Rachel K. B. Troye, Head of the Institute of Design at AHO, tells us about their programmes, what forces have shaped these, and what her and her colleagues aspire to for their students and for the world.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the Institute and its guiding principles?

The Institute of Design at AHO is the oldest industrial design study programme in Norway and celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013. In 1996 that programme merged with the Oslo School of Architecture, later to be rebranded as The Oslo School of Architecture and Design. Our design education includes a five year Master programme that allows for specializations in either industrial, interaction or service design, or a hybrid of these. Systems Oriented Design methodologies are applied across these domains. Research and education are closely linked as well as collaboration with national and international industry and public service providers. Our perspective is that good design creates aesthetic and functional products, services and experiences that delight and improve the lives of people.

Our official vision at The Institute of Design is “Shaping Futures”. This implies we have a clear agenda to educate designers of the future, and to provide them with both strong professional and research based foundations, but also influence how this future itself is configured. This is quite a bold and ambitious vision that arguably goes beyond attempts to be the “leader of the contemporary mainstream” and far beyond merely being its follower.  However, how that really unfolds in our everyday practice is central to ongoing debate and it’s obviously also rather a vision than a description of what we’ve already achieved.

Q: Within the design programme, how does AHO prepare students for the specific demands of industrial design in Norway while making sure they are also well equipped to be a part of the global design community?

Seen from an outside perspective, Norway, with its special national characteristics, really seems to have influenced both the demand and the education at the Institute of Design at AHO. Initially, some 30 years ago, the explicit goal was to “train professionals to design consumer goods for Norwegian industry”. Behind that focus was an ambition to create value for, and contribute to, Norwegian industry’s competitive advantage on an international market. One needs to acknowledge that Norway is quite a small country—approximate population 5 million, with just over half a million in the capital, Oslo—with a relatively limited consumer goods production. Instead, it historically depends much more on marine industries (like shipping and fishery) and energy dependent processes industries (such as fertilizer and aluminium). Since the oil industry became important a few decades ago, Norway has become a wealthy country that further has developed its long history of being quite an international society, perhaps due to its small population combined with its shipping industry.

On one hand, for design it may be argued that historically this led to dependence on the few domestic consumer product companies available (centred on sports, furniture and welfare), and, on the other hand an eagerness and also ability for a more international influence and outreach (for example, explaining our membership in Icsid and Cumulus).

As a consequence, at the Institute of Design at AHO we have quite an international faculty and our students often spend periods abroad at other design schools and quite often also establish professional careers outside Norway. More recently, and partly due to external research funding, products and services within health and marine industries are also becoming more and more influential to both our research and our education.

Q: Would you tell us a little about how interdisciplinary training factors into AHO’s design programme?

Up to 2009 we were named The Institute of Industrial Design, and we offered a Master of Industrial Design. Yet, as for many others (and like Icsid now becoming WDO), during the preceding years we added Interaction and Service Design as specializations. This created a situation that became a bit uncomfortable for both design educators and researchers who primarily identify themselves as industrial designers and for those who don’t really do that any more.

In 2014 we transformed our curriculum and our degree into a Master of Design. We do really try to nurture diversity and both embrace and promote interdisciplinary settings. We aim to educate adaptive experts and strive to develop a broadly integrated approach to design processes including collaborative skills and tools to integrate multiple stakeholders. We do this while we struggle to make every student—in only 5 years!—proficient enough in their own chosen specialization. Unfortunately, and in spite of attempts to cooperate closely with other relevant educational programmes outside our institute’s design traditions (e.g. engineering and business), it has been hard to forge real and lasting links. We continue to be open to these, as has most recently been shown in the expansion of teaching and research, along with cooperation in interaction and service design with commercial companies and also with the public sector, particularly health.

aho_3SunCooler is a portable, solar powered cooler for off-grid areas and aims to tackle the issue of unsafe food. Designed by students Heidi Hoen and Taral Jansen in collaboration with K8 Industridesign as part of a first semester Master Studio.

If—perhaps through Icsid—we could find schools internationally with complementary disciplinary skills or other context experience, we’d be very open to collaborate and to work flexibly for closer research and educational cooperation. In fact, we already have initiated that kind of cooperation with some design schools within topics like Sustainability and Development, with CPUT in Cape Town and StAD in Nairobi, and in doctoral design education with RMIT in Melbourne.

Q: Would you tell us a little about the work of the Institute of Design’s Centre for Design Research?

Our Centre for Design Research is a ‘virtual centre’ comprising different research projects, from quite big multi-million dollar externally financed projects to small individual PhD projects. At present, the biggest projects are typically funded from the Research Council in Norway (RCN) within the interaction and technology, marine, health, and public sector domains and design research and scholarly design based communication. We have also received smaller research funds together with CPUT in Cape Town with design, climate change, and development as the overarching topic, as well as that relating to practice based inquiry in the creative industries and arts.

In addition, we work through network structures in Systems Oriented Design having founded a leading international conference with online resources and publications. We continue to search for additional funding opportunities on global issues such as climate change and sustainability where institutions from the Global North and Global South cooperate. We encourage everyone to browse our portfolio of projects, events, and outcomes.


The Ark is a self-drifting, floatin greenhouse designed to produce food for cities. The prototype is inspired by the way Kenyans treat food, not requiring transportation because they farm what’s needed, wherever they are. The Ark recreates this scenario but within an urban, Northern Hemisphere context. Designed by student Jonas Berglund Aalberg as part of a first semester Master Studio.

Q: What exciting projects/opportunities do you see for AHO and its design programme in the next few years?

Together with my colleagues, we see a need to continue to work—together with other disciplines—on matters relating to sustainability, climate change and global fair development that promotes a transition to a society that neither threatens humanity nor any other species on the one and only planet we have. Even though at times this also really feels ‘exciting’, we feel that these are matters of utmost importance and most likely ones that will only grow in both urgency and importance.

We really hope that Icsid can play a pivotal role in facing and working to meet such global challenges, and to really use its extensive resources to promote a global design community that seriously gives primacy to well being and perhaps even survival of not only ourselves, but also future generations.


About Rachel K. B. Troye
Rachel is Head of the Institute of Design at AHO as of January 2012. She is also Pro-Rector with responsibility for branding and communication for AHO. As professor, she teaches visual communication, brand identity design, and design management at AHO as well as other design schools in Norway. She has also initiated and conducted several interdisciplinary projects across the School such as the AHO WORKS EXHIBITIONS, and is editor of the AHO WORKS STUDIES series of publications.

In addition to her extensive international work experience, she holds positions as sensor, lecturer, board and jury member, and is on several advisory boards. Her genuine concern is design’s potential to improve life, its potential for innovation and ability to create value for people, planet, and profit. She holds a Bachelor of Psychology from Duke University in North Carolina (USA) and a Bachelor «Honours» in Graphic Design from The London College of Printing.

Tags: ,