Collaboration on fire
Fueling the creative spark and fanning the flames
At denkwerk thinx, we believe that curiosity is the spark behind every great idea. It’s what fuels that fiery passion for discovery, inquiry and learning. The future (our future) belongs to the curious. This inquisitiveness and imagination are the beginning of creation and we like to encourage, support and facilitate it in any way we can. So in 2014, we created a program called “Summer of Thinx” where we open our innovation lab to young doers, thinkers and dreamers that aren’t afraid to think outside the box — and we’ve offered it every year since.
What is SoT?
Good question! Summer of Thinx is many things but it’s NOT your average internship. Our interns aren’t sent on coffee runs or assigned mundane tasks; they don’t do all the work while the “real” employees take all the credit. Instead, they get hands-on experience in product design, programming and prototyping — as fully-integrated and valued members of the thinx team (even if it’s only for a few weeks). They might be “interns” but be we don’t see them that way; no hierarchies here. They are collaborators that we’ve invited to work with us.
I suppose you could call it a creative adventure, an exploratory expedition, a journey to discovery, a kind of “pre-incubator”… but let’s not get hung up on the fancy terminology. Ultimately, it’s a unique collaboration opportunity and a chance to turn imagination into reality. As the saying goes: if you can dream it, you can do it…here…with us.
Mighty big talk, but we stand behind our assertions. So, what’s so special about Summer of Thinx? What distinguishes it from any other internship? We can sum it up in 5 points:
1. Collaboration without borders
Creativity is universal and transcends the constraints of culture, language and fields of study etc. In fact, we consider these defining characteristics to be absolutely invaluable, which is why we put together an international and interdisciplinary team for each SoT session. This pluralism, i.e. mixture of different cultures, education, experience, interests, knowledge and personalities holds great potential for innovation. By diversifying our collaborator’s origins, we come in contact with different points of view that widen our perspectives. What’s more, a team that has a varied and diverse background will inevitably have a broader range of experience and ideas to draw upon. Case in point.
2.) The perfect balance: freedom vs. framework
It’s true that working at an agency is different from working a traditional nine-to-five job, but we’re no strangers to the daily grind. We’ve got to adhere to customer requirements and rigid deadlines like everyone else — real creativity crushers. And although we work in the creative sector, it’s still difficult for us to find a good balance between structure and freedom. That’s part of why we created this summer program — to consciously set aside time to “play” and experiment.
During SoT our goal is to provide the optimal environment to get those creative juices flowing and the necessary tools to bring ideas to life. We believe that establishing the right mix of structure, creative freedom and support will create the conditions for communication, innovation and productivity in the team. SoT interns have the freedom to create anything they’d like within the scope of their brief but also have our experienced thinx team on stand-by to offer support and guidance in whatever they need whenever they need it.
In addition to the physical utensils and materials available to them in the lab, we like to equip our interns with “mental” tools to help them along the way. For example, we conduct ideation and prototyping workshops or do creative and team building exercises (e.g. office yoga, “ending world hunger”, paper airplane competition). We teach them to work in a user-centered manner (Cf. ISO 9241–210) using agile development methods. In this way, they can get quick results when testing their prototype and then flexibly adapt further development to new requirements, allowing them to improve their product in several iterations.
We hold frequent meetings to discuss the projects progress, i.e. what they’ve achieved thus far, problems and possible solutions, how to refine their concept etc. And if the interns need something that goes beyond our expertise or lab capabilities, we get them the help they need — for example, consulting with external experts, procuring equipment or renting other facilities.
3.) Work hard. Play hard.
This summer program is intense: Both in terms of time spent and relationships formed. For 6 weeks, the thinx lab (and denkwerk) is our interns’ home away from home and we do our best to make them feel welcome. Our interns’ only concerns: enjoying the company of other creative minds and making the most of the time at SoT working on turning their idea into a finished prototype.
You know what they say about “all work and no play”… At thinx (and denkwerk) what we do outside of work is just as important as what do at work (for different reasons, obviously). We work very interdisciplinary here, so good rapport and an exchange with colleagues both inside and outside of the lab are important. denkwerk offers its employees lots of opportunities that foster these relationships, e.g. sports program including Pilates classes, table soccer, arcade games, beer tastings with our home-brewed beer, and many others. Plus a lot of colleagues do things together outside of work, like going to happy hour or exploring Cologne. During their stay with us, interns are welcome (and encouraged!) to participate in any and all activities! You know, because of team-building, psychological safety, and all that jazz.
4. More than just “experience”
Everyone knows that doing an internship gives you valuable hands-on work experience that will help jumpstart your career. Don’t get me wrong, experience is great, but experience paired with money is even better. Especially when you consider living expenses, travel costs, health insurance etc. Those things add up…and can be especially difficult for a student or young professional who doesn’t have much. Well, there’s good news for SoT interns: you get PAID. On the one hand because we want to help out with the expenses above, but more importantly because we believe that honest work deserves honest pay! AND your ideas stay your ideas. You get credit for your work. We respect intellectual property rights and these are considered, for example, when filing for patents.
5. The sweetness of (shared) success
As a member of the thinx team, you are a part of something bigger… and can revel in shared success, both past and present. We weren’t kidding when we said anything is possible here: we’ve helped our SoT teams turn their ideas into working prototypes. Some projects from past sessions are Notipen, SKARV and Ernesto.
It’s pretty awesome when everything comes together and you see the fruits of your labor. Something that was once in your head is now in your hands. And while this sense of accomplishment is nice, receiving outside recognition for your work is good for the ego. Several past SoT projects have won prestigious design awards. Some ideas have even made it past the prototype phase. Just because SoT is over, doesn’t mean that an idea is put to bed. Particularly promising projects are further developed in the lab, e.g. SKARV.
This is what’s so exciting about Summer of Thinx…we never know what the end result will be and it’s possible that it might just be the next big thing.
Dare to be different
So, why do we put so much effort into an “internship”? Why do we try to go beyond the traditional experience? The answer is easy: at thinx we like to do things differently, as a matter of principle. A wise man once said that if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got. Duly noted, Mr. Einstein. We’ve taken these words to heart and know that in order to make progress you sometimes have to deviate from the norm.
For us, it’s all about exploring possibilities and pushing boundaries to create things that facilitate interaction with our environment and the people around us. This kind of project work celebrates our differences and facilitates unconventional thinking, allowing us to approach difficulties or problems in new ways — usually resulting in improving existing ideas or even coming up with innovative solutions.
This creative exchange, the ideas resulting from it and the things we learn from each other are priceless. And while it is a lot of work, we say: Totally. Worth. It.
Summer of Thinx 2018
And while we’re at it…a little (shameless) self-promotion never hurt anyone.
We are now accepting applications for SoT 2018!!!
You know the drill: if you or someone you know might be interested, get in touch with us or spread the word! Creativity is contagious…so pass it on!