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Stefania, a K+C designer teaching students at Ravensbourne

Bringing design to life at Ravensbourne University

  • 19 August 2020

For the past 2 years we’ve been collaborating with universities across the UK to create better links between design education and the industry. This has included a number of different initiatives from projects and workshops to talks and portfolio reviews. Each collaboration has been an opportunity for both ourselves and the students to learn and develop our skills together.

Kin + Carta exists to make the world work better and collaborating with universities has allowed us to address some of the world’s biggest challenges. The dementia focused brief we worked on with Advertising and Brand students at Ravensbourne University earlier this year, is a great example of that.

What we did?

We worked with Derek and Steve, the tutors at Ravensbourne, to create a brief that would allow the students to explore an end-to-end product design process. The brief we settled on was: How might we create experiences that support people living with dementia?

This challenge acted as a starting point for a discussion on the big opportunity of accessibility and inclusion. The students would have 4 weeks to design and test potential solutions.

We first introduced the problem of dementia as a brain disorder that is not always immediate but might have different stages that can increase in severity at the point of not being able to do everyday simple tasks or being disoriented, feeling alone and sad and helped the student dig into the details and implications by giving them some forecast numbers and statistics. The most interesting part of this brief was that a solution for this problem would need to take into consideration other people beyond the user such as their family, friends and professional medical care providers.  

During our first meeting with the students, we talked through our capabilities, our typical design process, our company culture and values. Giving the student an introduction to our company helped spark their interest and provided an opportunity for them to ask questions about the industry and day-to-day life as a designer.  

To get familiar with the problem itself and allow the students to begin thinking about the desired outcomes, we organised an intense workshop to get them into the iterative mindset of outcomes and Jobs to be done instead of jumping straight to the final output and solution.

We met the students again for a midpoint review and then for the final presentation of their work. It was really impressive how they took our feedback and contextually worked on top of what they had to improve both the storytelling of their presentation and the solution itself.

Two Kin + Carta designers teaching Ravensbourne students
Josh and Stefania teaching at Ravensbourne University

What students learnt?

This was an opportunity for most of the students to engage with a ‘real world’ brief and follow a process that was quite new for them analysing the implication of their ideas and spend more time in the research phase to frame the right problem and validate their solutions.

The challenge for them was going behind a linear mindset, learning to not be precious about their first idea, let it go or build on top of other people's ideas based on user’s feedback. This is something that we do everyday in our work; we believe that having this approach will make them ready to deal with real briefs and real people outside university’s projects.

At the end of the project the students gave us very insightful and positive feedback about this experience; their opinion will help us to understand what is working and not from a different perspective.

Their method was super easy to follow, and it gave results. You knew more about your target audience, and you discovered more insights and ideas than you would’ve done by just doing pure fundamental research. It also gave a better structure to your workflow; I could visualise and follow my thinking path more clearly.

Student - Ravensbourne University

What we learnt?

The beautiful thing about working with students is that we could have a mutual benefit. This initiative was a low-risk environment to develop our skills, from brief creation to planning and coordinating the different phases of the project, including a better understanding of the design process itself, teaching, communication, design critique and facilitation.

Design critique, in particular, is a soft skill that is fundamental in our work to build a trustworthy relationship with our colleagues. This is not as easy as it looks, especially with students because they seek answers and solutions but our role was to guide them by asking questions and help them to explore the problem. When they worked both on the project itself and on the storytelling for the final playback we learnt to give a balanced constructive feedback to improve their work while encouraging them highlighting what is working well.

This experience was an opportunity to reflect about education and career in the design industry, considering also our own path to understand what works and what is still missed. Traditional design education focuses more on the craft and aesthetic: the briefs are often too narrow and specific asking for outputs instead of outcomes. While this is certainly important, what often is not covered is how to design for people’s needs taking in account a broader understanding of the problem. The core of our mission is to equip future designers with more knowledge about the industry and the real world; this initiative was essential to learn how to provide better opportunities to students. 

What they produced?

The students came up with lots of innovative ideas since the initial workshop. We can broadly identify two macro directions, but the number of opportunities emerged within the same area affirmed how great it is to work with students because each one can bring its own unique view to solve complex social issues of today’s world.

One focus area was around the connection between carer and dependent to improve current methods of keeping track of tasks, remind what to do and offer independence. Exploring this pain point led the student to several approaches: mix of physical and digital experiences, visual metaphors like gardening that give a sense of responsibility and motivation, voice devices and video messages to reduce the feeling of agitation.

Another big focus was the difficulty and frustration of losing memory and not remembering the past. This also involves the human side and the principle of connection with the carer through activities to make together. The students tackled this issue in lots of ways: from digital photo albums for reminiscent therapy, to music prompts and physical card games to trigger memories and start conversations.

Screenshots of some of the work the Ravensbourne students created Screenshots of some of the work the Ravensbourne students created

Conclusion

These kinds of initiatives are the fuel of the industry both for us as companies and for the education of the student.

As in our design work, there is always room for improvement and we can better manage technical aspects such as a less overwhelming schedule or more practical one such as collaborating more with associations and companies so the students can see the impact of their solution behind a concept idea. This was an opportunity for us to be able to see new different points of view and unexpected approaches, maybe more fresh, less biased and with a different background. The students learnt more about our framework process and they got a sense of what is like working in the industry. We hope this was a step for them to bridge the gap between the university and the “real world”.

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