addition to Renner’s ongoing stewardship, the Basel School of Design shares with UIC a legacy of both rigorous training and pioneering invention. UIC’s design students gain exposure to the process-driven and experimental methodologies for which the Basel School has become renowned. “It would be one thing for us to say we want to have a foothold in a school in a foreign country,” says Burton, “but that’s not what this is. It’s two excellent schools that are seeking, in whatever way they can, to join their curricula for the benefit of the students.”

Photo courtesy of Lucía de Mosteyrín.