The product development environments enabling
interdisciplinary cooperation between university and industry
E. –M. Santamäki
Future Lab of Product Design, Helsinki University of Technology (TKK), P.O. Box 4300, FI-02015
TKK, Helsinki University of Technology, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) has a long experience of international interdisciplinary
product development projects, which have been realized in cooperation with industry. This research aims
to study and improve physical working environments and tools and how to transfer the best practices to
industrial companies. The international and interdisciplinary Product Development Project (PDP) course
is used as a platform for the research. Every year the PDP teams, consisting of students, seem to have
repeatedly achieved better results than the industrial standards consider being possible. One motivation
for affects of spatial planning is to better understand the phenomena.
This research will focus on facility user observations and user experiences in different spatial solutions in
the Future Lab Of Product Design (FLPD) prototype. Key questions are what kind of new spatial
planning settings or similarities in working habits could be transferred from University to industry
The preliminary research of FLPD’s product development environments shows that the students and
other groups, e.g. the PDP-course sponsoring companies can benefit from flexible facilities that can be
adjusted for various purposes e.g. teaching, user studies, prototyping, problem based project learning,
team working sessions, and for relaxing and recovering between the working periods.
Keywords: working space, spatial planning, mobile work, interdisciplinary
The need for spatial planning for project organisations is increasing. Working culture and habits are changing
rapidly, but the work environments and premises have not followed this cultural development. Key factors for
effective working environments are more than just interior design and latest IT-equipment. Spatial planning in
project organisations is driven by holistic solutions that support the actions. Topical solutions, including pleasant
environment, are organisations ability to recognise spatial requirements. Convertibility, mobility, technical
facilities and the accessibility of the facilities are the needed ingredients to create such a working space 
Flexible solutions enhance the possibilities to diminish the gap between work and leisure.
During summer 2007, the FLPD started a design and renovation project for the facilities located in TKK’s
Laboratory of Mechanical Design. The interdisciplinary project group included three industrial designers from the
University of Art and Design Helsinki (TAIK) and one Product development engineer from the Helsinki
University Of Technology (TKK). Team asked consultancy from various disciplines, for instance interior
designers, architects, cognitive scientists and professors from other universities. The Team’s task was to design
and build a physical prototype that would suit both industry and university needs. Different users of the space
coming from different Universities and industries are all related to the different process parts of product
development. The Main courses utilizing the designed spaces are teams from the PDP, International design
business management (IDBM) and Stanford’s international multidisciplinary product development project (ME
310). In addition FLPD sponsoring companies  and other stakeholders are involved. While IDBM-groups
concentrate on business concepts, the PDP-groups are building fully working physical prototypes.
This paper examines how the nature of work is changing and what kind of new working environments are needed
in product development processes. We also try to understand how (physical) working environments affect and
release the latent potential inside the product development teams. What kind of working spaces are needed during
the different task types in product development process, in addition to that, what spatial planning solution
implementations could be transferred from the FLPD-facility prototype to industry environments? A recent case
study states that industry presence is not very common in University environments  and that tight bureaucracy
in universities are hindering efficient use of different facilities - for example the students of Graz University of
Technology are prohibited to use the laboratory facilities, inhibiting active use of space .
Working with product development means that different environments are needed. There are many situations
where different fittings are needed. The key issue here is convertibility: possibility to change fittings of one area
to serve as another. Working spaces designed only for one purpose are not very competent in the 21 century.
2 MULTI-LOCATION AND DISTRIBUTED WORK
Working styles are changing and industries are searching for multi-location working-environment and method
implementation examples. Operations have been decentralized and mobility has increased dramatically during the
past decade. The research institute IDC estimates that there will be over one-milliard mobile workers by the year
2011 . Working styles have changed a lot during the past 10 years and the development will continue due to
the fact that organizations are starting to reduce expenses resulting from empty office space. Mobility enables
organizations to get closer to their clients; low bureaucracies on working styles and the possibility to work from
multiple locations are great assets when hiring new employees. Generation Y, which refers to a specific cohort
individuals born from 1978 to 1994, is really hard to hire into organization that represent the 20 century
environment, which is common in many universities and industries, because they will prefer to work rather in
more casual spaces and they are born into technology society . This transition leads to the basis of planning
and developing physical, social and virtual working spaces for different needs and users.
