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Magazine Design | 15 Sep 2016



A concept of expanded education, covering not only learning about design, but also reflection on the practice and teaching of the subject; a permanent openness to the community; an enlargement of the notion of the classroom far beyond its physical confines; partnerships with many institutions and focusing efforts of building up a vast network of international contacts – these are some of the guiding principles behind the teaching given by the Escola Superior de Artes e Design [ESAD]. Thanks to these distinctive components, ESAD students acquire the tools, knowhow and ability to reflect, which make them not only capable of thinking up and creating tangible or intangible objects, but also of participating in reality, transforming it culturally, politically and socially.

Over the last 27 years, ESAD has made its mark by combining education with an ambitious scientific and social project. Is this “expanded” teaching what sets ESAD apart from other institutions teaching design in Portugal?

A: When ESAD was founded, in 1989, the main thing setting it apart had to do with better preparing students from a technological point of view. We were going through the moment of transition to digital and the school invested in IT, in equipment and in the choice of teaching staff. With the evolution of ESAD – and 2001 is a key moment, given that the school was highly involved with ‘Oporto, Capital of Culture’ –, the institution has concerned itself not only with teaching design, but also with reflecting on the teaching itself. Later on, the school was promoted, in particular through open-door activities to the community. Over the last 15 years ESAD has focused on consolidating its prestige, through scientific research, social innovation, projects in partnership with a series of cultural and municipal institutions. Our relationship with the Matosinhos Municipal Council is very important, not only for the opportunities it creates for the school, but also for the way it allows us to work on a city scale. This is an essential factor, because teaching design cannot fit into predefined models. It should rather value a critical dimension, which is more factual when students leave the classroom, and face effective problems, and are forced to develop strategies to study them. 

Q: The idea of classroom as space of experimentation is also a feature of ESAD’s teaching style. Is there no creativity without experimentation?

A: Without experimentation, creativity becomes conditioned and the way you think through doing becomes watered down. Saul Bass, US designer, when reflecting on communication design, gave the following definition: “Design is thinking made visual”. It is a thought process that becomes something you can see. And this dimension of thought in design is made experimentally. There is a saying from a Pre-Socratic philosopher, Anaxagoras, which refers to thinking with your hands. In design you don’t just think with your hands, but you do think a lot with your hands, and you think a lot through this handiwork, this experimentation with materials, this testing of solutions. The laboratorial dimension is therefore decisive.

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Text: Paula Monteiro
Photos: Orlando Fonseca and ESAD


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