Cumulus is a unique international association of universities and colleges of Art, Design and Media. The President of the network, Mr. GUELLERIN, explains us the shift being driven by designers, design schools and Cumulus.


1.Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of Cumulus. Tell us how it has been started.

Cumulus, the European Association of Universities and Colleges of Art, Design and Media, was initiated in 1990 with great enthusiasm with the University of Art and Design Helsinki and the Royal College of Art in London. Initially, it brought together a group of six prominent Art and Design institutions: the University of Art and Design Helsinki TAIK (in 2010 Aalto University School of Art and Design); the Royal College of Art London; Danmarks Designskole Copenhagen; Gerrit Rietveld Accademie Amsterdam; Universität Duisburg-Essen; and Universität Angewandte Kunst in Wien.

We understood from the very beginning that this team had to have a name. It was in 1992 that Professor Peik Suyling from Gerrit Rietveld Academy invented the name for this new family: Cumulus.

The six initial members all had a common desire to enhance the quality of education through cooperation, and student and teacher exchange within the European Union Erasmus program*. Erasmus was a good tool to keep the collaboration going. The aim of Cumulus was to create a forum of educational institutions with programs covering broad and diversified fields including art, art education, and design and media disciplines. A wide and diversified forum of exchange and cooperation is still one of our most important aims today. Cumulus concentrates on issues related to innovation and sustainability in education and research as well as methods, quality and standards. It is an important “academic voice” for design, art and media in the world.

Today, Cumulus is the only international organization dedicated to design, art and media bringing together 178 schools. It represents nearly 350,000 students and 30,000 teachers in 44 countries.

*Erasmus program: EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students.


Designers at Cumulus Belgium 2011

2.How do schools react when you introduce Cumulus ?

They generally appreciate how easy it is for them to become a part of this network. Cumulus organizes two forums per year: one in Europe and another outside of Europe. These meetings which are hosted by one of the members offer a great opportunity for active or candidate members to gather in one place, to exchange with students, teachers and program experts to work together on the development and internationalisation strategies of their projects.

Cumulus does not impose a particular way of working. It suggests that the members work with the partner(s) of their choice. I think this openness is its strong point. It is based on a model of “economies of contribution”: they work on the topics they choose and Cumulus offers them opportunities to ‘meet the world’ for the best outcome. Cumulus does not have a ‘political’ model to define design, design education or design research as each culture and history can justify its teaching methods and creative disciplines. Cumulus is a true crossroads of ideas where everyone is free to walk. Thanks to the strong sense of common responsibility of our members, it works out very well offering enriching experiences to all of us. It enables us to seek a better future together.

3. Over the past 20 years, the social status of educational institutions and their environment has changed. What is the main objective of Cumulus today?

The responsibility of Cumulus has evolved as has that of designers. Designers’ involvement in managing social issues has become essential. We are living in a confusing time. Economic and industrial models are crumbling. Economists don’t seem able to propose solutions or predict the problems which developed countries face. As we saw in the report of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, business schools have also failed to produce experts who can provide solutions to calm stormy economic fronts lying ahead. But in fact, these factors lead to favourable conditions in design. Frustrated by the fear of tomorrow’s world, there is a yearning for new values, meanings, and on a greater level, hope for the future. There is a strong need for spirituality, even in the objects we use in daily life.

Schools of design, art and media have also evolved. They are more involved in various local issues. Many of them now focus on training creative professionals able to join companies or professional organizations for which innovation has become indispensable.

The major concern of schools nowadays is how to lead their students into the professional world; while that of the designers is how they can manage projects in which engineers, marketers, philosophers and artists all work together.


Cumulus Denver 2011

4. We need to extend the network beyond academic circle also include industry. What does Cumulus do in this area?

Many schools already provide educational programs that work in collaboration with industry. Design is about creation but it becomes innovation once it is face to face with economic realities. Our role is to mediate between creation and innovation, imagination and reality, social and economic problems. New Masters programs generally consist of “research-training-business” studies. It is about working transversely with engineering and business schools, universities specialized in human sciences as well as industries to jointly explore the possibilities for the future. Design can also be used to put economic development to work for humanity…

5. How does Cumulus see Social Design which we believe to be one of the key issues of today?

Engineering schools teach subjects which they consider essential to achieve progress and a better future. Business schools aim to create economic wealth. As for schools of design, they place humanity as the central issue: designers should contribute to building a future with greater happiness. It is therefore perfectly natural that social issues - how we will be living together tomorrow - are our main concerns today. Sustainable cities, aging populations, responsible innovation, ecology and the future of water are featured programs in all the schools. Our role is to promote the exchange of best teaching practices of these social issues.

As a response to the changing world, Cumulus initiated and signed the “Kyoto design declaration” on March 28, 2008 in Japan. This declaration received the support from prominent professional associations in the field of design like AIGA, ICSID, BEDA and EIDD. By signing this declaration, the members of Cumulus have committed to sharing global responsibility for building sustainable, human-centered and creative societies. It embodies the “social role” of design and designers.

6. What are other issues that you and Cumulus consider important?

Schools of design, art and media are engaged in all the major challenges that our societies face. Globalization, ecology, information technology are all subjects which designers need to consider in order to achieve sustainable design.

7. What are some of Cumulus' great achievements?

We have created a center to train students and help them build up their professional network. Also, we have just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ICOGRADA, an association bringing together professionals in graphic design and communication. Similarly, we will sign an agreement soon with BEDA, the Bureau of European Design Associations. This will ensure a certain harmony among our various activities, while also helping students to enter the professional world and to promote design more generally.

Aalto University has invited the 178 member institutions of Cumulus to meet in Helsinki, a World Design Capital 2012, in May of this year. And the following November, we will meet again in Chile, hosted by Duoc UC Instituto Profesional de Santiago.


Cumulus Denver 2011

8. Do you have a message to the Design21 community members around the world?

The French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas said, “Morals make us sorry for those who are hungry. Ethics oblige us to feed them.”

Designers must be aware of their new responsibilities.

Posted March 19, 2012