GROUNDBREAKER talks by the University of Technology???s u.lab | The Fifth Estate

By Lily Morrissey

5 September 2012 – Charles Kettering, the American inventor, once said that “if you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee to work on it”. I’ve worked in government policy-making before, and he’s a little bit right.

But he also missed the point somewhat, and not just because he later invented that wonderful boon to humanity, the aerial missile.

In the world of public planning good ideas are sometimes accidentally talked to death by committees. Sometimes they’re murdered by funding cuts and political enemies. But often, good ideas float around like angry little clouds trapped inside the heads of the public, ignored until they commit suicide out of frustration.

But with clever-cloggs new think tanks like Denmark’s Mindlab (I love those guys) on the rise and crowd-sourced design thinking increasingly fashionable, is that going to change? Or is it all just an excuse to invent new words and play with crayons? Either is fine by me, so no bias here.

I made it to Object Gallery for the final night of the GROUNDBREAKER series of talks run by the University of Technology’s u.lab, for some neatly packaged answers printed in Helvetica on recycled brown paper tied with old string.

Running from the 27 June to 17 August the talks covered a spectrum of design-thinking-for-public-good topics ranging from subcultures to creative communities and innovation. Guests included David Gravina – Digital Eskimo, Rangan Srikhanta – One Laptop Per Child, Ian Muir – Westpac and Rod Simpson – City of Sydney.

It was the unusual structure of these talks that really made me wish I’d gone a little earlier. These 21 guest “provocateurs” made five-minute idea pitches at seven public forums, before being placed on chairs in the centre of the room to be questioned, interrogation style, by the predatory, circling audience. Brilliant.

Unfortunately for me, the final night did not involve any guest interrogation or predatory circling. It consisted basically of drinks, informal “thanks” and “great job” summary talks by GROUNDBREAKER’s “high priestess and high priest”, Joanne Jakovich, senior lecturer in the UTS Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, and Jochen Schweitzer, senior lecturer in strategy in the UTS Business School.

The key organising group got up on stage and took a shy bow. The audience wrote their thoughts on pieces of paper and stuck them all over the wall. And then a few regular participants got up and reflected on the series.

Marie announced, “I love this city. I want to see more culture, and it’s great to see people coming together, trying a creative approach”. Gareth, similarly invigorated, told us “I hope this is the start of something bigger…I was afraid that Sydney was getting apathetic. Let’s continue the conversation”.

“Too right!” I thought, nodding to myself. I had a few wines and got into it. Everyone’s enthusiasm was catching. Marie and Gareth seemed to voice my sentiments exactly. Even though they’d been to all the talks, and I’d missed all of them, I felt a sense of camaraderie.

I scribbled on a piece of paper and put it on the wall, and finished my night staring proudly at my collaborative achievement. I may have missed all the substance, but I was happy with my yellow paper.

I tracked down Dr Schweitzer after the talk. He explained to me that the series of talks was sort of a laboratory using real humans, set up to test their thesis on collaboration and innovation out in the real world.

Their hope was to get the businesses and public who attended to see the value in crowd-sharing. “GROUNDBREAKER was an experiment in crowd-sharing solutions”, he told me, “in the past, innovation was behind closed doors…crowd-sharing is the future”.

So how can design thinking be applied to urban planning, to help us get all those little clouds out of people’s heads and into planning?

“With it’s focus on deeply understanding human needs and behaviour, design thinking can be applied in many ways…community consultation, idea testing, idea generation and so on….and in fact is already in many architecture practices and urban planning contexts,” Schweitzer shared with me later, via email.

It seems they’re putting it into practice too. u.lab is currently working in collaboration with Aspect, Terroir and R Godwin to help develop an identity for the Parramatta ring road proposal.

But, exactly how many scribbly bits of coloured paper does it take to build a ring road? I think I need to go to the full talk series next time.


Learn Do Share – Changemaker Podcast


Posted By: elejansen

In their second changemaker podcast, LEARNOSHARE invited Jochen Schweitzer and Jörgen van der Sloot to share their experiences with design-led innovation, engaging the public and their perspective on business futures.