Distributed work can be used in any kind of knowledge work. Knowledge workers are multi-located and while
locations where work is done are becoming less relevant, the quality of the environment, where the actual work is
performed, becomes more critical and evident . University-Industry cooperation needs new kind of working
environments to support varied needs of mobile workers. Many case studies state that a common demand in
distributed working environment is a need for quiet places to do creative work without forgetting an easy way to
share the created information to others. Sometimes a private meeting room is needed, places to collaborate and
share knowledge among other colleagues, while the same workspace should be transformable to fit various other
utilizations. Professor Matti Vartiainen from TKK suggests that future workspaces should be modified by the
behavior of the space user. Working spaces can be anything from cafes, transportation, conference centers to
office hotels. Not forgetting the possibility to use client’s premises as a remote office. No one should have an
assigned desk or private office instead space should be reserved by the need of work task . There is a notion
called workscape, which covers spaces from physical to virtual spaces. The spaces suitable for work can be
divided into working environment (office, airport station), working area (meeting room, café) and work settings
(table, chair or sofa). Integrating virtual work settings (email, videoconferencing) into physical environment forms
the notion called workscape .
Universities should offer a workscape for industry representatives to do mobile work when visiting e.g. the
PDP-course teams. The ideal situation would be that the University could provide the needed space for the
sponsoring company during the ongoing project. Companies could for example relocate some employees from the
main office to University premises, enabling easier communication and knowledge sharing between the
collaborative parties. This environment should be accessed easily 24/7 and offer different working environments
to collaborate, share information and communicate securely.
Why should every research team, programmer or other knowledge work employee be located in a prison dungeon
of 3x5meter cabinets, without any connection to outer world or other teams? FLPD tries to tear down the walls
build between research teams, industries and students – everyone should be treated with the same principles and
The NetworkOasis mobile working environment located in Joensuu, Finland is a great example of what kind of
workspaces are needed to support mobile worker’s different needs. These facilities offer a variety of spaces to do
different tasks related to creative work. In addition, the environment is located in the very same building that
facilitates the University of Joensuu, enabling easier collaboration between industry and University. Versatile
environments enable and welcome researchers, specialists and groups from different companies to meet and
collaborate . The concept introduces new functions into working environment, which can encourage toward
mobile work. In contrast to normal offices that quiet down after 6pm, NetworkOasis offers working cabinets with
the option to sleep over, facilities like large kitchen, sauna and entertainment possibilities complete the ideology
of working 24/7 without leaving the premises. The spatial layout setup of Network Oasis is seen in FIGURE 1.
The layout enables a variety of working styles and methods inside the same facility. The layout is easy to
reorganize and transform to support the different needs of its users everyday and night. Converting this layout to
support University-Industry cooperation in NPD-projects should not be an impossible task to accomplish, and we
aim to convert and use some of these elements in our future research projects. Some similarities to NetworkOasis
can already be found from the FLPD prototype – for example the FLPD Simultaneous Studio seen in FIGURE 2.
In addition to versatile needs, facilitating communication needs special attention. Distributed brainstorming
sessions are usually held in an environment, which does not offer any stimulation for creativity. The FLPD
videoconference environment offers creative stimuli and supports different types of activities needed (see
FIGURE 3). Different time zones and people located in different continents, makes scheduling brainstorming
sessions very complex. Communication and brainstorming sessions are really difficult to arrange especially for
Stanford’s ME-310 teams, which are collaborating and multitasking with team members from other universities.
Stanford students are working from their premises and international teams are working from their own University
facilities, but everyone working with the same project. In additions to that, sponsoring companies are often located
in another country, so face-to-face meetings are really infrequent. Frequent meetings between the client (Industry),
organization (University) and teams (Stanford&Helsinki) wouldn’t be possible without the help of
Figure 1 Spatial-planning layout of the NetworkOasis (www.network-oasis.com)
Figure 2. Simultaneous Studio Figure 3. Brainstorming over videoconference
3 Developed spaces and spatial solutions in the FLPD that could be transferred to
FLPD-laboratory prototype as mental and physical environment was designed with students, researchers and
industry representatives. The driving force behind the spatial solutions at FLPD-facility is to support the various
needs of the interdisciplinary and distributed teams during the different product development phases. During the
academic semester we have observed how the new facilities have worked and what spaces need more
development. One idea is that spaces are never ready-meaning that working environment transforms with the
activity and user. Industry representatives and visitors from other universities have found the FLPD-laboratory
prototype working with the interest to transfer the spatial settings to other facilities. Spatial planning in the FLPD
project means a space setting design, that offers a group meeting-, individual working- and prototyping areas for
different user groups and stakeholders. The environment is also provided with surroundings that enable
disengaging during working hours.
3.1 Simultaneous studio – versatility and integrating all the needs in one space
Simultaneous Studio (Studio) is a unique space that transforms to the numerous purposes needed in different tasks
of product development. Studio’s 120m lofty open space supports collaborative teamwork, seminars, workshops,
brainstorming, videoconferencing, prototyping and private work. All these functions are integrated into one open
space. Companies and organizations can easily see how the open spaces with different working settings support
various working styles and methods.
