The ID Department has collaborations at various levels: within TU/e with Departments such as Mathematics and Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences (formerly Technology Management), and nationally with the Industrial Design Engineering Faculty of TU Delft and the Industrial Design Engineering course of the Faculty of Engineering Technology, University of Twente. Internationally the ID Department collaborates with institutes from four different continents.
Design functions as a link between research and investments in new knowledge on the one hand and useful products resulting in economic success on the other hand. The design of successful intelligent systems, products and related services is only possible, in the Department's view, if the user is chosen as the starting point for the total design process. Apart from psychological needs, users have their own specific cultural backgrounds which play an important role in many parts of the design process, from the very first idea up to and including manufacturing, sales and service.
Consumer product design has become mainly an international business entailing large networks. One of the reasons for this is that the costly product design and development can be done in one country because the expertise is to be found there, whereas the production for a global market is carried out in another country with low labor costs. Singapore, for instance, has chosen to be a center of research and development as well as a financial and economic center, while production is carried out in the surrounding Asian countries. This sounds like a simple example of combining the best of various worlds, but in practice it is more complex. An industrial design engineer from TU/e should know the international playground and be able to operate with a sound understanding of and respect for other cultures.
Globalization does not mean one ‘size' – or design – fits all. Companies now produce classes of products with tailor-made features for specific markets, since consumers all over the world have their own specific, culture-bound wishes and demands. The industrial design engineer of the future must never ignore this fact. At ID the cultural aspect is not only an important issue, compared with the more mono-disciplinary scientific fields such as math and physics, but it is an integral part of the process, as industrial design is interwoven with the cultural setting. Design cannot be an international success without attention being paid to cultural influences such as appreciation, tradition, the way society is organized, and the way, for instance, in which intelligent systems, products and related services are used.
Right from the start the Industrial Design Department took the lead in building an international network of partner universities and (multinational) company research groups for staff and student exchanges, and cooperation in research.
Today partners from four continents take part in the network and work together with the Industrial Design Department of TU/e: North America (GeorgiaTech, Carnegie Mellon, USA), Asia (National University of Singapore and Zheijang University, Hanghzou, China), Oceania (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and University of Technology, Sydney, Australia) and New Zealand (the Victoria University of Wellington). In Europe collaborations exist with many different partners, including the Politecnico di Milano, University of Florence, both in Italy, UIAH (Helsinki, Finland) and RCA (London, UK). These contacts are mostly based on educational exchange.
The aim of this network is to reach a Global Research Agenda for the focus of Industrial Design: designing intelligent systems, products and related services. This is an ongoing process. The definition and formulation of clusters of new PhD projects between partner institutes with benefits for each partner is a very good way to reach in-depth cooperation. A vital part of these research endeavors is the cross-cultural or multicultural approach. A plan will be worked out for a collaborate research conference to be organized by one of the partners, yearly on a rotating base, starting in 2010. All partner institutes, together with representatives from the relevant industries, discuss the long-term vision on the development of the field and use this information when new chairs are defined.
With regard to the infrastructure, the creation of a unique International Design Laboratory will be worked out. Sharing parts of infrastructure becomes a reality by linking together the labs and infrastructure of partners. The facilities can be used and activated at a distance, which implies that the partner groups, staff and students will continuously work together on projects, crossing time zones, boundaries of continents and cultures. This collaboration will lead to the appointment of members of PhD committees and of various advisory committees. Industrial Design strives for one rotating full professor chair through which a professor from the network will spend research and education time at TU/e on a half-yearly basis to promote the cooperation between the partner institutes. The visiting professor on this exchange chair will be fully integrated in education and research.
The development of this International Design Laboratory and the development of tools supporting it is itself a design research project. From an educational point of view the International Design Laboratory is a design facility ‘under construction' that is used to carry out multi-location projects.