Technology and knowledge connecting university and business
Issue 18 | Year 8 | MARCH 2018




The Design Research Lab supports companies and organizations with targeted design tools

Versione stampabile
Renato Troncon
is the scientific coordinator of DRLab and associate professor in the Department of Humanities at the University of Trento.
DRLab exploits the flexible methodologies of Service Design Thinking and Design Research, which use design as a versatile vehicle for planning and as a bank of suggestions and allow cross-fertilization between different planning practices.

The Design Research Lab (DRLab) is a recently established applied research unit whose activities are based on the conviction that design plays an increasingly important role in local development, both economically and socially.

Many studies have shown that design is utilised to generate a substantial percentage of GDP in those countries ranked by European Union statistics as most advanced and innovative. These countries have been better at exploiting the skills of designers to create growth in various sectors, but they have also used their cross-sector skills to achieve and maintain leadership in new fields such as knowledge transfer, public policy design, education policy, digitalization and sustainability.

Design skills are now required in an increasing number of everyday jobs in both the public and the private sectors, and it seems clear that design ensures a leadership role for both public and private organizations and institutions in an increasingly complex and competitive world.
The mission that DRLab has set itself is therefore to work on a deficit often noted in the Trentino economy, the relatively scant application of this knowledge to the productive and administrative system of the region.

To do this, DRLab uses the flexible methodologies of Service Design Thinking and of Design Research, which use design as a versatile vehicle for planning and as a bank of suggestions and allow cross-fertilization between different planning practices. It is a human-centred approach that puts the person and awareness of the ecosystem at the centre.

Within this transversal and human-centred vision, DRLab operates through the reformulation of problems; the development of appropriate conceptual models; the definition of the level of complexity of the different designs, in general by developing understanding of the design process; and the organization of the necessary skills for their management.

DRLab is not an autonomous entity that works independently of the companies and organizations that it works with on specific problems. Rather, to help them resolve the problems, DRLab gives them specific design tools that can become a permanent resource. In this way the culture of design is being systematically introduced in the Trentino region.

DRLab is also original and innovative from an academic point of view. As part of the Department of Humanities, DRLab draws on not only the skills and tools of service design, but also a set of philosophical tools from complexity theory and from biosemiotics which guarantee that design out in the field is undertaken with a full understanding of the meanings of the design. The first and most evident result of this approach is DRLab’s understanding of the implications for companies and organizations of the current transition from a product economy to a service economy.

Each year the researchers and specialists at DRLab work on selected projects that are essentially in three strategic areas of the economic and institutional system of Trentino: business, public policy and education. Recent project partners include the bakers’ association of the Trento province, Trilogis, the municipality of Calliano, the Monte Bondone tourist board, and the Provincial Institute of Educational Research and Experimentation. The problems that were worked on were different, but all strategic, in line with DRLab’s approach, and included problems as diverse as the branding of Trentino bread, mountain tourism in Trento, and an application to simplify life for property owners and tenants. Issues that DRLab has worked on include the reconstruction of the identity of a growing municipality wanting to develop its economy, and the need to ensure that the high school work-experience programme is based not only on regulations but also on consistent and coherent processes that support the interaction between schools and companies.

The Design Research Lab has significant partnerships in Germany and Scandinavia, which enable it to continuously develop the quality of its tools. In collaboration with the Design Research Lab in Berlin and Mimesis International, DRLab will release its first two publications, both in German, in May and September this year, respectively titled Gender (&) Design, and Activism (&) Design.
The Design Research Lab receives support from the Autonomous Province of Trento and was established in conjunction with Confindustria Trento, Fondazione Bruno Kessler and the Pavonian Artigianelli Institute for the Graphic Arts. DRLab also works with the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto (MART) and the Trentino Innovation Hub (HIT).