Organizations of all sizes have come to recognize that innovative workplaces can enhance employee and business
performance  Industries have woken to develop their facilities and now some companies are offering tailored
workspaces to meet their organizational needs. There still are many organizations seeking ways to effectively use
their investments in space and technology, which are the second greatest expense after the biggest expense of all –
The Studio environment is available for students, researchers and industry representatives 24/7. IT-network is
planned with low bureaucracy, allowing users to use VPN-connections, videoconference software and other
needed communication applications. Open, easy to use and reliable IT-network is an absolute requirement when
facilitating mobile and distributed industry employees, because without Internet connection employees are
disconnected from their organization . We want to underline the low bureaucracy rules on IT-networks,
although every industry and University has well equipped IT-networks nowadays, but in many cases, closed
networks with slow convertibility are restraining and blocking many processes and communications being
developed. This can be easily avoided, by using a separate open network for testing and visitor purposes. So the
significance here is that the network should be always working, no matter whether is it configurable or not.
The Studio can hold up to four different teams at the same time, with low disturbance for each other. Every area
offers a different environment for the needed task and can be easily transformed into other purposes. The Studio
transforms in minutes from 70 people seminar to 4 teams collaborative work environment, (see Figure 4 and
Figure 5). Interviews and surveys done with the Studio users state that the FLPD facility prototype is working
because the designed environments are not sterile, like many other University/Industry environments are, and
spaces offer a plethora of unusual stimuli to be creative. Furniture bought from different places and use of
different colors, pillows to sit on, a palm tree and a sea container housing videoconference room and container’s
roof used as a private working area create a unique setting for the University environment. The FLPD spatial
planning pre-research has found that utilization rate changes a lot during the day. Mornings are usually packed
with meetings, while during lunchtime the space is filled with students, researchers, facility staff and industry
representatives from different companies. Shared environment, where students, researchers and people from
industries update information between each other, is a rare phenomenon in many cases. Although this is a rarely
seen situation in a university environment it is even less frequently seen in many industry environments and
business parks, which are promoting their facilities as networking and open communication environments, but are
generally closed spaces, without any serendipitous meetings between different organizations.
Studio’s afternoons continue with brainstorming sessions, team meetings and videoconference sessions. Evenings
follow the same path, but meetings turn into more relaxed and open. The idea is to pack all those different
environments needed in the early phases of product development process into the same space while increasing
activity and collaboration between different parties acting at the FLPD premises. The Studio’s spatial layout has
aroused attention in different industries and other Universities. Space is used in many industry workshops and
courses offered by different universities and organizations. Observation and survey
results state, that there is a great need for such a collaborative spaces that can be transferred into various purposes
in no time.
Figure 4 Studio’s seminar setting Figure 5. Studio’s teamwork setting
3.2 Material library
Tom Kelley, from design consultancy IDEO, makes strong claims that their toolbox concept, a trolley packed
with different materials and new cool gadgets, has helped them in many projects. It’s both a mindset and a
physical statement and it creates value to work and strengthens corporate culture, says Kelley. He feels that it is
important for engineers and designers to see and touch different kinds of materials and gadgets during the product
development process. He promotes the idea behind the toolbox by saying that it’s all about surprise and
serendipitous discovery and learning. IDEO has subscribed the toolbox concept to world leading office furniture
manufacturer Steelcase, so that the toolbox is always up to date in IDEO’s every office worldwide and can be sold
or offered to other parties .
FLPD pre-research reveals that there are not so many material libraries available in Universities or industries.
Data gathered from previous years PDP-students, stated that there is a need for an easy access information centre
that could offer the basic information on materials and where to place an order if material is needed. The new
product development teams (NPDT) are usually interdisciplinary and the level between the team members
knowledge on different materials is not even. In addition to all other information needs that these teams have, it
should be easy to widen the knowledge on new materials and gadgets that are popping into markets now and then.
The purpose of the material library, that is built and tested on FLPD premises (see Figure 6), is to provide basic
information on most common materials, which helps working, studying and getting more information on possible
materials. Often students, designers and engineers depend on the materials that they know from before; the aim is
to get them to look beyond those and to widen their perspective on materials. When there are samples and
information available on such materials, that users don’t know from before, they might find some new interesting
and possibly better alternatives than they would have chosen otherwise. This is how we can encourage learning
new through experimenting. At this moment, material library prototype includes samples and information on 37
different materials, one material sample seen in figure 7.
In corporate-world, the material library could have the same role as in the University. It would enhance the
interest towards new materials, improve material knowledge and be a source of inspiration.
Figure 6. Material library environment Figure 7. Material sample
3.3 Mobile and always open video conference – improving communication and social presence
Knowledge resources, partners and even students on TKK’s PDP are surprisingly often shattered geographically
into different countries and organizations; this generates new challenges’ for collaboration and communication
between the involved parties . Product development teams need to transfer and exchange huge amounts of
information quickly and spontaneously. Every complex product development project calls for a multidisciplinary
cooperation and knowledge between different parties to be successful. Today’s markets are changing rapidly and
are acting dynamically, which requires industries to be awake and react to changes instantly. This challenges
industries to work 24 hours per a working day, which is possible to achieve through videoconferencing and
efficient information sharing 
Due to the fact that multidisciplinary product development groups are located in different areas or even in different
countries, there should be an easy way to communicate and share information between teams and research groups.