Jörgen is Senior Research Director at FreedomLab Future Studies in Amsterdam and lead developer of their ThinkLab methodology that challenges teams to deal with wicked problems in intensive small group power-settings. As a host of such sessions Jörgen helps the team to take an outside-in look from a future perspective and helps to build a mindset to generate new ideas and create alternative visions

Jochen is Senior Lecturer of Strategy at the Business School of the University of Technology Sydney and co-founder of u.lab, a multidisciplinary innovation hub. He has also worked as a management consultant, production-planning engineer and cultural program coordinator with extensive experience in business planning, organisational transformation and change management. His work now focuses on teaching and researching strategic management, collaboration, entrepreneurship and innovation with a special interest in design thinking and social enterprise.

Both experts in design thinking and business, they talk about future sensing, business development, the role of empathy, technology, and engagement; about bike tanks, crowdshare innovation, and the necessity to adopt cultural change to stay ahead in a networked economy.

Download Podcast

Running Time: 30:24


Blog Rankings: Bringing the public into the design space | Campus Review

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 ( ) 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 (, a series of debates on design and innovation running in Surry Hills, Sydney, until August 17. 


u.lab’s BIKETANK is featured in Object Magazine 62: Studios & Eco-Fashion


Issue 62 focuses on ‘studios’: we talk to architects Donovan Hill about exploring the site rather than the building, as well as architecture-based Healthabitat, about the process they use to merge health and design. Design thinking appears to be taking the world by storm as we highlight three practices using the emerging methodology in different ways: BikeTank, 24HRs2MC and Design Emergency. Meanwhile Collider merges art and design with their work for the likes of the Sydney Theatre Company and the 18th Biennale of Sydney.


UTSpeaks: Shapeshifters – the new creatives. Public talk @ UTS Great Hall on 7 March @ 6pm

Shapeshifters - the new creatives

When: 7 March 2012 – 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Where: The Great Hall, level 5, UTS Tower
RSVP: 6 March 2012


Is the global innovation movement challenging us to re-discover the innate creativity in all of us?

Can a holistic, trans-disciplinary approach to creativity improve our ability to solve problems, collaborate and share knowledge? How should we translate creative thinking into doing?

The 21st century presents us with a complex and competitive world, where nations are searching for processes that deliver innovation, creativity and solutions to our biggest challenges. Can Australia compete?

In this public forum, dynamic presenters, who embody a hybrid of creative industries and technology, investigate Australia’s position and future in creative innovation.

Forum Moderator – Hael Kobayashi
Hael Kobayashi is the Associate Director, Creative Industries Innovation Centre and the Executive Director, Creative Innovation at UTS. He has more than 30 years experience in film, digital and new media, design and performing arts, held senior management roles with Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light + Magic and DreamWorks Animation. He was a producer for Animal Logic for Oscar winning Happy Feet. For the past seven years Hael has worked with government, education and industry leaders in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia to develop and implement creative economy strategy.

Professor Kees Dorst
Kees Dorst is Professor of Design and Associate Dean Research at UTS’s Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building. He has worked as a designer, consultant, manager of several design firms and editor of a leading design magazine. His research focuses on the way designers think and work. His publications include five books, the most recent being ‘Understanding Design – 175 reflections on being a designer’ (2006) and ‘Design Expertise’ (2009) with Bryan Lawson. Currently he is working on an invited book for MIT Press on ‘Frame Creation – a design-based methodology for driving innovation’.

Dr Jochen Schweitzer
Jochen Schweitzer is Lecturer of Strategy and Marketing at the UTS Business School and co-founder of u.lab, a multidisciplinary innovation hub. He has worked as a management consultant, production-planning engineer and cultural program coordinator in Australia, Europe, Central and South America. He has extensive experience in business planning, organisational transformation and change management. His focus now is on teaching and strategic management research, collaboration, entrepreneurship and innovation with a special interest in design thinking and social enterprise.

Dr Joanne Jakovich
Joanne Jakovich is a Senior Lecturer in the UTS Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building and co-founder of u.lab. She is a design educator and researcher exploring the intersection of collective creativity and cities. She has exhibited work in Japan, Australia, Taiwan and the Netherlands in architectural and artistic contexts. She is the catalyst and producer of a new generation of urban engagement projects spanning entrepreneurship, social innovation and architecture.

UTSPEAKS: is a free public lecture series presented by UTS experts discussing a range of important issues confronting contemporary Australia.