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Companies: Design Research Works in Practice


New knowledge for companies. At the conference on design research in companies. Lars Steffensen from Henning Larsen Architects and representatives from other companies shared examples of projects where design researchers collaborate with companies with the purpose of generating new knowledge.Photo: Christoffer Regild
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Design researchers are developing new, applicable knowledge together with organisations in the private and public sector. That was the clear conclusion at the mini-conference on the impact of design research that the Danish Centre for Design Research held at The Black Diamond in Copenhagen on 17 September 2012. Here, Rambøll, Bang & Olufsen and other companies shared case stories about how collaboration with researchers is creating value for their organisations.

By Hans Emborg Bünemann

When Bang & Olufsen needs insight into the future needs of various customer segments, and when Rambøll wants to explore new ways to promote learning and growth, Danish design researchers contribute with methods and solutions. The same is the case when the waste management plant Vestforbrænding wants to establish a dialogue with its customers and stakeholders with the aim of using waste as a resource, and when Herlev Hospital enlists the help of its users to develop a future emergency ward in cooperation with Henning Larsen Architects. At the mini-conference Designforskningens impact i danske virksomheder (The impact of design research in Danish companies), which the Danish Centre for Design Research held at The Black Diamond in Copenhagen on 17 September 2012, these case stories were shared with an audience consisting of representatives of business and industry, government ministries and research institutions.

Synergy Across Professions and Disciplines

Since 2010, Rambøll has worked with Industrial PhD scholar Tine Ebdrup from the Kolding School of Design. Rambøll’s Chief Consultant Peder Kjøgx explains that one of the goals for the project is to create synergy by combining engineering skills, management thinking and didactic and psychological elements.
“When that match is successful it generates positive development. In relation to schools, for example, it lets us develop spaces for life and learning instead of simply building another ordinary school,” Peder Kjøgx said at the conference. He explains that design research benefits development and customer dialogue as well as Rambøll’s own business development process. Tine Ebdrup’s research project has been established as a collaboration between Rambøll’s client department and Attractor, which is Rambøll Management Consulting’s department for systemic organisational development.
“We are going from being product suppliers to being solution partners for our customers. Here, Tine Ebdrup’s contribution is invaluable. She helps us develop a co-creation method, which we can use, for example, in the dialogue with customers and other actors to incorporate their knowledge in the change processes,” Peder Kjøgx explains.

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Music and homeliness. Aviaja Borup Lynggaard’s PhD project has given rise to several new concepts. One of them is MusicLink, which is about connecting people through music, even if they are physically apart.
Illustration: Aviaja Borup Lynggaard

Aesthetics Are Essential

In Rambøll’s work with the development of learning environments, space takes on an important role. And here, the aesthetic element is crucial, argues Tine Ebdrup. She brings in aesthetics, because it has a very substantial potential in development processes.
“It’s essential to create aesthetic impressions that make sense for users and which help generate and facilitate social interactions and relations. Therefore it is also important to have a nuanced aesthetic vocabulary, for example when we are creating a space for learning environments and including the users as co-creators,” she says.

Bang & Olufsen Explores Mobile Lifestyle

Another case story that was presented at the conference revolved around Bang & Olufsen’s efforts to understand the modern, nomadic lifestyle. The key issue is how the company can use concept and product development to help create a sense of homeliness for modern people on the move. At the conference, Concept Manager Lyle Clark described how Bang & Olufsen’s Industrial PhD scholar Aviaja Borup Lynggaard generates knowledge that drives the development of prototypes and concepts. The PhD project takes its point of departure in anthropological studies carried out by Ida Winther, who is an associate professor at Aarhus University. Ida Winther has observed and interviewed people who, as a result of their life circumstances, can call several places home. In cooperation with Ida Winther, Aviaja Borup Lynggaard has analysed how children of divorced parents, long-haul lorry drivers and business people create a sense of homeliness despite their virtually nomadic lifestyle.
“Together with Ida Winther, Aviaja has used the perspectives from the anthropological studies in her work with Bang & Olufsen’s customers, whom Aviaja has visited and interviewed. With that approach she generates essential knowledge about how these people live with the paradox of having to create a sense of homeliness in a highly mobile life,” says Lyle Clark.

