"Brainport Connects" is my Master Thesis (or Final Master Project) completed at the Technical University of Eindhoven. As part of the Research, Design and Development group, I had to work with a client (company/organization/institution) for a year and complete a design brief they propose. However, I chose a slightly different path than your typical internship.
“Brainport Connects“ is a research through design experiment conducted within the Effenaar Social Cohesion Fieldlab. The experiment was granted a PPS toeslag (private-public partnership allowance) of 10 000 Euros for research from ClickNL. From ideation, to applying for the budget and finding the right partners, all the way to designing the experiment and analyzing the results into a paper, this project has given me plenty of areas to grow in from design to research to project management.
The scope of the Social Cohesion Fieldlab is to find solutions to societal problems regarding social cohesion through a technological prototype. The ultimate goal of the Fieldlab is to generate knowledge for creative industries.
“Brainport Connects“ aims at creating playful opportunities for connection between multi-cultural event attendees in the Brainport region. Sub-goals are the creation of sustainable ties and open relationships between strangers from different cultural backgrounds, especially between Dutch and expats.
The prototype consists of a mobile application containing three types of social games: treasure hunting for people, team games and puzzle games. The main concept revolves around self-disclosure: the games use information players reveal before the play to personalize the experience. The app was used in an experiment at “Let’s Spring Together“, an event organized by International Creative Women. The result is a research paper which contains design guidelines and opportunities for creatives who wish to implement similar concepts to connect multicultural event audiences.
“Brainport Connects” offered me the opportunity of building a rich network of people from the event industry or people who work with expats. Uit in Eindhoven will spread the results of the paper, while the demonstrator and design guidelines will also be presented at the Dutch Design Week. A collaboration is in discussion with Zeybramag, while the Effenaar is considering taking the platform further.
what people say
“My compliments; you did a great job. Your paper displays a sound and coherent approach from first assumption on the importance of weak ties to your advice on the next steps.
It is Interesting to learn on the surprising effect of simple games played in small groups in stimulating social connections in an event setting. It looks like a very promising way to really connect people with different background in the Brainport region. I would love to take this further!”
— Jos Feijen, manager @ Effenaar
In the past years, Eindhoven has become the innovation hub of the Netherlands. With its growing economy, the city has attracted more and more expats each year. This has had consequences on the social cohesion of its inhabitants. On one hand, there is the expat community which is trying to adapt and integrate to a new environment. On the other hand, there are the Dutch locals who are expected to get used to a changing environment. Repetitive contacts between the Dutch and expats are needed not only in the workplace, but also in the leisure environment. “Brainport Connects“ is a mobile web application which encourages forced interactions between strangers and pairs different nationalities within the play.
A big part of my professional identity is helping minorities, people who face injustice, and debating about situations in which misjudgment or negative, old mentalities are involved. Another thing that I believe in is empowering individuals to be more self-confident and believe in their own abilities. Since I came to the Netherlands, I have been struggling to grow my social circle. A few years ago, my parents migrated here and my mother became an expat spouse, trying to integrate and grow a social network here in the Netherlands. I have seen her struggle, but also my friends who graduated and became young, foreign knowledge workers in big companies which do not have much regard for the social life of their employees, especially the ones from abroad. I saw here an opportunity for a good research and design challenge which resonated with me on a personal level. What I wanted to create is a way of empowering expats, especially expat spouses through giving them an opportunity to enrich their social network, especially with Dutch locals. I wanted them to have a chance to regain the social capital they lost and get a chance of finding new opportunities in their new environment with the help of their own network. Moreover, I love integrating technology into my designs since I come from a Computer Science background. I do believe in the role of technology as a mean to bringing people together if designed right, not as a cause of social anxiety as apps are deemed to be nowadays.
The reason why I chose the event setting is not random, either. Research on the connection and engagement of audiences at events is not very rich. Since my client is a pop venue, but also my conceptual partner is taking care of the cultural event agenda of Eindhoven, I saw the perfect context to dive into this field and create some value for them as well, since they mentioned they particularly struggled to create activities for internationals. Moreover, contacts in the workplace exclude the expat spouses who do not work and need their social capital more than their working partner. After the market and field research I conducted before choosing the topic, I realized that there is a big problem with event organizers not seeing the huge opportunity they have to connect the Dutch and the expats in their free time when they are most relaxed and willing to be social.
Diversity Is Being Invited to the Party; Inclusion Is Being Asked to Dance
Verna Myers - Inclusion Strategist @ Netflix
As the initiator of "Brainport Connects", I applied for funding in December 2018 along with other five projects, out of which three moved on to obtaining the money. The criteria of the Fieldlab is to have a socially relevant idea which can ultimately generate knowledge for creative industries and gather three other partners: conceptual partner - problem owner, creative partner - e.g. a design studio, a freelance designer, an artist - and technological partner - e.g. a company which would develop the prototype. I partnered up with social designer, Lotte de Haan (creative partner), Uit in Eindhoven (problem owner) and the Kickoff Lab (technical partner). My main responsibilities within the project were:
applying for the grant,
finding the right partners,
negotiating contributions, bookkeeping, planning, finding the right location for the experiment,
updating the Fieldlab on progress
pinpointing a socially relevant problem, writing a research proposal, conducting market research, designing the research method and the right measurements, recruiting participants, analyzing data (quantitative and qualitative), writing the paper
spotting the design opportunity, gathering requirements from different stakeholders, ideating, app GUI design, game design, prototyping, user testing, redesigning concept into research prototype, validating concept during experiment
This project has helped me develop in many ways, by enriching my skills on different levels of expertise. Below, you can read how certain skills are reflected in my work during the year I conducted my Master Thesis. If you wish to read more about my decisions, design and research process, please check the following documents:
business & entrepreneurship
Since the brief was very general, I had to find a socially relevant problem and solution that would create value for all the stakeholders. At the beginning of the project I conducted interviews with different organizations and institutions which take care of integration activities and events for Brainport. Moreover, I conducted interviews, surveys and co-creation sessions regarding the social life and behavior at events of expats and Dutch in Eindhoven. I integrated this information in the design decisions and value propositions.For the Fieldlab and Uit in Eindhoven "Brainport Connects" offers new ways of engaging international audiences, research about public activation, design for connecting and uplifting their audiences. For the Eindhoven population, opportunities to network and expand social networks in a leisure environment, gaining social capital for expats.
As a project initiator, I found the right partners myself . I negotiated a viable financial plan that could fit the feasibility of the app development, experiment planning and organization with the different charges of the different partners.
I managed to handle risks such as not finding the right event for the experiment by calling upon my connections for back-up plans, having design versions with less features in case the budget was overstepped and thinking on my feet when there was a lack of participants in the experiment.
I managed to lead the whole process by myself through constant communication and keep up with all the stakeholder's requirements and needs.
All these steps made me more confident in my abilities as a designer because I managed to make people believe in me and my ideas enough in order to put their trust and resources in this project. Moreover, I managed to work on my weaknesses and manage a financial plan that was approved by investors (ClickNL) and turned out with no losses in the end.