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Design practice and scholarly research: combining the best of both worlds

Boekbijdrage - Boekhoofdstuk Conferentiebijdrage

Context Establishing new academic programs is a long-term process. Short-term but intensive programs, as a summer school for example, are easier in setting up and can also be used as experimental hubs (thinker spaces). To this end, in 2014, we organized the first Summer School in Seamless Retail Design in cooperation with a few international partners. We presented the students with the challenge to create retail environments which seamlessly combine the spatial (physical environment), the digital and the human (experiential) factor. This challenge is not chosen randomly. Indeed, both consumer behavior and the consumer itself have changed considerably in recent years, making it difficult for retailers to keep up and stay relevant. In this context, three clear phenomena can be distinguished today. Firstly, consumers are more aware, and they also want to become more aware of their own buying behavior and exactly what they consume (eg. product origin, who sells it, which price is worth it, ...). And, secondly, this “awareness” also reflects on their shopping behaviour and time. The scarce time they have and want to spend on shopping, they wan’t to spend it in a nice environment meeting up to either fun shopping or run shopping. While fun shopping presumable leads to more experiential environments, run shopping asks for a more efficient approach. The third phenomenon is related to the digital revolution. In addition to the consumer's urge - certainly the 'younger' generation - to be constantly 'connected', consumers can now look up all relevant information at all times (eg. prices, product details, availability, ...) and they can often also immediately proceed to an online purchase. All three phenomena obviously cause a fundamental change in the context within which retailers will have to function in the near future. Students are getting familiar with these issues during the summer school and they learn to anticipate on such issues. It is clear that retailers are challenged today to stay relevant in todays climate. To this end, we invite students from different backgrounds and disciplines with a relation to retailing and design (interior design, architecture, product design, marketing, graphic design and media design) to collectively reflect, during one week, on these challenges and opportunities of the store of the future. Objectives Due to the aforementioned phenomena, that still continue to change, the summer school keeps on developing content-wise. During the last years, though, we have developed a steady framework in which three objectives are key: working in interdisciplinary teams of both students and teachers combining expertise from practitioners with theoretical input from researchers working with a real life design assignment Implementation The first objective, the interdisciplinary character, we guard by composing an interdisciplinary teaching team on the one hand, and work with other universities with other disciplines, on the other. Partner universities are not only asked to provide input (eg. sending a teacher) they are also asked to send students to participate. Of course, the latter can not be guaranteed, but so far, we managed to get at least four different disciplines each year (interior architecture, architecture, product design, marketing). Also many different cultural backgrounds are present. During the last edition students as far as from Hong Kong and Brazil participated. The experts (from practise) we invite to host a theoretical course or a work-shop are selected carefully: one product developer teaching the students a consumer centred approach; a marketeer/brand designer, helping the students to get a grip on branding; several retail designers helping the students to translate the concept into a feasible design. As for the students, they work in small, heterogeneous groups, interdisciplinary teams that are carefully composed based on the their study background. Hence, the learning curve does not only come from experts, it also comes from the interaction within a group. The second objective, combining expertise, is inherent present in the program we offer. In the morning sessions students will be introduced to state-of-the-art knowledge from both academics and experienced practitioners. Later that day and in the afternoon, the students are immersed in the matter during design work-shops. Students are coached in the design studio by a team of design supervisors (local and international) together with the invited experts from the morning. During the whole summer school a researcher curates the designworkshops, giving the students specific small design assignments accompanied with design tools (developed within PhD research) that help building up the design from idea, to concept, to design. We want students to reflect on the store of tomorrow. To this end, for our third objective, each year we select a large scale local retailer that has a need that fits our programme: needing a new (concept) store, integrating all media. By having students from a different social context and from various relevant disciplines collaborating on such a concrete design assignment, we wish to come to refreshing and innovative ideas. The retailer actively takes part in the programme by (1) feeding our students with the necessary knowledge and insights, (2) be part of the jury (which is set up as a pitch) at the end of the summer school providing the students with valuable feed-back. For international students to get an understanding of the Flemish (retail) culture and to get some inspiration we organise a study visit to Antwerp. We also visit a retail technology hub where students can experience the latest technology. Outcome In this summer school we aim for the following competencies to be achieved: the students are familiar with 'retail design' as a multidisciplinary domain students learn to collaborate with students from other disciplines and backgrounds on concrete assignments students learn to convert (state-of-the-art) knowledge from practise and research into relevant innovative concepts and designs in a relatively short period of time by confronting them with international teachers and the cooperating and living together with an international group of students, they acquire intercultural skills. Conclusion Every year the summer school is evaluated by both the teaching team and the students. First, over the years, the surveys indicated that the students find the inter-disciplinary character beneficial for thinking outside the box. They enjoy having to work and live together with the entire group during one week and getting emerged in the discipline of retail design. More specific for the last edition (summer 2018), the students liked the way the summer school was set-up with the balance between theory and practice, the small design assignments cumulating into one design, and the input from the experts. Second, a critical assessment of the last two editions by both the academic stakeholders involved and the practitioners indicate that the strong elements are the inter-disciplinary and the international character. Also feeding the students with both academic knowledge - giving them insights in the latest research results - as practice - providing them design methodologies and thinking models. Third, we ourselves noticed that the creativity of the design students together with the more theoretical view and communication skills of marketing students pushed the design one step forward towards more well-founded and relevant outcomes. In sum, we managed to set up a course that integrates imagination, creativity, fascination, skills with the best available knowledge in the matter (coming from practise and research), in a way it is imbedded in today’s socio-economy. The full paper will reflect on six years of developing this course. Starting from a body of literature that founded the first years, to additional insights to what and why it has become what it is today. We will also have a flash-forward to how we are trying to develop this formula into a traveling summer school so more students, and teachers, are able to learn from this approach.
Boek: Practice of Teaching | Teaching of Practice: the Teacher’s Hunch
Pagina's: 63 - 64
Jaar van publicatie:2019
Trefwoorden:Retail Design, education, theory & practice