How can design thinking unleash new technological potentials for manufacturing companies?

This autumn, the Danish Design Center held four workshops together with danish and international experts. We invited them to contribute with new perspectives on a series of themes within DDC’s new focus area, Future Fabrication, where we explore how design can strengthen Denmark as a production country. Workshop #3 posed the question: How can design thinking unleash new technological potentials for manufacturing companies?

#FutureFab workshop by Danish Design Centre, exploring new technological potentials through design thinking for manufacturing companies.

17 tech-experts, designers, entrepreneurs and makers took part in this workshop to explore the new markets that arise for production companies in an era where digitalisation, access to big data, advanced technology and global production networks challenge a conventional practice for many companies. To stimulate the discussion with new and relevant knowledge from the field we had invited in two experts to kickstart the workshop with to inspirational talks, Tomas Diez, head of fablab Barcelona, and Morten Wagner, head of Idemo Lab. These inputs gave the participants a nuanced overview of the new markets that emerge with the rapid technological development we are currently seeing and it sparked a discussion about where, why and how it is necessary to intervene in order to help entrepreneurs, startups and established companies seize these new opportunities.

Smart products

As we talked about the new fields of production that arise with technological development, it quickly became evident that there are plenty of new markets emerging: To name a few, we touched upon new robot technology, the democratization of production technology caused by the maker movement, blockchain (the technology behind Bitcoin) which can be used for many other things, servitization in general and, of course, big data. The one market, however, that continued to dominate the discussion was Internet of Things (IoT) or what many refer to as smart products: The concept of connecting physical products with digital network access to allow for products to connect with each other and consumers to exchange data. A good example of a smart product is Google Nest; a thermostat that can be controlled remotely from an app on your smartphone. IoT has become quite a big trend as companies and organisations see a potential for new exciting business models that become possible when connecting data, production technology and software services.

From smart technology to smart use

In spite of the strong IoT hype, the discussion made it clear that there is a long way to go before the Danish industry will fully harness the potentials of IoT. Currently, it is primarily large Danish companies that have started to explore new IoT solutions. Many SME’s are not yet aware of these new technological opportunities and do not necessarily have the resources to embark upon developing a completely new business area like IoT. Participants at the workshop pointed out that in order to change this it is necessary to widely disseminate information about this new market in Denmark as well as to share and learn from international experiences.

The discussion also allowed for a critical approach towards these smart products, underlining how a smart product isn’t really smart until the demand for connecting a physical product and a digital service is evident and creates new value is being created for either the customer or the business. So, a smart product isn’t smart in itself just because it’s connected. Many participants pointed out how it could be fruitful to explore IoT with tools from design thinking in order to highlight the “why” of the product, reveal the connection between product and service, as well as its relevance for the customer, its user-friendliness and its relation to the market and the new technology.

A kickoff workshop

The discussion on how the Danish Design Center – together with our network – can most efficiently support startups and companies in exploring new production fields has just started. The brainstorm at this workshop will likely ignite a series of design-driven activities and initiatives that could contribute to strengthening Denmark as a production country. The goal of this workshop, as well as the other three Future Fabrication workshops, is to co-design a new program together with our network that will actively support Danish companies’ potential for increased growth as well as ability to create innovative products and sustainable solutions. At Danish Design Center we are now in the midst of designing such projects and activities for 2016 and beyond, and we invite everyone in our network to contribute to this process. You can take part by contacting either Julie Hjort or Christian Villum or by joining the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #FutureFab.

Read more about the Future Fabrication theme and follow the three other workshops in the left column.