China Hardware Innovation Camp: widening design students’ understanding of innovation

By August 16, 2019 September 17th, 2020 Education, News

China Hardware Innovation Camp: widening design students’ understanding of innovation

In the context of its education programmes, the EPFL+ECAL Lab supports CHIC since four years. In mixed groups, engineering, design and business students have to imagine, design and prototype a connected device. After 9 months of work, the final stage of the programme brings them in Shenzhen, China to create a functional prototype. 47 students in 8 teams have participated in CHIC 2019.

Martin Stricker and Diane Thouvenin (ecal) discussing about their project HAPSTICK with designers from ARTOP Group in Shenzhen

For this 2019 edition, Marius Aeberli, Head of Education at EPFL+ECAL Lab, has worked with the CHIC staff to revisit the programme’s structure and activities. The goal was to strengthen the human dimension of the projects while questioning students on their values and responsibilities as makers.

Exploring the human factor in innovation

“The first change we did in the programme is the way students identify opportunities” explains Marius. “The students are used to explore ideas of solutions, thanks to a narrative they built. Not to observe people behaviour, nor to discuss with strangers to identify their real needs. It requires to go beyond assumptions and to adopt another gravity center. To build a real expertise about an issue.”

Thus, during the programme’s first month, teams had to explore defined places, observing specific groups of people and all the data they generate, willingly or not. Then, from their multiple observations, the students defined an opportunity space and refined it thanks to interviews.

“This process doesn’t aim to be a magic innovation process. It’s more an experiential learning that helps participants to shift their lenses.”

Some 2019 CHIC projects (left to right): CARING is an alert system for hospital, KNEE that enables to monitor and gamify knee rehabiliation and HAPSTICK, a connected walking assistance to reduce recovery duration 

And the shift didn’t stop here.

Facing values’ conflict and makers’ responsibility

After having defined the ‘what’, the students have been challenged on the ‘how’ too. After a first prototyping iteration, the teams had to discuss their products ideas on the angle of the data ethics with Dr John Fass, from the Royal College of Arts. The students even made an ‘abusability’ test, hacking their peers’ products. This kind of exercise aims to enable participants to observe some hidden dimensions of their ideas. Unveiling unexpected potential consequences and inherent responsibilities as designers.

Left: Dr John Fass giving a talk about data ethics and design biais ; Right: Morgane Zbinden and Emilie Stoll, from CARING team discussing their data flow in an abusability test

Discovering context interdependencies

The final three weeks trip in Shenzhen and Hong Kong is the climax in participants’ new perspectives exploration. The schedule is very intense: on top of the final prototype development stage, the CHIC participants are involved in multiple local visits and activities. Among others, a discussion with designers from Artop Group about how to adapt teams’ products to the Chinese market.

“Of course, the main learning goal isn’t about business development. But to observe how much we depend of the context when we talk about ideas and innovation.” specifies Marius.

Left: Visit of the OPPO headquarters and discussion with their design team; Right: Pablo Bellon, Camille Glatz and Emilie Stoll, from CARING team discussing with ARTOP Group designers about adapting their project for the Chinese market

If the geographical context has a huge impact, the time too.


For the first time, CHIC has joined the Hong Kong Design Institute for a design fiction workshop. In multi-cultural teams, the 63 participants had to discuss a current Hong Kong social issues and to imagine its evolution in 2025. From this extrapolation, they were asked to imagine a product that would fix it and to create a fake description for a dystopian e-commerce platform. A critical thinking exercise that asked the students to examine another reality while playing with the time variable.

Left: The AKANE team working on their prototype in Shenzhen; Right: 63 students have participated in the design fiction workshop at Hong Kong Design Institute

Beyond the form

“CHIC is easily taken for a tech accelerator or incubator. In fact, its emphasis on learning from mistakes, rather than selling a product, is the program’s greatest strength.” explains Marc Laperrouza, co-founder of the programme. In the same idea, the changes that have been implemented this year aim to foster students’ reflexivity, not to improve the design projects’ quality. “Designers have much more to offer to education than creation expertise. Activities such as design thinking, co-creation and design fiction enable students to explore new horizons and their roles in it.” complements Marius.

Students registration for the upcoming edition are still open until September 1!

CHIC 2019 Cohort visiting LSCM, a research center in Hong Kong that is focusing on IoT, robotics, and AI

Marius Aeberli

Marius Aeberli

Marius has a background in interaction design, transforming emerging technologies into new user experiences and business opportunities.