| 5 minute read

Structured serendipity: Building success at Design Factory Melbourne

Elena Galán-Muros
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During the 2023 UIIN Conference, we invited Anita Kocsis, Director of the Design Factory, Melbourne, from Swinburne University of Technology, to delve into the remarkable world of the Design Factory and its global network, unraveling the secrets behind their success: the art of collaboration, the enchantment of ‘structured serendipity’, and the boundless possibilities of cross-disciplinary work.

Join us as we discover how these principles fuel groundbreaking innovation and shape the future of creative problem-solving.

In this article, we summarise part of that conversation, but you can listen to the full interview in our podcast:

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Madeline Arkins
I know the global network of the Design Factory is intrinsic to all its success. Could you tell me more about what is Design Factory Melbourne and how collaborations factor in its work?

Anita Kocsis:
Quick recap: Design Factory Melbourne got to become part of the Design Factory Global Network in 2011, maybe even a little earlier, that started at Aalto University.

From there, the passion for collaboration, co-creation, change-making and innovation catalysts, has grown in this infectious rate now to 40 other innovation labs, hubs and research centres with their own special, unique flavour. That network is a trust network. It is a well understood way of working which makes collaboration across cultures, disciplines, expectations, and agendas with different industry partners far more realistic and easier.

Madeline Arkins:
One thing that I find very fascinating is the emphasis on co-creation in all that Design Factory does. What are the principles of co-creation that guide you in your work at Design Factory?

Anita Kocsis:
Our Design Factory’s DNA grew out of design thinking, design practice and, more recently, the term ‘applied innovation’ is something we are more comfortable with.

But if you think about it, every time Design Factory’s team members are involved in projects, we are known to ‘sprinkle the glitter’ magically in the room. Co-creation is hard work and being able to bring together people in teams to understand shared meaning, to come out with some sort of shared solution is what we do.

We use tools such as prototyping and structured serendipity opportunities in terms of the space and the place to offer people a chance to focus, to feel brave, to say those things and undertake activities, which are very important parts of the conditions for innovation, and co-creation is fundamental to that.

Madeline Arkins:
I’m very interested about the term ‘structured serendipity’.

Anita Kocsis:
That’s our special sauce. ‘Structured serendipity’ is about making the opportunities for our students, our researchers, our industry partners, really offering ways where they are forced to connect instead of lining up.

Making pasta, or icebreakers, or these sorts of methods in terms of teamwork, is one thing but the spaces and places are also important. Our labs are always offering up spaces that are moveable and, wherever we can, we structure high touch points, high opportunities for people to connect and reinforce a low-hierarchy environment.

If you’re a student sitting at a kitchen bench next to a CEO, for us, that’s where the magic happens, and we structure that. So, it is serendipitous, but it is also structured, and that’s part of underpinning our co-creation methodology.

Madeline Arkins:
Are there any other notable projects or achievements in the last ten plus years of Design Factory that you think are key to your journey to this point?

Anita Kocsis:
If I think about our portfolio of achievements, I think the first one is the people. When you see people who come to take a risk and work with us, when they move on to something else, they are in a much better place, with far more experience, a much stronger repertoire of practice, and an understanding of what it is to have super high moments but also fail forward.

The other achievements of course are the hundred plus industry partners who have also come along the journey with us and taken that dive. Either by bringing their industry questions to student projects or by being sold by our R&D innovation services team.

And the student projects are very varied, from ‘how do I stop a leaking caravan’ to ‘how do I help socialise a community to understand the role and value of hydrogen technology’. Our focus really is at that very early stage of the innovation pipeline.

We spend that time there because we help mitigate risk and we don’t want to end up people-rushing. Everyone wants to get to the shiny solution stage, but we find in our work with our industry partners and our research that the value is really at that very early stage of the innovation pipeline.

Interested in more insights like this?

You can listen now to Prof. Genevieve Bell, Director of the School of Cybernetics and the 3A Institute at the Australian National University, while she shares her experience and insights on the challenges and opportunities facing academia, the future of impactful research, and the importance of curiosity, community, and bravery in scholarly pursuits in this episode, or read our article on the Five characteristics of successful cultural change at universities.

Stay tuned for the next episode on this series and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred podcast platform!

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