2019 02 17

Design Innovation for Greater Competitiveness

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In recent years, Lithuanian companies have taken an increasingly greater interest in design that can help them compete in the international market. As specialists emphasise, design projects can make or break companies. And there are many design services available to business – from product design to the strategic application of design company-wide.

An interactive recycling machine, a real-time printing device for instant photos, a set of medical devices for treating psoriasis and an innovative product that makes learning chemistry more interesting in schools – these are just some of the innovative design products created by Lithuanian researchers, either in partnership with businesses or still in search of partners that could help take the prototypes to market.

It was this exact task – helping advanced ideas and innovative products find their way to investors in Lithuania and abroad – that the open research and development network OPEN R&D Lithuania set for itself, bringing together the country’s national universities, research institutes, R&D parks and open access centres. As the largest innovation infrastructure, service and competence network in the Baltic states, it facilitates the meeting of Lithuanian researchers and developers of advanced technologies and entrepreneurs from Lithuania and beyond, encouraging their cooperation.

Wide-Ranging Competence

“In the area of product design, we function as a branch of the innovation division, working to develop products from idea to prototype. We can get a product ready for mass-manufacture,” explains Dr. Adas Meškėnas, director of LinkMenų Fabrikas at the Creativity and Innovation Centre of Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU).

The idea is developed with the client from both the design and technical perspective. As a technical university, VGTU has considerable engineering and technological competence, allowing it to offer a wide range of solutions – from electronics, mechanics and transportation to aviation, autonomous hang-gliders and the internet of things. Specialists can also prepare visual presentation material for the purpose of launching the innovative product or attracting investment. This is especially important for startups.

One of the most innovative design products to date is the interactive recycling machine created in partnership with UAB VIP Viešosios Informacijos Partneriai. The machine collects deposit containers, the deposit amount goes to charity, and the user gets a word of thanks from the machine.

A collaborative partnership with UAB Printaprint resulted in an innovative design and innovative electronic solution – a real-time printing device for instant photos from social media.

By the commission of the Panevėžys City Municipality, a team from LinkMenų Fabrikas partnered up with Drone Team to produce an informational stand with a 55-inch touchscreen that displays a 3D model of Panevėžys and that can be navigated virtually by touch. VGTU specialists created both the design and the technical solution for the device.

The client and brains behind the idea for a time-lapse photography device was the photographer Dalius Pacevičius. It was his idea that the VGTU LinkMenų Fabrikas turned into a device that can automatically take pictures at pre-set intervals for up to several months. All of the camera settings and functions can be accessed online. Captured images are automatically uploaded to cloud storage. The device can be used to observe and analyse slow-moving processes, for example, river erosion or progress on a construction site.

Not Just an Aesthetic Solution

“Design isn’t just an aesthetic solution or the presentation of the created product,” emphasises lecturer Rūta Valušytė, head of the Design Centre at the Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), “Design solutions generate additional meanings and add value to the product.”

The KTU Design Centre has already worked with companies such as Simbiotecha, Burbuliukas ir CO, Sedes Regia, Arpolis, Jasevičiaus Baldai and Rosela. According to the designer, these companies see the market changing, so they are on the lookout for innovative design-related solutions. They understand the significance of design.

The collaboration with UAB Simbiotecha was an especially successful one, resulting in a next-generation design for an electronic tracking device. Design specialists had to submit proposals based on the client’s brief, which clearly detailed the desired parameters and asked for a product that could be applied in several different ways. The client also asked for simplicity, ease of use, economical production demands and an innovative design that would make the product unique in the global market.

In another example, UAB Burbuliukas ir CO commissioned a design for a next-generation mobile water ioniser. The client allowed the designers to use the latest in technology on the condition that standard water ioniser proportions were maintained. The designers also had to take into account one of the client’s principal requirements – to provide the Lithuanian business with a competitive edge in the global market through innovative design.

Pre-sold Even Before Manufacture

According to Marius Urbanavičius, director of the Design Innovation Centre at the Vilnius Academy of Arts (VDA), the VDA’s academic design community helps businesses develop their ideas, while the VDA Art and Design Laboratory, which functions as an open access centre, provides prototyping services. Every year, prototypes for innovative design products are created at the VDA. Some go on to become successful business products, especially if they receive sufficient moral and financial support.

For example, Ignas Survila’s Ravenkick scooter, inspired by the success of his previous Pigeonmodel, was sold out before it even hit production. One example of an on-going collaboration is a partnership with the Italian interior design company Gruppo Status, which makes Light Stick, a light fixture designed in 2011 by Živilė Lukšytė.

Every year, the VDA Design Innovation Centre organises the Young Designer Competition. Over 60 VDA graduates and bachelors as well as masters of design from other Lithuanian schools of higher learning participate in the event. According to Urbanavičius, the Young Designer Prize has become a professional springboard for many of its laureates. The exhibition of the best student work is a great space for business representatives to evaluate the potential of the young designers.

Virtual Experiments in Chemistry Classes

This year, the Young Designer Award went to Karolina Petraitytė, a VDU student whose final bachelor’s project presented the innovative Chem Tokens, which combine augmented reality with physical sensation to make learning chemistry more interesting.

As the designer explains, the product consists of two parts: specially designed tokens and a mobile app. The tokens represent the elements and allow students to learn about the unique properties of each element and the entire periodic table. When scanned with the app, the tokens come alive through augmented reality. Students can see what the chemical elements look like in reality, combine molecules and solve chemical equations or even conduct virtual experiments.

“I consulted with chemistry teachers and I talked to students about what was difficult in chemistry lessons and what was easy. I’m currently on the lookout for partners that could help the product reach schools, where it could be useful to students,” reveals the young designer.

From Personal Experience

The final project presented by VDA bachelor student Lukas Kučinskas – a set of medical devices for treating psoriasis and maintaining personal hygiene – was one of five contenders for the Young Designer Prize in the product design category. PSORA Furis a device for removing dandruff from hair and clothing. For patients who suffer from psoriasis, flaking skin causes great discomfort. Another device, PSORA Labe, allows the user to apply medical creams to psoriasis-affected skin in hard-to-reach areas of the body and on the head. Psoriasis sufferers are forced to do this frequently. The process is a time-consuming one because the application has to be exact in order to protect the skin from an excess of hormonal creams.

“Psoriasis is a skin disease that has no cure. I have had it myself for 12 years. That’s why I wanted to create a kit that would make life easier and help deal with the problems that arise with this condition,” explains Lukas Kučinskas.

The VDA student is determined to go beyond the prototyping stage. During his master’s studies he will strive to secure funding for his product or partner up with a business that could finish the work he has begun and make the transition to market.

“In spring of this year, we launched a project to expand the VDA Design Innovation Centre. The project will be complete by early 2021. So soon enough it will be even easier for business and the VDA community to cooperate,” assures Urbanavičius, director of the VDA Design Innovation Centre.

The Open R&D Lithuania Contact Centre aids businesses in their search for suitable partnerships within the scientific community (open@mita.lt).

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