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Placing design at the heart of innovation

Problem Solved: university research answering today's challenges

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Design plays an important role for business and industry by adding value to products or by helping the innovation of completely new ideas and ventures. De Montfort University’s ‘Improving Business by Design’ project has enabled SMEs to put design at the heart of their research and development so that they can bring outstanding and popular products to market.

De Montfort University is well positioned to lead this project, having significant academic design expertise. This has enabled them to link with design and manufacturing companies, a process of knowledge exchange that benefits researchers at the university, the business partners and of course the customers that use the resulting products.

When the innovators behind ‘Walkodile’ approached De Montfort University, it was clear that this expertise was needed to make their ideas a reality. Walkodile is an innovative children’s safety device that links children together in groups of two or four. Elaine Stephen who developed the original concept of the Walkodile said “It’s not easy taking a large group of young children out on a walk outside school or nursery… ask any childcare professional.Young children are very unpredictable and no matter how careful you are and how much adult supervision you have with you, there’s always the chance an accident could happen. I wanted to create something which would make the children safer and make this task more manageable.”

The design challenges for this product were very complex; it had to be lightweight, safe and reliable, fun and attractive for children to use and ultimately cost effective for parents and nurseries that would need to buy it. For a company with limited resources, these development challenges would normally be insurmountable.

The product has won several prestigious design awards and Dame Elaine Stephen herself was awarded an MBE for services to Child Safety in the Queen’s 2011 New Year’s Honours List because of tremendous safety benefits that the Walkodile has brought families and nurseries.

However, researchers at De Montfort along with their rapid prototyping facilities were able to provide the research, development and design infrastructure needed to bring Walkodile to market. The researchers took a Computer Aided Design (CAD) approach to the process as traditional techniques would have been too resource and time intensive for a small company to sustain. A carefully managed experimental research programme was undertaken using three dimensional CAD design and advanced prototyping development. Research was embedded within the whole design process, including in the evolution of the design to produce the final product.

The researcher’s efforts were rewarded as the product itself proved to be a huge success. Elaine Stephen said that “Walkodile has received extremely positive feedback from children, parents and childcare staff. It has also received widespread acclaim from many other communities and interested stakeholders. I know it will give me, my colleagues and all other education professionals significant improvements in outdoor education for us and the children under our care”.

The product has won several prestigious design awards and Dame Elaine Stephen herself was awarded an MBE for services to Child Safety in the Queen’s 2011 New Year’s Honours List because of tremendous safety benefits that the Walkodile has brought families and nurseries.

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