Unsuspected combinations, guts and 'team science': those are the three most important characteristics of the new DesignLab that the University of Twente will open on 1 September in the presence of Minister Jet Bussemaker of Education, Culture and Science. DesignLab connects experts from the fields of biomedical technology, nanotechnology and ICT to industrial designers and colleagues from the social sciences and public and business administration as soon as possible. Encouraging these meetings may help in more quickly finding solutions for social issues. Moreover, this also makes DesignLab a new type of discussion partner for the business sector. The opening takes place during the Opening of the Academic Year where artist/designer Daan Roosegaarde will also take the stage.
UT's new DesignLab of is an international work and meeting space where researchers, students, entrepreneurs, business developers, governments and artists together work towards creative out-of-the-box applications of new technologies. At the Lab they are inspired to find unexpected creative avenues of approach for solutions for social and economic challenges. New concepts and ideas are picked up and developed in a non-traditional fashion, after which prototypes can be tested immediately. The DesignLab brings international and regional parties together for interdisciplinary innovation protects and provides them with access to the pool of knowledge and talent at and around the university. In addition, the DesignLab has the ambition to train a new type of creative and highly qualified designers.
At the outset, the University of Twente has a 'high tech human touch' profile: the UT has a clear technological focus but with an eye for the social impact of technology. This is not only shown by the entrepreneurial nature of the university, with hundreds of successful spin-off companies, but it is also apparent from the science itself: technology is put into the perspective of organizational, economic and ethical questions. DesignLab will be a meeting place where that approach is initiated very early. Not to first develop the technology and only then start thinking about its impact or market opportunities, but to consider these things at the outset.
Initiator Professor Vanessa Evers explains: "Today's but also tomorrow's social issues make it clear that the solutions cannot just be technical in nature. Think, for example, of mobility, but also of ageing and geriatric care. A government organization is already asking us to think about the consequences of self-driving cars on our roads. Nowadays, large enterprises want to approach an issue in a more holistic manner rather than through classic R&D." Evers is Professor of Human Media Interaction at the UT and is working on robots with social skills.
At the DesignLab, technical philosopher Professor Peter-Paul Verbeek, MSc, is involved with the technical researchers early on: "Technological development will continue anyway, there's no point in expressing your disapproval afterwards. It's more constructive to become involved early on and to have that philosophical discussion be part of the design process."
Industrial designer Dr Mascha van der Voort, MSc, employs, for instance, Virtual Reality and 'serious gaming' in projects, such as equipping an entire emergency hospital the size of a cargo container: "We're not only faced with the technology but also with the patient's experience: how do they experience healthcare? And with the organization: you can already investigate such scenarios, even before there's a working prototype."
Why the DesignLab?
R&D departments of companies are focusing more and more on improving existing products: incremental innovation with a relatively low risk, where the added value is clear in the short-term. Developing completely new products, even those related to their 'core business', is often too big a step, especially for SMEs. The manufacturing industry especially is facing the challenge to realize disruptive innovations, enter new markets and develop new business models. The networks needed to do so do not typically sprout from an idea, rather the idea sprouts from a network that has been brought together in the right environment and with the right focus. Social and economic challenges are taken on in a non-traditional manner with unexpected avenues of approach for solutions. The DesignLab brings disruptive and/or radical innovation within reach of Twente, national and international entrepreneurs, where the newly-created concepts and ideas can in the future be tested in context in experience labs.
Because of the involvement of UT ethicists and Kennispark business developers at the start of the design process the (technological) results will more easily or more quickly enter society.