Creative by design

In summary: 
  • The new six-year Creative Innovation Strategy aims to position UTS as a world-leader in creative innovation
  • The strategy has entered its first phase of implementation - looking at how UTS’s faculties define creative industries and creative innovation

What wisdom can UTS distill from the world of feature film character development? According to doyen of creative industries Hael Kobayashi, wisdom that transforms thinking and produces graduates and researchers with astounding problem solving capabilities.

Photo of Hael Kobayashi by Joanne SaadHael Kobayashi, photo by Joanne Saad

Kobayashi, who brings more than 30 years’ experience in film, digital and new media, design and performing arts to UTS, is the nexus between the university’s Creative Innovation Unit (UTS:CI) and the Creative Industries Innovation Centre (CIIC), a joint Australian Government-UTS initiative. Since its launch three years ago, the CIIC has provided business advisory services to more than 400 creative enterprises.

Wearing two hats – Executive Director, UTS:CI, and Associate Director, CIIC – Kobayashi recognises the potential for introducing the CIIC’s ethos and approach into what he calls the “university ecosystem”. His six-year Creative Innovation Strategy (CI Strategy), which aims to position UTS as a world-leader in creative innovation and has just entered its first phase of implementation, does just that.

“When we look at the way today’s entrepreneurs in Sydney are setting up their business models,” says Kobayashi, “it’s evident they don’t make as many distinctions between sectors as their predecessors once did”.

According to Kobayashi, this shift in thinking occurred during the global financial crisis when entrepreneurs recognised a need for collaborative knowledge to get their businesses going. This, combined with the increased connectivity of the digital world, has equaled a changed paradigm – not only for creative enterprises but also for graduate and researcher attributes and capabilities.

“We are beginning to see more people in universities who work in highly collaborative, multidisciplinary ways.” This idea of collaborative knowledge is at the heart of his strategy.

Creative innovation, says Kobayashi, already exists in different forms right across the university. “There’s frequently a misconception that it only happens in design. Engineers, for example, undertaking deep research and development use an approach that’s fairly similar to a design process”.

The UTS Business School was an early adopter of, and advocate for, a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to problem solving –an approach they call ‘integrative thinking’. “This is all part of the creative intelligence movement that the UTS:CI strategy is now facilitating,” says Kobayashi.

Photo of Ellen Yang by Katia SanfilippoEllen Yang, photo by Katia Sanfilippo

Ellen Yang is Senior Manager of Creative Innovation for UTS:CI. Yang, whose background is in economic and arts strategy and policy, and industry development, is implementing the plan alongside Kobayashi. “We’re working across faculties,” says Yang. “As a starting point, we’re looking at how they define creative industries and creative innovation, and where they see themselves within creative intelligence. The CI Strategy aims to provide a connection point and a conduit that brings their existing work to the surface,” she says.

The concept of collaborative knowledge brings us back to feature film creature development. Kobayashi was working in the Californian film industry when he and his colleagues first realised the possibilities of a creative-intelligence approach.

Films such as Antz and Shrek were being developed at a time when universities in California were developing newer ways of using computer-generated images.

“We began to see the opportunities for collaboration between university researchers and industry, involving engineers, physicists, animators and computer graphic specialists,” he says. “It meant we could undertake some very deep and specific research in partnership, and in turn, university researchers could see their applications taking shape in the film industry. It was highly collaborative.”

Some of those collaborations led to early generation software that enhanced photo-real creatures, digital visual effects and animation. Some feature film studios, such as DreamWorks Animation, are now providing opportunities for select university researchers to take their sabbaticals in their studio environment. Software used for digital visual effects and animation are great examples of multi-disciplinary collaboration. “That approach to open-source thinking represents the next wave of transformation now taking place”.

Kobayashi hopes to encourage more of this kind of development at UTS. While the strategy is ambitious, Kobayashi says they’re taking a staged approach to implementation, starting with an initial program. “Right now we are in the early stages of collaboration and implementation with the faculties of Design, Architecture and Building, Arts and Social Sciences, Engineering and Information Technology, and the UTS Business School.”

Although the approach is focused internally, it is not inward looking. Sparking lively dialogue about creative innovation is crucial. One of the initiatives so far has been a series of UTSpeaks lectures titled Shapeshifters. In this series, UTS experts from different disciplines have taken to the stage alongside industry professionals and international academics on topics such as ‘The New Creatives’ and ‘Culturing Innovation’. Kobayashi plans to continue these public conversations over the course of the strategy’s six-year implementation.

The approach also harnesses the digital world’s concept of open source knowledge. “Being exclusive about anything doesn’t work in the 21st century,” he says. 

Next month staff and students across the university, as well as creative professionals and external partners, will participate in three innovation labs, each with a different approach to design-led innovation. The aim is twofold – to help people in different disciplines get more traction with their ideas and, perhaps more importantly, inform curriculum development.

“It’s also about putting creative intelligence at the centre of learning,” says Kobayashi. “Imagine a creative innovation elective available to all students, regardless of their faculty, that augments what they are currently learning and putting into practice”. The labs will be repeated in October.

Two organisations have already expressed interest in partnering with UTS on research endeavours. “Potential partners stand to benefit from the synergies between the ideas they are currently working on and ongoing discovery here at UTS,” says Kobayashi. The partnerships potentially provide opportunities for student internships too.

By 2018, Kobayashi and Yang hope to see a new generation of graduates, who are increasingly adept and agile in their ability to solve the critical problems and challenges that lie ahead.

They are confident UTS will realise its goal – the university executive has identified the CI Strategy as a priority and the team from UTS:CI have, so far, been met with enthusiasm across the institution.

“It’s that willingness and wanting to participate that’s going to enable us to have a strong internal strategy”, says Kobayashi.  “One of the things I appreciate most about UTS is its critical mass of fantastic thinkers and doers — they exist in every faculty, centre, institute and unit, and that’s remarkable for an organisation this size.”