Creating Homeliness

Aviaja Borup Lynggaard’s studies found that people with a highly mobile lifestyle may draw on a variety of tactics to establish that sense of homeliness. For example, they might seek refuge in a personal, limited universe, they might bring physical objects that represent their life at home, or they might maximise their connection and communication with their families back home.

According to Lyle Clark, these insights are a great source of inspiration when Bang & Olufsen develops concepts to facilitate the mobile lifestyle of various user groups.
“It gives us a much better understanding of the various segments. And at Bang & Olufsen, we are in a development right now where our buyers are no longer primarily the most affluent but also the middle class,” he points out.

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Room for interaction. According to Tine Ebdrup, aesthetic expressions have a strong impact on our interactions in space. They create different possibilities for social interactions and the formation of relationships.
Photos: Tine Ebdrup

Seeing Garbage as a Resource

Development Consultant Dan Boding-Jensen from the waste management plant Vestforbrænding discusses the company’s development from an incineration plant to a modern company with a focus on garbage as a resource that society and citizens should learn to take advantage of. In the effort to strengthen this user focus, Joachim Halse, an assistant professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design, and his colleagues have contributed with method development and demonstrated how Vestforbrænding can use designers and anthropologists in the development process.
“The design researchers have helped us realise the importance of carrying out an environmental analysis and fully understanding the users’ world before embarking on the process of developing ideas for a given task,” says Dan Boding-Jensen. “And the knowledge that we have acquired about applying the methods that the researchers developed for involving and motivating the users is now about to be implemented in several boroughs. It’s crucial to understand the users’ real-life situation if we want to involve them in creating solutions that work in practice.”

Researching a Bed Ward

Henning Larsen Architects and Herlev Hospital are currently preparing an expansion of the hospital budgeted at DKK 2.4 billion. At the conference, Anette Madsen, project manager at the hospital, listed the key stakeholders in the project – patients, families, staff groups and politicians – and outlined their many different wishes and demands.

According to Merete Ahnfeldt-Mollerup, associate professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, the role of design research in this situation is to develop and test methods for generating knowledge about the needs and behaviour of patients, families and staff. That knowledge has to be included in connection with the scheduled expansion of the hospital, which includes a new emergency ward and a new ward for emergency surgery. The key idea is to create flexible structures that are capable of meeting the various stakeholders’ needs to the widest extent possible, and which can be reshaped to match future technological developments.

“Telemedicine, robot technology etc. – we can’t know what the future will look like, so we have to build as much flexibility into the architecture as the budget allows,” says Lars Steffensen, who is a partner at Henning Larsen Architects.

Industrial PhDs as Bridge-Builders

Both the four case stories presented at the conference and a presentation byTroels Degn Johansson, Head of Research at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design, provide an impression of the potential of the collaboration between design researchers and organisations, both in the private and public sectors. Troels Degn Johansson places particular emphasis on the long-term strategic partnership and the Industrial PhD programme as cooperation models that work. Experience shows that Industrial PhD scholars are good at connecting the research community with business and industry. And the knowledge that is generated through this collaboration is distributed throughout the individual companies.
“We have seen some good examples where the new knowledge is being put to use in the company, both on a strategic and on an operational level,” says Troels Degn Johansson.

About the Industrial PhD programme

An industrial PhD project is a business-oriented PhD project carried out in a partnership between a private enterprise, a PhD scholar and the Danish Centre for Design Research.

As an industrial PhD scholar, you receive research training, partly through the work you do on your research project and partly by taking PhD courses included in the programme. For example, you will be taking part in a business course for PhD scholars, which involves writing a business report that puts your project into a commercial perspective. As an industrial PhD scholar in design, you enrol along with the traditional PhD scholars in one of the research schools. The Danish Centre for Design Research offers PhD courses on an ongoing basis.

Your research project is concluded with a PhD dissertation, which you hand in at the end of the three-year programme and defend at a public PhD seminar.

Read more about the Industrial PhD option and check out specific examples from the design sector in Mind Design.


Mind Design #52, 2012


Edited and published by the Danish Centre for Design Research

Reproduction allowed and encouraged with indication of source
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