In-house design teams for disruptive innovation in large companies

A challenging, in-company learning experience for design students

SHORT DESCRIPTION

This educational approach is aimed to further develop the skills and competencies design students need for their future career. A real-life experience is created by placing design student teams in a company.

The student teams from the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at Delft Technical University follow a six months design process based on assignments addressing real business needs. The students are asked to deliver disruptive product or service concepts, either based on promising market trends or upcoming new technological areas.
Through this set up students experience how to operate as a design team / designer in a real-life context which enables them to reflect on how to deal with certain challenges in practice. For example, they develop their concepts within the marketing- and cost boundaries and realise that the “free design principle” as taught at the University cannot always be applied directly into the real world.  

Moreover, they are in close contact with different disciplines of the company itself. Therefore, they often need to make their way of working (e.g. their design process) clear to the company and need to explain their added value. This teaches them how to more clearly position themselves to the other disciplines.

 Apart from creating a real-life experience for the students, the aim is to stimulate them do think critically about the company and their project. Therefore, the students are given the autonomy to organize their own design process, to think critically about their outcomes and to act as a stand-alone innovation team. In that way, they learn to deal with both the company stakeholders’ opinions, and their own beliefs. For this reason, these projects might differ from regular and individual internships in which students often do not get such freedom. 

This experience has added value over design students who perform similar challenges but are located at TU Delft or doing a regular internship. Their contacts within the organisation are more frequent and intense compared to students who perform such projects located at the TU Delft. In addition, the autonomous and independent character of the projects make the experience different from most internships.   

OBJECTIVE

This innovation aims to:

Provide design students the experience to work as a design team / designer in a large company.  

Develop skills and competences of design students needed for their future career

Experience the challenges in practice when following a design process as taught at the University

Step out of their student comfort zone and step into the real world.

STRONG POINTS

Students learn how to work with other disciplines, like R&D, Marketing and Supply Chain

The design teams consist of a mix of different master disciplines: design for interaction, integrated product design and strategic product design (all covering a different phase of the design process). Therefore, the students learn about the methods used in other design disciplines during this course.

Students learn that designers can be vulnerable, as it is easy to provide negative feedback on a (disruptive) design. They learn how to cope with this and to get equipped for these challenges in the real world!

Students learn more about how companies are organised

The added value of the design approach and the potential role of designers in a company becomes clearer to the students. During the course students experience that using the design process as taught at the University is different compared to the working processes used in the company. This leads to an improved self-awareness.

Students learn that when designing for the future in the context of a company, it is important that they consider the challenges of integrating their concepts into the company. In that way, they learn that getting buy in from within the company itself is an important first step to reach a final impact on the market.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  •  Acquisition of companies that will host design teams is not easy, takes time and requires to be knowledgeable on corporate innovation processes.  
  • Sometimes the company provides the team with a well-defined project goal, which often already describes the final solution and doesn’t allow for creativity. For optimal usage of the design method, one should have a broader project goal or support the team to challenge and redefine the project goal to enable the creation of disruptive ideas.
  • Explain to company stakeholders the importance of autonomy of the team, and that the outcome might be surprising.  
  • To have a company stakeholder that supports the students with working in the company. Think of practicalities like a suitable working place in the company, a user account with access to the company system, internet or facilitates for prototyping. Or to help the team with a supportive network, employees that can help the students with relevant knowledge at different stages in their design process.
  • The company environment can be quite overwhelming for students. They tend to go with the company flow and thinking, which is just something they should not do to get the best out of their design process. A coach to help them stay “critical” is needed.
  • To have a coach available to help students stay on track and counteract the company flow (culture) is essential.
  • Do a teamwork analysis before the team starts to work. Reflect on teamwork frequently. Plan-do-check-act. This makes the way of working during the project much better.

Article

Frese, E., & Smulders, F. (2015). Towards Disruptive Innovation in Incumbents by Student Design Teams. In Academy of Management Proceedings (Vol. 2015, No. 1, p. 17102). Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510: Academy of Management.