“If you build it, they will come” while that might hold true for an ad hoc baseball field in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, the same is not true for an experimental innovation hub within a nuclear research center. That was the lesson that a group of students from IED, a design institute based out Barcelona, quickly realized when they first found out about Ideasquare.
Ideasquare is an experimental test facility within the CERN grounds that houses Detector R&D projects and hosts several MSc student programs. Some of these programs include the Challenge Based Innovation, which is a program that brings together teams of multidisciplinary students with diverse backgrounds such as engineering, business, and design, to address challenges faced by society. Ideasquare also hosts special events such as “hackathons”, where selected teams come in a two-day dedicated event to construct prototypes while respecting tight deadlines and a challenge-driven assignment.
There is much innovation based activity to be had in Ideasquare, but why was there a lack of acknowledgement from the CERN community? The group of IED students made an initial visit to Ideasquare in May 2017 to investigate this exact issue.
The IED students were made up different professional and cultural backgrounds but had one goal and method to reach that goal in common: Human-centered design. Human-centered design dictates that in order to truly solve a challenge that an individual or group of people are having, one must keep the user (human) in the center of the whole ‘challenge to solution’ process. In order to do that, it’s important to understand what problems or challenges, users are currently facing. In this case, why was there a lack of participation from the CERN community in Ideasquare?
After speaking to several physicists, researchers, PhD students, and fellows, it was evident to the IED students that it wasn’t necessarily that the CERN community was not interested in what Ideasquare was doing, but rather, it just didn’t know such a place even existed. How could this happen? Employees at a prolific research facility that has been in operation since the 50’s surely would have known about a dedicated test facility that specializes in experimental innovation and rapid prototyping housed within its own grounds.
As it turns out, there are lots of reason why word didn’t go around about Ideasquare, and simple communication was one of the big ones. The problem is, communication within an organization that houses over 12,000 personnel of different nationalities is not so simple. Of course, inherently there’s the issue of language barrier; however, virtually all of the CERN community can speak some sort of common language, usually english or french. But, there is also the various digital mediums used to disseminate information. One can use emails, bulletins, newsletters, or even messaging apps to reach out to the community. Sure, we can reach out to as many people as possible by simply using all avenues of digital and non-digital communication to announce a one time event such as the Ideasquare inauguration or an upcoming hackathon, but how do you also inform your audience about what Ideasquare has to offer in terms of capabilities and facilities? How do you show examples of some of the past projects and events that have taken place at Ideasquare?or from the user’s perspective: How can I reach out to the Ideasquare staff for inquiries about the tools for rapid prototyping? How can I host my own event?
Ideasqaure requires a repository for all this information, and it has one:
Screenshot of the Ideasquare website before the changes
The Ideasquare website is where anyone interested in Ideasquare would find what they were looking for. Fair enough, but once you got a hold of the website URL, would you know where to look to find what you were seeking?
Most of the resources for Ideasquare were located within the website but because this information was tucked away within lines of text, you really had to know where to look in order to find what you were looking for. Looking for contact information required you to navigate through the multiple pages and spend a significant amount of time reading through lines of text before you were able to find who to reach out to if you wanted to host your own an event. What if you didn’t want to host your own event but maybe just wanted to participate, maybe mentor students in one of the CBIs? You couldn’t find that information published anywhere on the site.
While the original Ideasquare website seemed complete, there were a few key information and communication aspects missing that we needed to address on the new website.
As anyone who has visited any modern website will know, it’s not just about cataloging all the information you have and displaying it on a basic template that will get people excited about your offerings; you need to ‘wow’ your audience with visuals and calls to action.
Some of the visuals and ‘call to actions’ currently seen on the new Ideasquare website.
On the newly updated Ideasquare website, we labeled different information categories with bold titles and/or with icons so the visitor would get a quick idea of what the page or section was about. We included a call to action at the bottom of almost every page that urged visitors to get involved or to get informed about the events, workshops, and facilities available. Along with descriptions of the Ideasquare offerings, we also included examples of past projects that showed how different organizations took advantage of the Ideasquare facility.
Possibly the most challenging aspect that we wanted to communicate on the new website that was not evident on the original was the Ideasquare mindset. From our initial research, we found that a large percentage of the CERN community was unaware of Ideasquare’s existence but what we also discovered was that those who did know about the Ideasquare building, only saw it as a space and not a mindset. It’s important to not only inform visitors of the tangible reasons to visit Ideasquare but also for the intangible ones.
Ideasquare offers more than just a space for rapid prototyping and hosting events; It lends itself to the opportunity of having people of different professional and experience backgrounds come together for collaboration and experimental innovation with different design methodologies. We summed that mindset in one message map, proudly displayed on the new Ideasquare website homepage.
Message map of Ideasquare’s offerings found on the homepage