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Diversifying partnerships to innovate: the example of PSA Group

Diversifying partnerships to innovate: the example of PSA Group

Knowing how to find the right resources outside the company to get a breath of fresh air, inject new ideas and shake up old habits is essential for boosting innovation. To do this, schools and students can be strong partners.
This is the vision of PSA Group who have brought together several reputed schools of art, design and technology in their OpenLab Design since 2012. How? With what goals? And what expected benefits?
Jean-Luc Pognon, UX Lead in PSA Group and head of the OpenLab Design, gives us the answers.

What are the aims of the OpenLab Design and when was it created?

The OpenLab Design was set up in 2012, between PSA Group, L’École de Design de Nantes Atlantique, Strate Ecole de design, and l’ENSCI. The network has since grown with the arrival of l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Métiers, l’ESTACA and HETIC. This network is destined to develop even further with the arrival this year of l’Ecole des Gobelins.

The aims of the OpenLab Design are:

  •  to explore and design the interactions and interfaces of a product or service
  • to put the spotlight on tomorrow’s user experiences, with multi-faceted mobility and improved continuity of service
  • to stay at the cutting edge of user-centered design methods
  • to benefit from human and material resources (internships, work-study students, prototyping workshops, school entities abroad)

As well as these benefits, the students’ approach and the formalization of concepts depending on the training programs of the OpenLab’s different schools above all helps to refresh internal discussions and debates, challenge our received ideas and certainties, and call into question our project communication methods – basically, they shake things up a bit!

Example of project

How does the OpenLab Design work?

The OpenLab Design is part of the Research and Innovation Unit. It is under the operational responsibility of the UXLab team, the DRIA and UXCT (User eXperience Cockpit Teams) use laboratory.

Each UXLab designer is responsible for piloting an OpenLab Design project. All the projects are coordinated and their progress is reviewed at the Steering Committees which take place every trimester, with all the schools, at PSA Group’s design center in Vélizy.

An OpenLab Design project involves one or two schools working together, for one semester or one school year.

How do you define the subjects which are proposed to the schools?

Each year, new subjects are put forward to schools by PSA Group, in relation to PSA Group’s Research and Innovation Plan.
Within this plan, we select themes touching on HMI (Human-Machine Interfaces) and UX (User eXperience), which necessitate a young, external viewpoint, to be as close as possible to the concerns of future clients in terms of aspirations, uses and technologies.

We have recently started asking schools to suggest new modes of collaboration (for example, a partnership with another school, in France or abroad). If these modes of cooperation correspond to issues and geographical zones with strategic importance for PSA Group, then the subject can be launched.

Why do you work with students from L’École de design Nantes Atlantique?

Since the creation of the OpenLab Design, L’École de design has collaborated with PSA Group every year with a very high standard of investment from students and staff.
In addition, the school’s international branches are a major asset for us. For example, an OpenLab Design project was conducted in 2016 with the Brazil Studio in Sao Paulo. The Latin America region is important for PSA Group.
Another example: in 2019-2019, projects were initiated with L’École de design, the China Studio and the India Studio.
These are examples of collaborative efforts working on PSA Group’s projects with international outreach.
Finally, in 2018, a student who had taken part in an OpenLab project was subsequently hired by PSA Group, which shows that this network also helps identify future recruits.

What do you expect to get out of these projects?

We ask the schools belonging to the network to supervise students closely to guarantee that the subject is tackled correctly. This can be done with the help of a professional designer recruited by the school as an external consultant for the duration of the project, or by a member of teaching staff, or through one of the school’s laboratories – this is the case for the Human Machine Design Lab which we’ve done a lot of work with.

Do these projects generate ideas within the company? Do they help you find a different vision? Have you developed certain concepts internally to put them on the market?

The final restitutions of OpenLab Design projects have a twofold objective:

  • In terms of substance, they must inform internal reflection and make us aware of certain concerns of new generations. They are, in this respect, a goldmine as they explore uncharted territory and areas previously unexplored by the group.
  • As for form, the students’ manner of analyzing, presenting and representing their ideas is a real boost for us and our internal presentations and communication methods.

However, the concepts thought up by the students are not always usable in their initial state. They are used more to raise questions within the group and, for certain very high value concepts, they act as springboards.

What do you like about the profiles of our students?

The students from Nantes who are involved in the OpenLab Design projects are often passionate about cars or, more broadly, about the issues linked to mobility. They therefore find an ideal environment for their internship. In the case of a recruitment following an OpenLab Design project, they will thus have been prepared to think about our design problems and our challenges for several months before joining us. They have good experience and an interesting perspective even though they’re only 23 or 24 years old.