Intelligent by design

Jochen Schweitzer. Picture by Joanne Saad

Jochen Schweitzer. Picture by Joanne Saad

In summary: 
  • GroundBreaker is one of u.lab’s new initiatives aimed at tackling innovation problems through a multi-faceted approach
  • u.lab aims to explore and build new tools for innovative collaborations and provides a framework to tackle problems through multi-faceted activities

Object: Australian Centre for Design at Surry Hills is host to UTS u.lab’s GroundBreaker Collective of Design Driven Innovation. The program, which is open to the public, incorporates forums, lectures and workshops.

Since it opened in June 2012, GroundBreaker has already explored topics like why Australia needs an innovation agenda and how design thinking may fit into policy making.

According to u.lab co-founder and Senior Lecturer in the UTS Business School Jochen Schweitzer, the initiative aims to explore and build new tools of collaborative innovation and provides a framework to tackle innovation problems through multi-faceted activities. “It’s a way of engaging with different stakeholders that are involved with a problem, or an innovation challenge.”

GroundBreaker is just one of u.lab’s emerging range of initiatives. U.lab, which was set up by Schweitzer, the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building’s Joanne Jakovich and Julie Jupp, the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology’s Wayne Brookes and Nathan Kirchner, and fellow UTS Business School academics Melissa Edwards and Natalia Nikolova, is itself a testament to the power of collaboration.

“We use what’s commonly known as ‘design thinking’ as a methodology that underlies our programs.” 

The concept, which is famously used at institutions like Stanford University, involves a human-centred perspective and collaboration that applies multi-disciplinary approaches to achieve action on real world issues. 

Schweitzer says u.lab’s programs are a veritable breeding ground for creative ideas, encouraging collaboration between students, academics, industry and the community.

“We promote inter- and multi-disciplinary work, so we really like to attract students from all different faculties.”

One way u.lab does this is through the Entrepreneurship Lab – a one-semester subject currently offered to UTS postgraduate students. Here, mixed student teams are provided with a brief and work on a creative business proposal they present to external industry experts and local entrepreneurs.

“Using design thinking, this subject helps students understand the needs of the user; to apply creative ways to come up with solutions, and to work through various iterations of the problem solving process,” says Schweitzer. 

“Prototyping is very important because it makes conceptual ideas tangible and helps students to identify user needs as well as test and improve their ideas.”

Picture supplied by u:lab

Schweitzer also cites the ability to receive ongoing feedback and being allowed to “fail and do again” as being crucial elements of the design thinking experience that are incorporated into the u.lab programs.

With GroundBreaker as the newest u.lab project, Jakovich says the benefits are threefold – from a research perspective it provides a case study of design thinking in action; from a participating organisation perspective it assists to tackle a real innovation challenge, and it increases community involvement by including the public in the process and discussion around the purposes and applications of design-driven innovation.  

Schweitzer and Jackovich hope it will assist attendees to develop new and effective solutions for the problems their organisations face. Including those faced by UTS.

Jackovich says, “Our vision for u.lab is that it becomes an established part of the university. At the moment it’s in prototype mode.

“U.lab could play a role in helping the university move towards the innovation agenda it has in research, teaching and engagement with industry.

“Design thinking is a method of deeply understanding human needs. As an approach to innovation it’s highly relevant because it’s not a replacement for current approaches, it’s an additional approach organisations could use to do better.”