Leon Bovett
Chirryl Lee Ryan

Building Robots to Rewire Innovation


We all get together once a year for the Fjord Equinox meetup to learn from each other, to have some fun – and occasionally – to make someone’s life-long dream come true.

Chirryl Lee Ryan and Leon Bovett reflect back on their Robot Workshop from Equinox – one of several learning sessions organised at the Milan 2016 meetup.

Robotics is getting a bad rap. Our media streaming boxes are filled with dystopian visions of weaponized drones and subverted robotic slaves rising up against their organic overlords. Artificial intelligence (AI) grabs the headlines, promising to eliminate all but the most esoteric of human jobs, and therefore threatening the economy and the fabric of society as we know it.

At Fjord, we have a slightly different vision, one where robotics will be embraced by designers (and everyone else) because of its significant (and positive) societal influence in the future. Before then, though, we believe the process of actually making and experimenting with robots should be embraced by designers and technologists alike because it can help us be more innovative today. By creating new and interesting approaches to problem solving, robotics helps us understand – in a very tangible way – what it takes to design and build an interactive system.

We believe the power of interactive play is a key driver in both education and design, so we recently held a robot making workshop at Fjord Equinox to encourage our designers to play with physical electronic components and think about how to use them to design a functional, physical solution to a challenge.

The workshop format used an “electronics learning kit” intended for kids – in our case, six to seven “big” kids per team. We had them go through a simple, three-step process:

  1. PLAY: hands-on experimentation with simple electronics and other materials
  2. THINK: collaborative consideration of the challenge brief
  3. MAKE: use process and materials to rapidly co-create and prototype

Similar to the way children learn through play, this natural and practical process format consciously nudges participants to have fun, while subconsciously learning to practice design thinking and design doing. And it’s a great icebreaker for those who don’t see themselves as creative!

Each team was given one hour to design and build a robot with basic electronic components, cardboard, tape and anything else they could find. Aside from building some very funny robots (including one life-sized cyborg!), the broad range of solutions to the challenges at hand showed how thinking and working differently is key to creativity and innovation.


On top of that, the workshop format is a design tool that can be applied to solve many challenges, alongside other design tools like service design methods or the Fjord Rumble. We hope to increasingly see this technique used as part of digital transformation projects.

If you’re interested in how you can put this into practice in your organization, please get in touch!

Leon Bovett
Chirryl Lee Ryan

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