Howest is a university of applied sciences with four campuses in Flanders (Kortrijk and Bruges), the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium. It’s well known for an interdisciplinary approach to learning and research and close collaboration with industry and the social sector. Two world class programs make design central to their approach.

Senior projects are on display in June in the Industrial Product Design building (as you can see in the feature image above). Dean Ronald Bastiaens explains the user-oriented process that results in working prototypes. He points to examples of how work progresses from freshman year to sophisticated market-ready senior projects.

With 350 undergraduates and 150 graduate students, the Industrial Product Design program serves small and medium businesses in Western Europe.

Classes, offered in English and Dutch, include many different kinds of fabrication with areas of focus including prototyping, low volume production, and products for the disabled.

To help secondary teachers incorporate design focused project into their curriculum, Bastiaens’ team developed a STEAMkit with a game board (above) that plots project duration (short to long) and ownership (teacher to students directed). Cards represent project elements and phases help create a visual representation of the project for planning and mentoring.

The Best Game School

Howest school of Digital Arts and Entertainment (DAE) provides a three-year degree program for 900 students. Majors include film (3D production & VFX), game graphics and game development (mainstream and indie). The Rookies, an annual awards sponsored by Autodesk, called Howest the best game school in the world–by a wide margin.

Howest alumni work for the best game and entertainment companies worldwide. A few return to teach. Clips of alumni work product is a list of top selling games.

Howest is open admission for Belgian students (about 70% of total) so strong academic supports including tutoring and weekly study nights are required for student success. They also offer a creativity week and study visits to the US, UK, and Japan.

There are some lectures but a lot of lab hours. Students specialize from day one. “We’re very practice based,” said Kristen Balcaen, Director of DAE Global. Like industrial design, classes are offered in Dutch and English.

“We make students work really really hard,” said Balcaen. “We get away with it because they love it.”

The program includes four semesters of classes. Second year students work in teams of five to create their own game or short film in no more than 3 days. The fifth semester is a project that focuses on skill integration, teamwork, and delivering on a deadline. The sixth semester is an internship.

Each year in October, when seniors are looking for internships, there is a big job fair on campus where leading global employers come and give presentations. Every Tuesday, companies are invited to give presentations to DAE students and staff.

Degrees still matter in game design but the sector is becoming more competency-based. DAE backmaps from entry jobs at top employers every three years to maintain employment relevance. They scout job openings on an ongoing basis to assess required competencies.

All DAE students build a portfolio of their best work starting year two as they begin to specialize.

While there is a shift to more DIY learning in programming, the combination of art and production that makes the Howest program so successful would be hard to replicate learning on your own, said dean Rik Leenknegt (below).

Supporting Student Design

In addition to a design focus, both Howest schools share a commitment to outreach to elementary and secondary schools. Both Industrial Product Design and DAE have been for many years, partnering with the MyMachine Global Foundation.  

MyMachine is a unique and multi-awarded methodology that unites students from all educational levels to bring to life dream machine ideas invented by elementary school children.

College students are key to the MyMachine program–they help the children inventors to translate their idea into a product concept before they go to technical secondary schools that will actually build them.

Howest product design students help the elementary students turn their ideas into tangible small or large products. DAE students translate ideas into computer games.

MyMachine started in Kortrijk with Howest as the pioneering partner and has gone on to set up global chapters and win the United Nations World Summit Award (see feature).

Belgians take their pomme frites (otherwise known as French fries) seriously. The twice-fried delicacies are served with mayonnaise (not ketchup) and are as ubiquitous as Belgian flags after a World Cup win. Howest and MyMachine are making design thinking as common in Belgian schools as Frites are on dinner tables.  

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This post was originally published on Forbes.


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