Why design at Malmö University is child’s play

Do we all take everything too seriously? Have we forgotten how much fun it was being a kid? Meet the Malmö University student forging a design career by thinking like a child.

Why design at Malmö University is child's play

There’s no more serious recognition for an international student in Sweden than the Swedish Institute’s Global Swede award for excellence in innovation and entrepreneurship.

But for designer Dariela Escobar, receiving the award in 2015 alongside the best and brightest of Sweden’s international students was a celebration of childlike thinking.

It was while working on a master’s degree project at Malmö University that Dariela was struck by the power of juxtaposing the playfulness of children with the mundanity of adulthood.

“We had to take a routine activity and make it fun and playful,” she explains.

“Our team chose buying groceries. There are all these games you can do to make shopping more fun, but we wanted to make the shopping experience more ridiculous, more embarrassing.”

The result was the gloriously-named Inglorious Baskets.

The students on the Interaction Design programme prototyped a pirate shopping basket which scans the product before making a funny comment.

“If you bought weak beer it would ask where its rum was! The speakers were loud, so everyone could hear it. To some extent it was attacking consumerism – people put things in their baskets and don’t even think about it.”

“It’s abusive game design, it is still fun, but you cross the limit a little, put people outside of their comfort zone – abusive, but fun!”

Dariela is in the second year of the Interaction Design Master’s Programme, but her child-centred approach to creativity has its origins in Mexico, where she grew up. 

As part of her bachelor’s degree, she started to work with orphaned children in Mexico City.

“It was very rewarding, but also very heart-breaking because the conditions were… not the best. But I realised it was so easy for me to connect with children, play with them and get them to talk with me.”

“I think my style of drawing has always had a childlike quality, like cartoony! I’ve found it is easier to design stuff for children than it was to design something very formal and serious.”

After graduating, Dariela spent four years travelling around the world as part of the AIESEC programme, which helps graduates find internships and opportunities abroad. Her jobs included illustration, design and photographic work – but she was never far from children.

Her travels also took her to Poland, where she again worked with orphaned children, and Norway where she used her creative and musical skills to help children seeking asylum integrate into a new society and culture.

When the time came to choose a master’s programme, Malmö was Dariela’s first choice.

“Partly because of location – it’s very close to Copenhagen and from there you can fly anywhere in Europe. But I had also heard that the interaction design programme is very famous in Malmö. I had heard many good things about innovation in Malmö and the number of patents registered here.”

While Dariela loves working with children, she praises the university for treating the students like adults:

“The grades are ‘pass’ and ‘fail’; because we’re designers, no one really cares about your grades when they are going to hire you; they care about your portfolio.”

“In many ways it makes you responsible for what you do, you’re a grown-up, you know what you do. If you really want to, you’ll figure it out, but you have to be a grown-up on your own, no one is behind you pushing you, telling you what to do.”

Doesn’t this contradict the philosophy of injecting life and design with a dose of childishness?

Dariela acknowledges that not everything should be fun.

“I do believe there is a risk in trying to say that everything can be playful, but for sure I think there are many things which adults can play more with.”

As part of her thesis, Dariela has been workshopping smell-based role play interaction. Her team at Malmö University devised a game which saw adults acting as witches and making potions.

“There are so many things that for an adult it is not normal to do,” she explains.

“And if you do, you always apologise for being childish.”

Dariela has just left Malmö for an internship in Finland. But when she returns to Malmö to complete her thesis, she plans to explore further the idea of getting adults to shed their inhibitions and engage in playful activities without being embarrassed.

“Because you’re an adult you’re not supposed to behave like a witch. How sad that this is something weird!”

Want to unlock your inner child and expand the limits of your creativity? Want an extraordinary career? Find out more about Malmö University's Interaction Design Master's Programme

More Malmö University stories on The Local

This article was produced by The Local in partnership with Malmö University. 


‘They feel conned’: Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules

Sweden's top universities are to call for doctoral students to be exempted from Sweden's tough new permanent residency rules, arguing that it will damage both academic standards and national competitiveness.

'They feel conned': Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules
At Lund Technical University, a majority of doctoral students are international. Photo: Kennet Ruona/LTU

In a post on Wednesday, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, the chair of Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions, said that Sweden’s universities had agreed to submit a joint letter to the government “very soon”, calling for parliament to put in place a special exemption for PHD students to make it easier to stay in Sweden after their studies. 

The parliament, she wrote, “should introduce an exemption for doctoral students and young researchers from the requirement to be financially self-sufficient”. 

Previously, doctoral students were eligible for a permanent residence permit if they had lived in Sweden with a residence permit for doctoral studies for four out of the past seven years. Apart from a slim set of requirements, this was granted more or less automatically.

But according to Sweden’s new Migration Act, which was introduced in July this year as comprehensive legislation to control the number of asylum applications, they now need to be able to additionally show that they can support themselves financially for at least a year and half.

The new law means that the rules for permanent residency are now the same for all categories of applicants, including doctoral students.

Stefan Bengtsson, the rector at Chalmers University of Technology, said that the change would mean as many as 400 to 500 doctoral students, many of whom have built up considerable expertise, might be unable to stay in Sweden.

“This makes for an uncertain future for those from outside of Europe who have applied to come to Sweden for an academic career, which is cause for great concern and disappointment among those who came here under other circumstances,” he told The Local. “Some of them may, of course, feel like they’ve been conned

But what was even more worrying, he said, would be the impact the change to the law might have in the longer term. 

“This change to the law could contribute to giving Sweden a bad reputation. This will create difficulties in recruiting internationally and damage our long-term skills supply.”


At Lund University, the majority of doctoral students in the science and technical faculties are from outside Europe, while Söderbergh Widding, who is also vice chancellor at Stockholm University, estimated that about half of doctoral students were international. 

Söderbergh Widding told the TT newswire that the change was “a devastating death blow”, which put to waste a “previously hard-won battle to make it possible for doctoral students to obtain a permanent residency permit after four years of studies”. 

She said in her letter that the change contradicted the research policy proposition from December 2020, which stated that the “number of foreign doctoral students who stay in Sweden should increase”, and said that giving residency to doctoral students was a good way to increase this.  

Ole Petter Ottersen, the rector of the elite Karolinska medical university, told the newswire that he thought the change in residency laws would damage Swedish competitiveness. 

“This is not good for Sweden. This will damage our ability to attract and recruit talent from other countries. For a country that lies on the periphery, the goal should be to make it easier, not harder, to recruit competence.”