On the one hand, the various specialisations of the faculty of Industrial Design meant a deepening of research and teaching. On the other, the broad scope failed to fully achieve the old ideal of an integral approach to design. The all-rounder who, to a certain extent, matched his studies to his preferences and talents turned out to be the same ideal type that had once also been sought in design itself, but only rarely found. From 1994 onwards, students had to make two important choices during their studies: a choice between product development and innovation management in the course of the third year, followed by a choice between practice and research.
Partly due to the steadily growing student numbers, the departments were able to appoint more lecturers and professors. This resulted in specialised research programmes. From the 1980s, for example, a considerable amount of attention was paid to product sustainability, thanks to the appointment of Han Brezet and later Ab Stevels as professors in this area. Almost as a counterweight to functional thinking on engineering and the impact of mechanical engineering on the programme’s profile in the initial years, interest also developed in the working of semantics, which was investigated by the psychologist Gerda Smets and her research group.
The growth and notable success of Industrial Design led to several far-reaching reorganisations. In 1999 the old, four-part ‘clover-shaped’ model was replaced by a three-department structure. At the university level, too, the Executive Board was pushing for simplification and amalgamations. From 1997, a merger was pushed through with the cash-strapped faculty of Mechanical Engineering, creating the large faculty of Design, Construction and Production (OCP). This merger was reversed in 2004, however, as it had hardly produced any collaboration. The faculty of Industrial Design then became independent again.
“A catch-up effort was transformed into a head start”
This broad approach, combined with the many opportunities within the degree programme and the ambition to train all-round design engineers, attracted significant international interest during this period. What had begun in Van der Grinten’s time as a catch-up effort to prevent the Netherlands from falling behind now seemed to have been transformed into a head start, reflected in great interest from and sometimes imitation by foreign institutions. By this time, the school had existed for two decades and had built up a network of self-trained design engineers who had enjoyed careers in commercial practice and other expert institutions. In 1986, two of them would return as professors: the young professor of Management and Organisation of Product Development Jan Buijs came from TNO, and the professor of Industrial Design Jan Jacobs had been chief designer at Gispen, the office furniture manufacturer.