Explore Collaborations: The project was titled ‘Friendly’ and was commissioned by the fast moving consumer goods company - Unilever

Project name: The project was titled ‘Friendly’ and was commissioned by the fast moving consumer goods company - Unilever

Project information:

This project involved 3rd year Undergraduate and 4th year Undergraduate in the subject area of 3D Design, Product Design and Transportation Design. The collaboration was a Group project with an external client.

An overview of the project:

Unilever commissioned a collaborative learning project with Design for Industry students at levels 5 and 6 of their programme. The intention of the project was not to answer a well-rehearsed and defined problem but rather to consider the work to be undertaken as a process of research gathering and then develop something ‘new’, with no pre-conceived ideas. It was essential that students worked within small teams bringing together many diverse personal skills.

This was an ongoing project year on year. Unilever communicated that their organisation was about sustainable and flexible product – the setting up of the project approach was that of ‘what if?’
Demographics were an important consideration for them and they needed to look five to seven years into the future to assess product needs. One of the key aims was to explore whether product design, which is generally not associated with the scientific development of materials, could offer a ‘new’ perspective on product development and how ‘Research and Development’ scientific staff could use design tools within their work.

The project was divided into three distinct phases:

Phase 1 ‘has design anything to say about the future of fluids?’

Phase 2 ‘the ritual of washing clothes’ this incorporated ‘time-based activities’ in order to re-direct focus from exploring the product only to product users.

Phase 3 ‘has design anything to say about the washing of clothes?’
A series of product and service ideas were developed and presented to scientists at Unilever, using time-based media as a presentation and communication device.

A description of who was involved in the project:

The parties involved were Unilever – the client, Design for Industry (4 year sandwich programme) students from levels 5 and 6, Neil Smith - Enterprise Fellow, from the School of Design at Northumbria University.

A description of the key outcomes of this project for all parties which were involved:

A series of product and service ideas were communicated by the students, which Unilever could develop and produce in the future.

The design process allowed for the identification and development of film and animation as a successful communication method for the project. This format allowed complex, conceptual ideas to be captured in a concise, appealing, high impact way and demonstrate clearly, to the scientific audience at Unilever and academic staff, using illustration, information graphics and related software and software special effects.
Also student engagement started with allowing freedom. In the past projects with a strict client focus, which was very direct, was tougher for the student and they didn’t always believe in it.

 Exploring Collaboration Learning

Design ideas are displayed along with clear information about the concept. This presentation would be seen by Unilever

 Exploring Collaboration Learning

Information graphics explain developed concepts

 Exploring Collaboration Learning

Initial ideas, jotted on 'post-it' notes and 'mood' visuals

Planning the Collaboration

Tutors were asked the following question to help them to reflect on the issues and decisions considered before the project began:

How were the groups formed and how many students were in each group?

, and the average size of the group was 3.

What were the main reasons for setting up a collaborative project?
The tutor indicated a collaborative project was set up:

  • To develop interpersonal skills
  • The assignment was too large for one student to complete
  • To learn to work in a group
  • To learn from your peers
  • To simulate a 'real-world experience'

What were the client's expectations at the start of the project?

Creating a relationship between the staff team and the organisation through tele-conferencing and visiting the company helped to share expectations. Quite often the academic staff team visited with an outline proposal that was broad and allowed them to take ownership, at other times working to the collaborators problems and issues. Neither side was interested in short-term product development, there was much more interest in ‘future gazing’ and the experimental.

How did you align the client's expectations with the module's learning objectives?

There was no conflict with educational goals and collaborative goals – the students entered into a learning contract about making relevant contact with industry and realising the companies ambitions, the outcomes are not necessarily based on tangible products. The module doesn’t need to describe a particular outcome – taking a broad view of the subject for broad collaboration and experimentation. The outcomes could be an artefact, service or system.


Planning the Collaboration

Tutors were asked the following question to help them to reflect on how you have monitored interactions during the project duration.

The tutor indicated the following team development tools were used to help the student work more effectively in their groups:

  • Problem framing (for e.g. brainstorming and mind-mapping)
  • Reflective diary

What kind of other measures did you put into place to help foster collaborative learning and for what purpose?

Within the team based structure ‘shared’ and ‘discrete’ working relationships were introduced so that students could share some information but retain some confidentiality within their groups until the focus of the project had been highly defined.

The first phase ‘ has design anything to say about the future of fluids?’ was so abstract in concept that a key to getting any design process to occur required the students to find ‘personal context’ and direction for their work. What was enabled was a forum for ‘story telling’, a creative narrative, which approached the problem as a shared experience for all.

