Master's Programme in Design - Contemporary Design

What alternative materials can best replace plastic? How can traditional crafts be merged with contemporary design? What kind of products do we need in our changing society? The studies in Contemporary Design are driven by concrete, real-world needs. Students receive support not only to build their creative and professional confidence, but also to expand their thinking beyond conventional limitations, adopting an experimental design mindset.
Iittala Experimental Design Process




1.12.2021 – 3.1.2022




2 år, heltidsstudier


Lämplig lägre högskoleexamen


Det konstnärliga utbildningsområdet


120 studiepoäng


Högskolan för konst, design och arkitektur


€15000/år (magister studier) för studeranden från länder utanför EU/EES

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Contemporary Design

Contemporary Design (CoDe) is one of the three majors of the Master’s Programme in Design, others being Fashion, Clothing and Textile Design (FaCT) and Collaborative and Industrial Design (CoID). In addition, the Master’s Programme in Design collaborates closely with the Master’s Programmes in Creative Sustainability (CS) and International Design Business Management (IDBM). All are two-year programmes, whereby students graduate with a Master of Arts degree in Design.

The Contemporary Design study option educates sensitive and visionary students who have skills to propose radical solutions and responsible innovations for the future. The teaching methods place the most value on the creative process, without any predetermined outcome. We believe that the most radically creative solutions arise from freedom of expression. The end result can be anything from pure art to a functional object.  

Aalto University is now ranked 6th in the world in the field of art and design by QS World University Ranking. The world-class teaching and facilities ensure that, upon graduating from the study option, graduates are able to:

•    Execute material productions and experiments that demonstrate strong practical design skills
•    Reflect critically established design traditions and innovate in emerging fields of design
•    Implement new technologies and materials in their artistic and design practices
•    Display strong artistic practice with an ability to argue for its relevance with research-based reasoning
•    Exhibit and promote their work and explain their position as part of a wider societal, cultural and commercial context
•    Carry out collaboration with partners from societal, cultural and commercial fields
•    Create future oriented products, services and systems as a member of a multidisciplinary or trans-disciplinary team and/or as an individual designer
•    Combine creativity, curiosity, continuous renewal and expression with analytical skills and practice
•    Understand how to lead and communicate design-driven, often complex processes with empathy, critical thinking and research-founded reasoning
•    Comprehend how design contributes to socio-material transformations for a sustainable future
•    Undertake design research to build knowledge to support and justify the practical work, and to possibly apply for education leading to a Doctor of Arts degree


Languages of instruction

In the Contemporary Design studies, the language of instruction is English.

Structure of the studies

Overall, the Master’s in Design – Contemporary Design comprises a total of 120 ECTS credits.  Main compulsory studies are selected from the major’s study offering. Students will also participate in joint studies of the Department of Design (12 ECTS) and will produce a thesis project around a design subject (30 ECTS).  In addition, students choose elective studies according to their Personal Study Plan.

For further information, see our Study Guide 2022-2024

Tracks / majors within the programme

The first year introduces students to the contemporary design culture and critical design practices, taking into account its societal and environmental impact. Students will also explore different materials, including biomaterials. As the studies evolve, students will develop their competences with material-specific design, such as ceramics, glass or wood.

The Contemporary Design study option has a small annual intake of students, assuring that each student receives individual guidance and attention. As for the Master’s thesis, students have a variety of approaches to complete the thesis. It may be a piece of theoretical, artistic or applied research, a work of art or a combination of these. The thesis may also include a production component, for instance, a design, a work of art, an exhibition, or project. Theses always include a written component.


Upon joining Aalto University, students are welcomed to an international community of
competent, creative and responsible individuals. 15% of the students and 40% of the faculty in the University come from across the world, bridging students with the global design network. The School of Arts, Design and Architecture has strong connections to other leading design schools and universities across the globe. Students are encouraged to apply for internships and exchange studies as well as gain experience by taking part in international competitions, exhibitions, conferences and trade fairs to further enrich their personal learning path. In addition, the Contemporary Design study option has an ongoing dialogue with exciting international brands.

