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Bringing design to life at Northumbria University

  • 19 August 2020 / By Abby Doherty

For the past 2 years, the Design CoP and Kin + Carta Create Europe have been helping to bridge the gap between higher education and the design industry. We've run collaborative projects and workshops, as well as giving talks and 1-2-1 critiques. These have created opportunities both for students and ourselves to learn and develop our skills together.

At Kin + Carta, we exist to make the world work better. Doing that means helping to solve the world's biggest challenges, and collaborations with universities can be a great way to do that. Earlier this year we worked with students from Northumbria University's Interaction Design and Animation courses to design experiences that encourage sustainable grocery shopping.

What we did?

Remote working tools like Zoom and Notion were essential to planning the project, even before lockdown. Northumbria is almost 300 miles from our London office. First, we worked with the tutors Joyce Yee and Jamie Steane to shape the project and define the brief. It was vital the project aligned with their other modules, delivered on their learning outcomes and importantly provided the students with solid and individual projects for their portfolios.

How can we help and educate supermarket shoppers to see the climate impact of food products in-store/online and make more informed decisions and eventually generate lasting behaviour change?

We made the trip up to Northumbria university in January to meet the students. We had a morning session with 2nd and 3rd year students where we gave an introduction into who we were, our business and how we create products. In the afternoon we presented an 8 week project brief to the 3rd year students. To ensure the individuality of the projects of this cohort we allocated the groups different supermarkets so they each had different brand purposes, target markets and different existing products to work with.

Over the course of the 8 weeks, we provided written feedback every two weeks on work they were submitting online to their tutors. There was a remote mid point check-in where the students gave presentations on concepts they had created based on initial research. Then finally, their end of project presentations, which unfortunately were also remote due to covid-19 travelling restrictions.

Two Kin + Carta designers teaching at Northumbria University
Abby & Fred teaching at Northumbria University

What students learnt?

This was the first time two different courses were being combined for a project so the students were learning the benefits and challenges of collaborating with other people with different skill sets and strengths. We introduced them to techniques like; customer outcomes, pain points, prototyping and user testing. These are all techniques we would use in the industry but may not have been taught in depth on their courses.

Despite the challenges of remote learning, lockdown restrictions and the universities being closed, they were able to continue working and took it all in their stride. The lessons from remote working were something we, ourselves, were adjusting to at the time and they handled the final playback presentations extremely professionally. Feedback from the students was heart warmingly positive:

I just wanted to pop a wee message over to say thanks for organising and facilitating our sustainable shopping brief. Genuinely really enjoyed the project, we don’t often get briefs that feel ‘real world’ and each group having a different supermarket was really interesting!

Student from Northumbria University

What we learnt?

A big part of studying design at university is guest lecturers helping bridge the gap between education and the industry. So whilst this collaboration started out as a way to give back, it became clear that this was a safe space for us, as designers, to develop and hone our own skills. I became a lot more self-assured presenting to larger groups of unknown people. I learnt to be more confident in giving feedback and was able to firm up my own craft knowledge.

I also was able to reflect on my own journey from being a design student at Loughborough University to now working in the industry. The students we were working with often asked us; Which concept do you like best? What would you do? It dawned on me that when you’re in education, everything you work towards and fixate on is about the end grade. It’s ingrained in students to strive for the best result you can get in your degree resulting in you leaving university with the best possible chance for employment. This can sometimes mean you don’t actually produce the best product outcome, as you were so focussed on ticking the boxes in the curriculum or doing what the tutor preferred best. In my opinion this sets you up badly for working in the industry. You need to be user focused, as out in the real world there’s no longer a mark scheme.

I made it my mission to be unbiased towards the flashy ideas that would hook clients like bait in the industry. We continued to express that research and speaking to real users was key to the success of their projects and the outcomes they produced reflected all the hard work that was done.

What they produced?

The students created a range of innovative experiences including a community eco delivery service; rewards for making sustainable product swaps at checkout; and in-store promotions on shopping seasonally with local produce including added recipes to help reduce food waste.

All the groups impressed us, and it reaffirmed why working with universities is exactly the direction we should be going in. We got more smart, passionate and career driven individuals to be thinking about some of the world's toughest problems, to make the world work better.

Please select two images for the dual device images or remove this component

Conclusion

This whole experience was rewarding for everyone involved. My takeaways were threefold; I worked on my time management skills balancing client work and devoting enough attention to the students and their projects; improving the knowledge of my craft and why I am driven to work in this industry, And finally, it showed us all that even in a global pandemic, remote teamwork can still be possible with invaluable digital tools, and great results can be achieved. I’m looking forward to doing this all again with a new cohort of great designers in the future.

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