We have invited students to join us every summer since Coalesce was founded. It brings a welcome, new dynamic to the office as well as lots of opportunities for tea-based humour.
Perhaps more importantly:
- We get to feel all philanthropic about helping new designers gain experience.
- We enrich our network with fresh new designers who may go on to join us when they graduate or even become clients down the line (more on this in our next post).
- We can let them loose on all the things we’d love to be doing but never quite find time for, thus forcing us to progress them.
This year Jamie Salter and Zarmina Shahzad joined us for 8 weeks. Jamie is now in the final year of his MEng in Mechanical Engineering at Cambridge University and Mina is starting the third year of her Product Design degree at the University of Lincoln.
Rather than treating students as cheap labour by giving them menial tasks to do, we try to set them a design challenge where Coalesce becomes their client. Our objective is to make the challenge as real as possible. Jamie and Mina’s challenge turned out to be a very real world experience.
Last year’s students had generated various concepts based around the USB interface. One of these was a charging and data cable for micro USB devices such as smart phones that would fit in a credit card slot in your wallet or purse. The idea was that it would be much less likely to be left at home where it can’t help you. We asked Jamie and Mina to pick up the idea, develop it, and produce a prototype. The project was going very well until about half way. Just as the detail design activities were about to get into full swing, Mina discovered an almost identical (though not quite as good) product on Kickstarter.
This situation is similar to that of the submarine patent. Nothing to do with submersibles, a submarine patent is one that evades detection until the day it is published, thus robbing you of the freedom-to-operate that you thought you had so carefully established by patent searching.
Everyone was disappointed. We considered our options and even judged there to be commercial value in continuing with a superior fast-follower product but the kudos of being first had evaporated.
Jamie and Mina went on to help us with a new medical device development (with the client’s approval) so they continued to get valuable professional experience but I can’t help thinking the credit card charger has been the most powerful lesson: with initiatives like Kickstarter now out there, the world of product development may not always be able to wait for the traditionally slow-paced world of intellectual property.