Post graduate opportunities

The Master's programme in Design – Contemporary Design at Aalto is considered a great foundation for doctoral studies and post-doc positions.

Career opportunities

Design plays a pivotal role in the world we live in. From designing engaging experiences to the furnishings of our homes, we interact with designed objects and systems on a daily basis. With technology rapidly shaping the parameters and boundaries of the field, contemporary design is an incredibly diverse and exciting area to work in.

The Master’s studies prepare graduates to advance their professional careers towards their personal areas of interest and specialisation. The Contemporary Design studies support the graduate in pursuing a career as a creative entrepreneur following one’s strong artistic vision and/or as a member of a collective or start-up together with others. The graduate is prepared to work in teams and projects in collaboration with companies, organisations and the public sector. The graduate may also continue to develop their design excellence and research skills through doctoral studies.

Focus areas of research

Design research at the School of Arts, Design and Architecture is at the international forefront of sustainable design, practice-based design research, human-centered design and co-design. Our research environment and culture enable goal-oriented research, imaginative experiments, critical discussion, and transdisciplinary collaboration.

The Contemporary Design studies are strongly linked to different research groups. Prominent themes include design’s social and environmental responsibility, and conceptual and expressive possibilities of different materials. An example of a recent research project that received international visibility is Working with Soil, addressing the ecological consequences of the human footprint through ceramic art. The project culminated in an exhibition at the Research Pavilion organised parallel to the Venice Biennale during summer 2019.


Multidisciplinary opportunities

Multidisciplinary collaboration between the six Aalto University schools is extensive. The School of Arts, Design and Architecture has a long tradition of successfully collaborating with external partners in projects and courses and nurture close relationships with a number of external stakeholders. Companies, research institutes, for profit, not-for-profit and public organizations frequently reach out to Aalto University as one of the leading design schools in Europe to work with students on real-world societal problems and business opportunities.

Collaboration with innovative brands and key players in the art industry is deeply integrated into the studies. It is not unusual that students’ works are acquired by companies or that their theses attract industry interest. Examples of brands that the programme has recently collaborated with include Nike, Arabia, and Coca-Cola. There is also an ongoing dialogue with major museums in Finland, and students will get an invaluable exhibition experience throughout their studies.

Aalto University is well-known for bridging disciplines of business, arts, technology and science. For many students, this kind of groundbreaking collaboration is the highlight of the studies. An example of a radically creative collaboration is CHEMARTS, an initiative bringing two Aalto University schools, The School of Chemical Engineering (CHEM) and The School of Arts, Design and Architecture (ARTS) together. Students of the two schools merge their forces with the aim to invent new ways to harness biomaterials for innovative uses.


Irene Purasachit saw the floral industry’s waste problem firsthand – now she makes material for handbags from discarded blooms

Nearly half of cut flowers end up in the trash, never making their way to dinner tables or first dates

Tutustu Irenen tarinaan
Flower clutch

Study-option-specific Admission Procedure and Evaluation Criteria

(Updated 28.10.2021)

Applicants meeting Aalto’s general eligibility criteria for master's studies will be evaluated and ranked according to the evaluation criteria that has been decided in advance for each study option. The applications to Master’s Programme in Contemporary Design (CoDe) will be evaluated based on the following criteria.

Phase I

Artistic and/or design practice

Assessed area

Demonstrations of artistic and/or design work or assignments

Admission requirements


Skills in relevant area of design; Quality of the creative work including conceptual strength, visualization and communication of the concepts; Courage to explore relevant topics and engagement with materiality.