This translated practically into developing a series of research ‘cards’ that gave a feel for areas of consideration – the students would then evaluate this, in their teams and add to, in line with discussion findings.

They then moved into developing initial ideas and then again went through a period of reflection and evaluation, beginning to reject some of the design ideas cards. A further period of design development began to get to grips with ideas, followed again by evaluation meetings, rejection and refining. These ideas were carried forward to the digital demonstration period using time-based media – video-editing software.
Building confidence was essential, it was not just about professionalism, it was about creative ideas – those students who were without levels of professionalism learned this through the process and it changed the way the students saw themselves, they gained confidence, it was not just about an artefact and a visual presentation. It was about thinking, really good thinking, just being professional doesn’t work.

How did you monitor students' progress during the collaborative project?
The tutor indicated that they monitored students progress:

  • By setting formal progress report stages

What kind of strategies did you use to manage the team development?
Select the following:

The tutor indicated that they use the following strategies to manage the team development:

A mixture of both -

Academic staff set up the teams – the members all decided how they would communicate with each other. One person in the team was nominated as project captain. The students had to set up their own meeting times and the group had to self-manage. Part of that experience was to create their own communication models to manage ideas, to effectively work in their own way. At the onset of the projects there were workshops for sharing knowledge and idea discussion to allow students to gain confidence – they had a brief that allowed for probing into the culture and environments that the project was aimed at. Staff didn’t feed the students too much information. The students were expected to explore as broadly as possible.Company market research can sometimes be prescriptive, so the students used tools like ‘MySpace’ to go global, they put out questions and got responses from places such as Malaysia.

Assessing the Collaboration

Tutors were asked the following questions to enable them to describe the assessment methods employed during the collaborative project.

What methods of assessment were used?

The tutor indicated the following method of assessment were used during the collaborative project:

  • Tutor assessment
  • Client assessment
  • Combination - please specify weighting in each type of assessment used:

No weighting used – formative and summative feedback

Can you elaborate on how you assess the students in the collaborative project, both in terms of the project and how they work as a team?

The project was not just assessed on outcome, it was assessed on the students engagement. Collaborators saw why the thinking went a particular way. Failure can happen when students don’t record the process data. When the collaborators are so different – scientists are logistics people – there are unexpected consequences – the collaborators find things interesting and question stuff. No individual assessment was undertaken.

Tutor's reflections on the Collaboration

Tutors were asked the following questions to allow them to consider what has been learnt by running this collaborative project.

What benefits did you as a tutor perceive students had gained from the collaborative project?

On a practical level the students learned the importance of recording every creative ‘mark’ that they produce, such as, mind mapping, digital diaries, photographing white boards; this process can give insights, also these methods help create new methods.
If you tell students it’s going to be a ‘rollercoaster’ and you can’t make them stay on it, they become more open-minded. Preparing the students about this being a non predictive outcome and trying to prevent students being too marks orientated is a good start, there are a lot of taught sessions early on about breadth of ideas.

If you were to run this project again, what would you change or improve?

There is a need to always look for breadth and look to ‘co-create’ the brief; to open up the narrative and talk about other possibilities.

Perhaps the addition of some resources for such as individual/peer assessment.

What were some of the issues that the students faced during the project?
a. The tutor indicated students had the following issues relating to Team Management during the collaborative project:

Communication with team members or tutor and Working effectively within a team

b. The tutor indicated students had the following issues relating to Team Development during the collaborative project:

Supporting team members

c. In general, the tutor indicated students faced the following issues during the collaborative project:

What areas would you as a tutor like to have more support or resources to help you in your next collaborative project?

a. In the planning stage (preparing students for collaborative learning), the tutor indicated they would like more support or resoures in the following areas:

  • Team Management (assigning team members or roles)
  • Team Development (instilling professionalism, teamwork, peer learning etc)

b. In the managing stage (managing the collaborative project), the tutor indicated they would like more support or resoures in the following areas:

  • Personality clashes

c. In the assessment stage, the tutor indicated they would like more support or resoures in the following areas:

  • Assessing group vs individual performance

Any additional comments?

All through the project is ‘high octane’ work for the staff involved and the students, but this can be energising. There is not a prescriptive outcome, it is shared learning and you need to be brave enough to challenge your own knowledge. Students trust you because of this enquiry by staff also, real trust is built by being ‘co-creative’. It is exciting to work at the edge of where design sits. Students are told to accept ‘noble failure’.

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