Using the bicycle as common ground, five academics from across UTS are applying design thinking in an innovative research lab with participation from industry, students and interested members of the public.
‘BikeTank’ is an open event that takes place every Tuesday morning, with participants arriving on their bikes, ready to think about urban issues.
“The bike is the vehicle to carry people in, it’s not the main focal point of what we talk about, although we have explored a variety of issues concerning cycling in Sydney.
“However, by arriving on a bicycle, participants are energized, their blood is pumping, their minds are alert from the physical activity, and their creative juices are flowing. It’s a great frame of mind for exploring and creating,” said Dr Julie Jupp, Senior Lecturer at the UTS School of the Built Environment.
BikeTank is essentially a playful exploration of design thinking practices. By applying them again and again, a deep appreciation of design thinking emerges, and how it can be used in creating solutions for complex problems.
“Design thinking is a tool belt, it’s a process first and foremost, which enables you to explore and generate a number of ideas, and then channel those ideas to a particular point.
“On the one hand, design thinking is a method that is often associated with a formalised design process and all its phases and iterations. On the other, it is a mindset. It’s not necessary to go through the whole process when you have this attitude,” said Dr Jupp.
At BikeTank, the participants use a pressure cooker innovation exercise – the 5x5 – consisting of five five-minute exercises to explore cognitive, emotive and kinaesthetic responses to complex design challenges.
This activity has proven effective in bringing large numbers of participants together to collaborate on a specific design problem in a set period of time.
Since BikeTank began in August topics tackled include congestion and traffic, social networking in urban environments, car sharing and integrating new migrants into existing communities, with outcomes as diverse as proposals for new events and new buildings, to community gardens and dinner clubs.
“We want people to experience collaborative designing rather than just talk about it. Designing can be limited by preconceived ideas, and at BikeTank the 5x5 attempts to help break those down by enabling different types of approaches to the same problem,” said Dr Joanne Jakovich, Senior Lecturer at the UTS School of Architecture.
The 5x5 typically involves empathy, exploring feelings and experiences; storming, exploring a range of implications or possibilities; stoking, where participants change their approach (eg switch from writing to making) to think differently; ideation; quickly generating new ideas from unexpected observations and conclusions; and prototyping, engaging in physical model-making or role-playing as ways to articulate ideas.
“Empathy formation and prototyping and the degree in which they’re explored is what is really characteristic about the design thinking process, which is not a linear process.
“The different phases of the design thinking process are similar to many designers’ processes, but what drops off is the consideration given to the client and the end user, as well as testing before implementation.
“Prototyping gets ideas out of your brain and allows others to provide valuable feedback, including testing the business potential of those ideas.
“We believe in prototyping the business case, developing the business model, and testing the business goals and marketing strategies. They go hand-in-hand with a product, service or event in development,” said Dr Jupp.
While non-student participants at the BikeTank may change each week, continuity is provided by reviewing and refining four core student projects.
BikeTank provides a mechanism to inspire and critique student thinking, and help grow and shape ideas using community feedback. In an ‘Entrepreneurship Lab’, students continue applying design thinking practices to get much deeper insights and further develop their ideas to come closer to a form they can present to a potential investor.
The BikeTank organisers are confident of having four feasible start-up enterprises by the end of the semester.
At the final BikeTank, on 18 November, those ideas will be presented in an open house, with the aim of matching entrepreneurs and philanthropists with students’ design and business ideas .
BikeTank is an initiative of u.lab, a collaboration between academics from the Architecture, Built Environment, Business, IT and Engineering disciplines at UTS, and is open to students in those areas. Guest speakers have included Dave Gravina, Digital Eskimo; Ben Hewitt, South Australia’s Government Architect; and IT entrepreneur Steve Killelea.
u.lab is run by an academic team comprising Jochen Schweitzer (Business), Joanne Jakovich and Julie Jupp (Design, Architecture and Building), and Wayne Brookes and Nathan Kirchner (Engineering and Information Technology)
BikeTank is supported by the City of Sydney Local Action Plans Program.
For more information, visit http://www.ulab.org.au and http://www.biketank.org