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Innovative Design Unit celebrates milestone anniversary


A remarkable 25 years of designing a wealth of creative products for companies across the globe has been celebrated by a team at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

Back in 1992, in response to demand from industry, Professor of Design Peter Ford set up the DMU Design Unit, a small team of professionals who work on innovative research projects for private sector companies.

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The Design Unit team at DMU

Google USA, British Nuclear Fuels, Guinness, Adidas and British Telecom are on an impressive roll call of clients helped since then, with current projects spanning the UK, Finland, Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic.

To mark the anniversary, the Design Unit hosted a celebration event recently with 100 guests who included past and present DMU VIPs and staff, clients and people from partner organisations.

“It was all a bit of a thank you to anyone who has been involved with us over the years,” explained Prof Ford, “and to see so many of our clients and people from industry there was wonderful.

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The Design Unit's Xenon gas rebreather for babies

“We had a real mixture from DMU as well, from senior academics to support staff, security and finance people, right up to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Andy Collop, past and current Pro Vice-Chancellors, including Jeff Knight, and former Vice-Chancellor Philip Tasker.”

The event showcased some of the Design Unit’s best work during the past quarter of a century, and its various relationships with industry.

The unit has evolved in that time, working with scores of Small, Medium and Large Enterprises (SMEs and LEs), taking on a number of regional design and resource efficiency support programmes, advising governments in the UK, Oman and Indonesia, and establishing its New Product Development centre and its Retail Lab, a unique facility to investigate resource efficiency within the retail sector.

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The Xenon rebreather in use

“I cannot think of many groups in the design consultancy field that last 25 years or more,” added Prof Ford.

“We estimate we’ve done 160-plus design projects for more than 110 clients in that time and about 70 per cent of those that were not just concept exercises have been taken all the way through to production.

“That is very, very high, which I think is all about the intimate way we work with our clients.

“Consultancy firms have to be concerned with cash flow. We can afford to spend time with clients, our work being focused primarily on the value of the design outcome.

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“One aspect of the party which was quite sweet was that we tried to contact some of our older clients. One project from the early 90s was for Bullfinch, a company that makes gas blow torches.

“Both the guys we’d worked with were still there and one of them came along which was a real pleasure – they even presented us with one of the blow torches that resulted from our design work, which we’d never had a chance to see.”

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A lab technician uses the unit's Pulsar Nuclear Magnetic Resonance device

Other memorable past projects include two for Google USA, which has a fund set aside for key staff to use on off the wall pet projects. DMU’s Design Unit was asked to create two Google Merchandising trailers designed to look like and be towed by the new electric DeLorean cars which now get taken to university campuses in the States.

They were also commissioned to design ‘shoosh’ masks for Google’s open plan offices. These look a bit like a high-tech face mask which sits on a plinth at work desks for staff to put on when they want to make a private phone call so nobody around them can hear it.

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A digital food thermometer designed for the European Safety Bureau

Health care has been another field in which the Design Unit has helped pioneer improvements, examples including a Xenon gas rebreather for babies and stroke victims that helps prevent brain damage, plus its work with Arthritis Research UK.

Soon to be launched is an app for children’s hospitals that helps children manage their diabetes.
Posted on Monday 13th November 2017

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