Videoconference rooms, quick messaging, message/team boards, networking and IT-equipment help teams to
share and acquire information. Working environment itself should encourage to serendipitous meetings and to
support open communication between teams, researchers, facility staff and industry representatives. World leading
office furniture manufacturer Steelcase has done many researches concerning communication and collaboration in
working environment. Finding is to create spaces that stimulate the user. These spaces encourage informal
interaction, conversation and socializing . The FLPD have implemented relaxing points close to machinery and
other working areas that will not get disturbed by people having conversations or playing Nintendo Wii. Absurd as
it might sound, people playing video games in a University. But it is the easiest way to get your mind away from
the work, if the other option would be calling it a day and leaving to home.
Video conferencing offers usually the best form of communication, when there is a need to solve problems,
change information between teams or a need to a have brainstorming sessions and face-to-face contact is not
possible. Fast technological development has enabled videoconferencing from laptops with mobile 3G- or WIFI
–connections. Nowadays videoconference should be available for everyone and in use on daily basis, but it is not.
Complex and difficult videoconference equipment are often hard to use and located in some gray colored meeting
room, which in the worst cases should be reserved a week beforehand. Videoconference situations are complex
due fact that it is seen as a reserved situation with formal discussion, usually the fruitful informal discussions
starts after the video connection is closed. This was noticed while observing the Stanford’s ME-310teams using
the videoconference software at the Studio.
Feeling of social presence measures how well communication tools are assisting individual connections between
others . Highly social presences interaction is often described as more vivid, social and intimate, than those
interactions where social interactions are less abundant. Face-to-face conversations are the best rated form of
social interaction. Synchronized communication tools such as voice and videoconferencing enable higher feeling
of social interaction than asynchronous tools e.g. email. Although social presence is seen vital, it can also be seen
disruptive . Spontaneous communication doesn’t need planning beforehand, but normal videoconference
systems need to be setup well beforehand.
Many videoconference systems are hard to use and are not available for student use. Preparation, test connections,
reservation and protocol problems are common problems related to videoconference systems. Many teams don’t
want to use their valuable time on configuring connections between distributed teams, states the survey done for
the PDP-students. This led the FLPD to develop an easy to use, always-online videoconference system between
two universities TKK - TAIK, connecting multidisciplinary and distributed teams together all the time. The
system could be described as a window to another room, creating the feeling of social presence of
other students and staff. There are no rules or bureaucracy who can use it or for what purpose. Having a chat with
random people or asking advises from people walking by the camera, is now easy and effective. The equipment
reposes near to the FLPD café where students, staff, researchers, industry representatives and other random
people meet each other’s and have unplanned meetings (see Figure 8).
The future plan is to develop the concept to connect sponsoring PDP companies to work closer with University
and support open communication and information sharing. The developed videoconference package is reasonably
cheap when compared to other videoconference system offered by various companies.
Figure 8. Always online videoconference between TKK-TAIK
Conclusions & Future work
We strongly believe that through the FLPD’s facility prototype, industry cooperation with the University will
increase and some developed working environments can be transferred for industry use. A physical prototype is
easier to approach, test and modify than ideas on a paper. FLPD prototype proves that University offers a great
platform to test and develop different working spaces, methods and working environments for product
development needs. Already some concrete solutions to increase versatility, sources of inspiration and social
presence, as well as better communication, have been identified.
The FLPD facility prototype is working, but is getting too small to facilitate all of the interested parties. The
FLPD has succeeded in integrating industry to work close to the University, but the present facility is too small to
offer constant working areas for involved parties. Future improvements will require more meeting and team rooms
and areas reserved for mobile and quiet work. Spatial planning was done so that the designed environments are
easy to transfer to other facilities.
We’ve developed a product development environment that pleases students and industry representatives alike and
enables beneficial collaboration between the involved parties. The spatial solutions in the FLPD-facility have
revealed that there is an extensive need for such environments on a larger scale. The FLPD-facility prototype
offers a great platform for testing different kind of working environments needed in the diverse product
development processes. While other parties are just planning what Finnish Innovation University would look like.
The FLPD-facility already offers a physical example of what kinds of environments are needed when integrating
different universities, parties and stakeholders together. The next project and challenge is to transfer and integrate
these functions on a larger scale into the Design Factory (DF) facility, which is a preliminary joint venture to
integrate three leading Universities in Finland (HSE, TAIK and TKK) into one University called “Innovaatio
Yliopisto. The FLPD will be in a key role when DF is launched.
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