Method of demonstrating competence



Relevance of previous studies

Assessed area

Content and quantity in relation to the applied study-option-specific requirements

Admission requirements


Completion of adequate undergraduate courses and degree

Method of demonstrating competence

Transcript(s) of records, degree certificate(s)



Assessed area

Applicant’s further suitability to the study option, motivation, and commitment for studies/communication skills

Admission requirements


Motivation letter:

Appropriate mindset for the studies: willingness to collaborate and take risks when exploring new procedures, techniques and materialities for the future; Ability, fluency and clarity in written English

Method of demonstrating competence

Motivation letter


Other areas of competence

Assessed area

Work experience and other acquired knowledge/achievements e.g. publications, non-formal education, competitions

Admission requirements


Basic skills in some design field; Working experience; Art, craft and design related activities

Method of demonstrating competence

Curriculum vitae


Phase II


Assessed area

Applicant’s further suitability to the study option, motivation, and commitment for studies/communication skills

Admission requirements


Passion to both deepen and broaden the already existing knowledge; Willingness to engage in critical thinking and to find one’s own path to contribute to the field of design; Interest in the social and ecological context of design; Ability to communicate fluently in spoken English.

Method of demonstrating competence



Evaluation process

The applicants will be first evaluated based on Aalto’s general eligibility requirements. Applicants meeting the general eligibility criteria for master's studies will be evaluated and ranked according to the evaluation criteria decided in advance for each study option.

The selection process for applicants who meet the general eligibility criteria comprises of two phases.

Phase I

In Phase I, the applications are evaluated based on the following criteria

  • Artistic and/or design practice
  • Relevance of previous studies
  • Other areas of competence
  • Suitability/Motivation letter

Only the applicants who fulfill the requirements/are ranked highest in the preliminary evaluation will be invited to phase II in the selection process.

Phase II

In Phase II, the evaluation is based on the following criteria

  • Suitability/Interview

Part of the applicants are invited to Phase II. The invitation to Phase II will be send to the applicants at latest 7 days in advance. The second phase consist of a face-to-face interview, which can be conducted over Skype or telephone if necessary.

After the evaluation conducted in Phase II, the best applicants will be selected based on the joint evaluation from Phases I and II.

Study-option-specific documents requested

The documents requested from all applicants are listed on the Aalto University website (https://www.aalto.fi/en/study-at-aalto/applying-to-masters-programmes). In addition, applicants to this study option are requested to provide the following study-option-specific documents:

  • Portfolio. The document should not exceed 25 pages and can be at maximum 1.0 GB. The lack of this application document will adversely affect the evaluation of your application.
  • Motivation letter. The letter should not exceed the limit of one page (Times New Roman, 12 point). The lack of this application document will adversely affect the evaluation of your application.
  • CV


In the portfolio, applicants display work that shows their artistic expression and design skills. The portfolio must contain diverse samples of the applicant’s previous artistic, professional and/or scientific activity.

The portfolio can include illustrations, drawings, photographs and technical drawings. The works that are displayed in the portfolio must be catalogued, listing at least the title and/or theme, materials used, size, purpose and year of completion of each piece. The catalogue must also detail where and when the work has been exhibited, displayed or published and whether the work is based on individual or group work. The contribution of the applicant in the work should be stated in case the work has been completed in a group. The applicant’s name, address and phone number and the degree programme applied for must be indicated clearly in the portfolio.

The portfolio should be uploaded as a single PDF-file. Maximum size for the portfolio is 1.0 GB. Name the file as: Portfolio-surname-firstname.pdf.If your portfolio contains password protected video links, include the password(s) in your portfolio. If a portfolio is not uploaded to the online application form by the deadline, the application will be rejected.

The intake committee will only evaluate the material displayed in the PDF-file. Links to external material, such as website, or videos will not be considered during the intake process.

Motivation letter

In the motivation letter the applicant should explain the reasons for applying to Contemporary Design Programme. The letter should also indicate what are the main and particular areas of interests in the field as well as goals and expectations for the studies to be completed in the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture. The applicant can describe his/her strengths and interests, as well as vision of art and design, aspects related to work and creative goals.


The application must include the applicant’s CV with personal data, educational background, work experience, exhibitions, publications and articles, awards and grants, study trips and positions of trust.

Language of application documents

The application documents must be submitted in English.

Contact details

Head of the study programme, professor Maarit Mäkelä; Coordinator of the Study programme Mervi Palva. Further information about the programme and contact information: https://www.aalto.fi/en/contemporary-design

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