Collaborating in the Time of Covid: A Hello xLAB + Sheridan College Partnership Update
The last 18 months have certainly been a mixed bag. While there were plenty of reasons to drink excessively or bury your head in the sand, there were also glimpses of hope, authenticity, and opportunities for those willing to take a few bruises along the way.
Early this year, we announced our product research partnership with Sheridan College in Canada, which thrilled the pajama pants off of us. We weren't going to sit around and wait for opportunities; instead, we took this time to explore new avenues and partnerships, create new processes and purposeful tools, and put on a nice buttoned shirt for Zoom meetings.
"...the future of collaboration in a post-pandemic world will be fluid."
While the knee-jerk reaction in any financial crisis is to kill your marketing budget, lay low and hope for the best, Hello xLAB GK and Sheridan College saw an opportunity to roll the dice and reimagine the business networking platform.
A quick recap of the partnership
The partnership between Hello xLAB GK and Sheridan College was meant to collaboratively research and develop a real-world product with a team of students, the latest processes, methodologies, and design tools. In 14 weeks, the students took our brief and developed it into working prototypes to present to internal stakeholders.
The basis of the partnership was conceived around the question, "What if finding business opportunities and partners were as easy as a dating app?" and with a target set, we explored a nuanced and accurate approach specific to private and public sector projects.
The platform needed to optimize tedious search and matching processes using critical profile details, powered by an advanced matching algorithm, while generating reasons for returning users.
We had a 30,000 ft. view of the world through bi-weekly check-ins, observing the development process, identifying areas for adjustment, providing guidance, mentorship, and support to elevate the work.
By late April, two working prototypes and case studies were presented detailing the step-by-step process that turned our brief into a product.
These students owned a complex project from start to finish in a short period, demonstrating a professional understanding of the tools and methodologies in product development, preparing them to tackle real-world scenarios within diverse external teams—a testament to the faculty's vision, genius, and consideration.
A big takeaway of this partnership was the ease of remote collaborating over great distances and time zones. How the tools only recently published or rediscovered saved much of the civilized world from utter collapse. We used them to better match private and public sector projects with the right partners.
The program's head and leading visionary, Andrew Hladkyj, spoke extensively on several topics, from processes to product design philosophies, remote work, and collaboration between the public and private sectors.
We wanted to dig deeper into these topics as this pandemic pulled the thread of traditional office policies, introducing new methodologies and reinforcing old life hacks for a more human-centered environment.
The Digital Product Design program aimed to equip graduates with the necessary tools to deliver market-ready solutions using the correct methods and processes in research, design, and development. Andrew goes into detail by adding, "The goal of the program is to produce graduates that take a holistic approach to designing human-centered digital experiences that engage users and respond to their needs."
Discussing what comes next, referring to the state of collaboration, post-pandemic, Andrew shared his thoughts on the future. "In a word, the future of collaboration in a post-pandemic world will be fluid." He added, "...we're no longer bound by proximity and antiquated office policies forcing people into seats; instead, our capable but rudimentary tools will most certainly mature to better suit the needs of any industry's workflows and team members wherever people might be."
"One of the great things about working with Hello xLab GK was it felt professional yet casual...which helped us foster our own work culture in our group."
The students offered their perspectives as their education and careers were directly impacted by the change.
"Without having much experience in working remotely, it took some time for us to get comfortable with our workflows. That said, simulating our brainstorming sessions online worked well for the team and gave us opportunities to witness product development from ideation to prototype and testing." – Drasha Yogesh Gohil, Team Cookie Dough.
"With the help of the remote-collaboration tools available (such as Figma, Mural, Teams, etc.), we were able to stay focused on getting the job done and meeting deadlines." – Wei Vicky Liang, Team Cookie Dough.
That's not to say remote collaborations did pose their own challenges to overcome. We observed how quickly the students adapted to roadblocks effortlessly and mastered their new paradigm.
"Having user testing done remotely without supervision required an additional level of planning... to ensure that the prototype was functional... [and] the testing platform to be fool-proof to efficiently yield meaningful results." – Dat Nguyen Truong, Team Chill Labs.
Powered by AI
At the heart of our networking platform is the automation of searching and matching the right partners with the right opportunities, taking the guesswork out for users, and optimizing a very time-consuming process most people dread.
Andrew had some insight into the role AI will play in the future and how its advancement will open the doors to many possibilities. "It has been said that the best interface is not having one." which reflects the types of non-physical interactions from brainwaves, touchless gestures, and verbal communications. Our interfacing is becoming less rigid and more organic in nature.
Finally, reflecting on the effectiveness of our partnership, we genuinely believe that when the public and private sectors come together, great things can be achieved. We genuinely like working with schools. There's a great mutual benefit that enriches both the learning and work environment.
Andrew and Sheridan College both believe that the value of private and public sector collaboration in a research capacity would provide the essential tools for the student to effectively work in external teams, thrive, and be tomorrow's industry leaders.
At graduation, we sat with some of the students to gauge their experience working with us remotely. We learned so much from the students as much as they learned from us. That's a critical takeaway for this collaboration was the mutual learning experience.
"We had a great experience with Hello xLab GK. Mark and Dwayne were open to various ideas and creative freedoms that allowed us to explore what our project may become. They gave constructive insights and advice to help propel our project forward and had a great working foundation for reference.
One of the great things about working with Hello xLab GK was it felt professional yet casual, and there was a sort of ease when collaborating with Mark and Dwayne, which helped us foster our own work culture in our group." – Team Chill Labs.
In our pursuit of diverse clients, projects, and awards, we have to remember our humble beginnings and make time to give back to our institutions and communities. Support for the next generation of industry leaders will help continue the cycle of collaboration, innovation, and holistic growth at the industry and educational levels.
We're honored to have collaborated with Sheridan College this year in reimagining the business networking platform to support the private and public sector accurately match opportunities with the perfect partners.
Our story doesn't end here, as we hope to continue our relationship with the college through the product's lifecycle.
About Hello xLAB GK
Hello xLAB GK is an experience design company based in Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Our sole purpose is to deliver unique design solutions that help connect people, places, and the objects around us. Our expertise in design, innovation, and strategy allows us to play in an ever-changing sandbox.
From UI to spatial design and all points in between, we ensure a cohesive experience throughout the project or product lifecycle.
About the Digital Product Design Program
Interactive media and digital products need to be designed with users in mind. In Sheridan's Digital Product Design courses, you'll learn to create products that meet user needs with intuitive and efficient interfaces. You'll also develop your critical thinking skills as you learn an ethical approach to design that considers societal impact and challenges of modern technology. Learn More
About Sheridan College
Our programs are purposeful in every way: outcomes, career-readiness, social responsibility, and life and work skills. Learn from professors with the industry expertise you expect, and a passion to teach that makes your education formative, informative and stimulating. Small class sizes also offer you more face time with your professors. Learn More