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Design Research in Companies

Like Being Inside a Kaleidoscope

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A growing number of companies in all industries are benefiting from the Industrial Ph.D. programme as a way of achieving competitive advantages. Anne Louise Bang, an Industrial Ph.D. scholar in design research, is building a connection between Designskolen Kolding and the textile manufacturer Gabriel. Her research project combines the in-depth exploration that characterises research with the concerns of commercial product development.

By Hans Emborg Bünemann

As an Industrial Ph.D. scholar under the auspices of the Danish Centre for Design Research, textile designer Anne Louise Bang is aware of the value of connecting the private sector and the research environment. She divides her time between Designskolen Kolding and the textile manufacturer Gabriel in Aalborg, where she has a three-year contract as an Industrial Ph.D. scholar.

Anne Louise Bang compares her journeys back and forth between the two worlds with being inside a kaleidoscope.
“Every time I enter the design school, I bring new practice-based insights with me from Gabriel, and when I return to Gabriel, I see things in a slightly different light, because I bring fresh knowledge with me from the research environment,” says Anne Louise Bang, who took her design degree at Designskolen Kolding.

Model of involved parties and connections 
Involved parties and connections. Anne Louise Bang’s Industrial Ph.D. project is an example of business and research collaboration in an application-oriented research project.
Illustration: Anne Louise Bang
An Ambassador for Cooperation
According to Anne Louise Bang, her role as ambassador for the connection between the private sector and the education and research scene offers excellent perspectives.
“The Design School already has a great deal of contact with enterprises, for example via student projects,” says Anne Louise Bang, “but an Industrial Ph.D. project provides a strong link over three years and has a greater potential for nuance in the collaboration than the brief projects. Furthermore, it lets me establish a personal network, which will definitely benefit me in the long run.”

At Designskolen Kolding and in the general research environment at the Danish Centre for Design Research, Anne Louise Bang finds researcher role models and valuable sparring with other Ph.D. scholars. She draws on the knowledge bank of the research environment when she and her colleagues at Gabriel are considering how to approach a new development project.

On the other hand, her insights into the business mindset give her an awareness of the commercial potential; knowledge that is very valuable at the design school.
“It’s always about the bottom line, because that’s how it works. If there’s no bottom line, there’s no company,” says Anne Louise Bang. “This is a crucial understanding when working with a private company.”

Direct Access to Reality

Anne Louise Bang makes no bones about the challenge of being associated with two very different workplaces at the same time. This means two sets of departmental meetings, two bosses, and different approaches to everything, but it also means insights into two different worlds.
“It is demanding to navigate within these two environments at once,” she explains, but she also emphasises the advantage of being an Industrial Ph.D. scholar with direct access to the commercial world and the accountability that characterises her work at Gabriel.

Implicit Additional Training
As one of Anne Louise Bang’s two company supervisors, Mette Mikkelsen, who is herself a design graduate, sees substantial benefits in the Industrial Ph.D. project. This is the first time that Gabriel hires a researcher, says Mette Mikkelsen, and she emphasises that one of the challenges for Anne Louise Bang is creating a common language for designers and the other departments within the company.
“Anne Louise Bang contributes to uncovering the potential of textile and puts that knowledge into a language that the rest of the company understands,” says Mette Mikkelsen. “When Anne Louise takes a critical look at our work procedures, it’s actually like implicit additional training for Gabriel’s design department.”

Students at Designskolen Kolding 
Students at Designskolen Kolding assess the tactile qualities of various textiles, an aspect of the Industrial Ph.D. project.
Photo: Anne Louise Bang
The User Is the Expert
One of the aims of the research project is to explore whether it is possible to add nuance and new tools to the design process by strengthening the dialogue about the product between designer and user. Essentially, the user is the expert in terms of using the product. That is why designers will benefit from including the user as an active contributor in the design process. In the specific project, user-driven innovation is used to achieve interaction between the designer’s aesthetic and technical competencies and the user’s experience of the textiles. The idea is to make it possible to develop textiles that meet the user’s subjective needs for sensuous quality as well as the designer’s professionally founded requirements concerning aesthetic qualities, colour-fastness and durability. Anne Louise Bang explains:

“I want to create a method for product development where technical aspects, aesthetics and emotional values are merged through active user-involvement. One of the challenges is to expand the repertoire of methods for uncovering the user’s needs and wishes and put them into words.”

A Treasure Trove of Dialogue Tools
“Once the project is completed,” she adds, “we will have a treasure trove with lots of dialogue tools that designers can use as part of the design process.”

Her supervisor Mette Mikkelsen agrees that Gabriel will benefit from a new range of methods for uncovering user needs. Anne Louise Bang’s project is completely in line with the company’s strategic focus on adopting a much more user-oriented approach. Furthermore, Mette Mikkelsen sees additional competitive advantages in a higher degree of user-involvement, as it will forge a closer bond between users and company.

In the slightly longer term, Gabriel’s contact with the research environment has far-reaching perspectives, she believes.
“In a world with more and more outsourcing, we need increasingly specialised knowledge about materials, methods and user-driven innovation, and in this respect closer links to Designskolen Kolding will be very helpful,” she says.

 

The Industrial Ph.D. Programme
An Industrial Ph.D. project is a company-oriented project that is carried out in collaboration between a private company, a Ph.D. scholar and an institution of higher education. The initiative for this partnership may come from the Danish Centre for Design Research or the four schools associated with the DCDR, from an enterprise, or from a prospective Ph.D. scholar with a good project idea.

The company

  • employs the Ph.D. scholar full-time during the three-year project period and receives DKK 450,000 in financial support for the salary plus additional subsidies for courses and travel
  • appoints one or more member(s) of staff with the necessary professional qualifications for acting as supervisor(s) for the Ph.D. scholar

The Danish Centre for Design Research / the educational institution

  • provides academic supervisor(s) and a workspace for the Ph.D. scholar
  • receives a subsidy of DKK 70,000 annually for administration, supervision sessions, and hosting the Ph.D. defense

The Industrial Ph.D. scholar

  • carries out a research project with direct relevance for the enterprise
  • timeshares 50/50 between the company and the educational institution

Additional information

Danish Centre for Design Research
The Danish Council for Research and Innovation


Mind Design #12, 2008


Edited and published by the Danish Centre for Design Research

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