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