U.lab is a physical space with an online presence that showcases its work as a creative powerhouse at the University of Technology, Sydney. The brainchild of Dr Jochen Schweitzer, a senior lecturer at the business school, u.lab gets students to take a different approach to their work.
“It’s a studio where we do creative, innovative work with students from across the university – students from engineering, IT, architecture, business, design,” said Schweitzer, who is also a teacher of design thinking at the Hasso Plattner Institute at Potsdam University – which was one of the inspirations for u.lab.
“[It’s a space where] academics try to connect with students across disciplines, working by using a method called ‘design thinking’. Basically it’s a way of solving problems. The idea is that the way design or creative professionals approach problems is slightly different to what you would see in a business context.”
Several programs are run out of u.lab, all encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration between students and with the public. The Entrepreneurship Lab is a semester-long masters-level course where students work on a brief, with the aim of turning it into a functioning business proposition by the end of semester.
“They have to pitch that business to a panel of investors, and basically the idea for us here is to give the students the confidence in one semester to come up with a business proposition that might be good enough to continue on with after they finish university,” said Schweitzer. “Our first course ran in second semester last year, two of those groups are continuing to work together and have started their own business.”
The blog (https://ulab.org.au/ ) is used to reach out and engage with the public – an important part of u.lab’s work. “One of the things that we do in u.lab is we design, create and collaborate, not just across disciplines but also with the public, and it’s important because to come up with creative solutions that work you have to engage with whoever that solution is meant to work for, the end user.”
That engagement is personified in BikeTank, a weekly intensive brainstorming session looking at ways to improve city living. “We needed a mechanism for the students to get feedback from the public or those specific groups they were targeting, so we invited the public to come into our warehouse,” said Schweitzer.
“We tapped into the cycling community in Sydney, asking them how cycling works or doesn’t work in the city, and we tapped into a really willing community. We had 60 people visit us to give students feedback on their ideas and to play with their ideas. It was all done in a very quick, fast-paced one-hour session, it was quite energizing.”
It is an experience students want to repeat as well. The Catalysts program encourages graduates to come back, interact with current students and help out around u.lab. “We want to create this culture of collaborative creativity and spread that across the university, including staff and students,” said Schweitzer.
U.lab’s current project is Groundbreaker (http://www.groundbreaker.org.au/), a series of debates on design and innovation running in Surry Hills, Sydney, until August 17.