Many companies continually strive to develop their products, services and general business to be more effective and up to date through incorporating and exploiting original ideas and new concepts. Driving this kind of innovation forward demands different competencies and qualities in and around each company. Here, we want to give you a look inside the innovation processes of two Danish companies, namely the shoe manufacturer ECCO and the architectural firm 3XN.
As part of its development strategy and to experiment with the future of the shoe, ECCO has established a collaboration with Design School Kolding and invited students to work with design principles on a two-month-long course every year, with a special focus on shoes and their accessories. The collaboration is all about challenging ECCO to view design problems from different angles and see future opportunities for the company, as well as making use of and challenging the inherent talents at the design school in Kolding.
“We have to set the students a sharp assignment, and we have to be sharp, when it comes to getting results out of the course. We have a whole series of presentations from the students that we are going to go through one more time, testing the concepts and finding out which of them we are going to go into. The concepts get stronger as the years go by, and that makes it evident that we are getting better at collaborating to create future innovation,” said ECCO’s Vice President of Research & Development in Denmark and Portugal, Jakob Møller Hansen.
To support the collaboration further, ECCO sets up a shoe workshop at Design School Kolding during the course, so that students can work with the actual machinery and gain experience of the techniques involved in making and designing shoes. According to Jakob Møller Hansen, the workshop is necessary for the students to attain a certain level of skill, while it also increases their curiosity towards the shoe business.
“We get a lot of inspiration and there are synergy effects of the oblique approaches to the assignments we set, while the good ideas from the students tend to affect our way of thinking about our business in a positive way. At the same time, we would like to open the students’ eyes to the shoe world – that there are many interesting design tasks to be done in this business. Denmark is not a shoe country like Italy, Spain or Germany, so shoes do not feature that much on the agenda of designers to be. So, another crucial part of the reason why we are collaborating is that we want to get the students interested in innovating within our business area,” stated Jakob Møller Hansen.
Møller Hansen knows that by participating in the collaboration with the design school, he is creating an opportunity to attract the best students to apply for jobs at ECCO, for example. Indeed, ECCO has hired many graduates from Design School Kolding over the years – people who are now an integral part of the design team at ECCO.
Furthermore, ECCO collaborates with students when they are doing their final exams. But why does such a big company collaborate with students who have not graduated yet? According to Møller Hansen, it helps the company stay relevant in an ever-changing world.
“We want to do a proper job. We are dedicated to giving the students and the school a good experience, so they know that ECCO takes them seriously. That is also why we’re making our experts, technologies, machines, etc. available to the students. Trends and ideas evolve over generations, and it is important that we have an eye on this evolution. It is part of a constellation inside our company that tries to keep us up to date with the trends in fashion and lifestyle – even the megatrends. If we do not understand the world we operate in, we will quickly become irrelevant to our customers,” says Møller Hansen.
It is not only design companies that are trying to alternate the methods of innovation. GXN was established in 2007 as an internal division of Danish architectural practice 3XN, and has since day one been working with applied architectural research in green materials and building technologies. Indeed, the “G” in GXN stands for green, highlighting GXN’s commitment to ecological design research through digital processes and innovative material solutions. GXN’s competencies span the whole range of architecture and design projects, research and innovation and external consultancy.
“GXN has to adapt to a world where sustainable solutions are more sought-after. We believe that the organisations that are going to do well, are the organisations that are delivering sustainable solutions. That is also why we established GXN – to deliver relevant solutions in a world that is moving toward a circular economy. We also saw an opportunity to expand the reach of architecture and to push the envelope related to sustainability. We believed that there was a need to approach both architecture and sustainability in a much more holistic way, integrating material research, data analysis, biology and digitalisation, while also working with experts across a wide range of industries,” stated Kasper Guldager Jensen, architect and director of GXN.
GXN collaborates with colleagues at 3XN across the spectrum of activities, including everything from contributing to sustainability initiatives to competitions to parametric modelling for facade development or exploring innovative sustainable materials and other solutions for projects. According to Guldager Jensen, sharing knowledge is the best way to gain knowledge; therefore, all GXN’s work is multi-disciplinary and open source.
The work continues to evolve as well, as exemplified by GXN’s latest projects. BladeRunner, for instance, aspires to use robotic technology to revolutionise the construction industry by facilitating the production of advanced organic forms in architecture at price levels comparable to those of standard construction. Natural resources are scarce and construction accounts for 40% of the material and energy consumption in Europe. This means that a switch to a circular future is necessary.
Another of its projects, Building a Circular Future, is a new initiative that maps out where you are, where you are going, and what is needed for this conversion to take place. It includes ideas like design for disassembly and creating material passports, which will allow GXN to track and reuse valuable structural building elements.
“We have a dynamic team that has done a lot of inspiring work over the last decade, ranging from developing bio-composite building systems that help reduce a building’s embodied energy by 50% to designing exhibitions that call attention to sustainability issues and help educate professionals and students,” stated Guldager Jensen.
As can be seen with these two companies, how to prepare for an ever-changing future can be very diverse. The common denominator is the will to start engaging with what is coming, and thereby keep abreast of the developments in the industry.