Anyone can be an inventor

Katja Vakula

March 20, 2018

I participated in an open innovation challenge for the first time in February. Before that I had my own doubts concerning innovation challenges, which I knew as hackathons at the time. I didn’t think I would have much to give as a designer. As it turned out, my preconception turned out to be inaccurate, and I highly recommend everyone participating in open innovation challenges to everyone, regardless of their discipline.

Our team at Demo fair at Critical App Challenge in Munich. Photo: Tapio Mäkinen

From a first impression..

My first contact with an innovation challenge — or in this case a hackathon — was at Junction (Europe’s largest hackathon held at the end of November in Helsinki) a couple of years ago. I was volunteering there and just kind of observing the buzz and the action as an outsider. The Junction venue consisted of multiple, quite dimly lit spaces, where there were table groups with computers and laptops, piles of energy drinks and protein bars, and of course the participants — mostly developers. The screens were filled with code and even more code against a black background, and the air smelled like electricity. This was my first impression. At that moment, as a designer, I couldn’t see how I could fit in that scene.

..to a first-hand experience

Then an opportunity presented itself, when our team from Frantic had a chance to apply to an innovation challenge by Industryhack and Airbus. The challenge was to invent an application for people working in critical circumstances — that’s people like police force or medics. We saw this as an opportunity to help people to save lives, time and money, so we assembled an unconventional team of two designers and one developer, and sent an application. We wanted to take a chance and adopt a more holistic approach to the challenge using design as our advantage, and having the user at the core of the service. We were happy to notice that our application got approved and we got to experience the open innovation challenge first-hand. When we arrived to the venue, I was very much surprised to see that the teams didn’t consist of only developers — the place was a happy mess of coders, designers and business people. This innovation challenge had brought together diverse teams and that was a great thing to discover.

Diverse teams for win

I was happy to notice that these actually are open innovation challenges, and they aren’t only a thing for developers. When the innovation team consists of different disciplines, you stand a great chance to achieve a solution that will work in the long run. Teams with this kind of comprehensive approach tend to also think about the bigger picture. You work on concepts and ideas, rather than ready-made solutions. For instance, our team focused on building a visual prototype and a concept with a backlog to work on in the future rather than a narrow and specific short-term solution.

More diverse teams are wanted. If teams are too homogenous and technology-focused the projects is at risk of failure. For instance, designers are needed in the teams to bring a more holistic approach to challenges and bring value to product development. Also the assembly of a pilot team positively affects the chances of success for further collaboration. Combining competences in open innovation teams can lead to surprising and versatile ideas and outcomes.

Finally, I can tell you: The more the merrier — so whether you’re a designer, business consultant or marketing specialist, I encourage you to take on the challenge!

  • Blog