25 September 2007

Universities, design, user experience and innovation

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Finland plans to merge their three leading universities in business, design and technology into ONE innovation university by 2009.

An article on Finnfacts states that “the aim is a world-class university that would be able to compete with the best foreign universities and be an interesting co-partner for them.”

The initiative for combining the expertise at the University of Art and Design Helsinki, Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration and Helsinki University of Technology was taken by Yrjö Sotamaa, the principal of the art and design university, in the autumn of 2005.

“I firmly believe that Finland’s competitiveness in the future could be built on the ability to combine in a superior way the expertise in various fields in order to create innovations and successful corporate activity,” Sotamaa emphasises.

“Mere technical pre-eminence is not enough for creating successful innovations. Top-class design and business skills are also needed. The significance of experiencing and usability of technology will be given greater emphasis.” [My emphasis]

A keynote speech by Sotamaa at an innovation conference organised by the very forward looking “Better by Design” initiative in New Zealand can be downloaded here (pdf, 3.8 mb, 101 slides). In the speech Sotamaa discussed the fundamental change in thinking required for companies to really benefit from a design-led approach, and what is required to move design from being perceived as “beautiful, but not useful” or “rounding the corners”, to being deeply embedded in everyday business life and bringing substantial economic benefits when applied strategically.

Sotamaa’s design school organised last month the conference “User Experience Plus – Designing Pleasurable Products and Interfaces 2007“, with five thoughtful themes:

  • Skilled action, focussed on rich interactions and design for human dexterity;
  • New luxury, on innovative products and services that create an Emotion plus – effect;
  • The aesthetics of interaction, on how the interaction design itself can shape engaging experiences, through providing e.g. intriguing invitations, constructive disturbances, pleasant surprises, remarkable experiences etc.;
  • Illusion in interaction: If interaction is the ground in which the experience is constituted, then the question is how to design this ground for the experience so that the experience becomes pleasurable;
  • Social interaction about designs and their short or long term interpersonal effects.

Some conferences videos are also available.

Finally, January 2007 saw the start of the Helsinki School of Creative Entrepreneurship (HSCE), which is being looked on as the first step in the innovation university. According to the website, HSCE delivers tailor made programs to stimulate creative thinking as a basis for developing new and innovative product, service and experience offerings for customers.

In the UK meanwhile, NESTA is also exploring the issue of universities and innovation and just published a short paper on how to ensure that research funding encourages innovation.

(in part via Niti Bhan)

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