Next-gen designers = next-gen solutions

In the FIT/Infor DTech Lab, students get to solve real-world problems with design and technology.

At the end of February, Infor hosted the 2019 Digital Design Job and Internship Fair for Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) students at its New York City headquarters. Nearly 20 local agencies met students enrolled in the Creative Technology and Design and Advertising and Digital Design programs, reviewed their portfolios and discussed employment opportunities.

Every seven minutes, for two hours, students moved from table to table to present their work and learn about careers at BBDO, Havas Health Plus, CIO Design at IBM, Code and Theory, PwC Experience Center, Verizon, Adobe, Infor and more. The energy in the room was palpable and — by all accounts — it was a hugely successful event, resulting in more than ten follow-up interviews and several job offers.

Portfolio reviews, speed-dating style: Every seven minutes, FIT students changed tables to share their work with nearly 20 digital agencies.

This was just the latest activity in the dynamic three-year relationship between FIT and Infor, which launched the FIT/Infor Design & Tech (DTech) Lab in 2016 as an extension of the Infor Education Alliance Program. DTech offers experiential learning opportunities in a supportive environment with intensive in-lab projects, and students solve real-world problems for real-world clients. Since the lab opened, the partnership has grown to include scholarship opportunities, Infor’s sponsorship of the Harper’s Bazaar ICONS event during New York Fashion Week and an internship program at Hook&Loop, Infor’s internal experience R&D team. Hook&Loop took over the FIT/Infor relationship about a year ago.

The relationship is a natural. While FIT is widely recognized as a premier educational institution for fashion, perhaps less well known is that it offers 50 degree programs that span art and design, business and technology, liberal arts and graduate studies. Located in the heart of New York City, it’s just blocks away from Infor’s global offices. For Infor, which is committed to differentiating itself via user experience and addressing the needs of the emerging workforce, FIT is a pipeline for insights — and talent. The next-generation workforce is helping to create the next-generation enterprise.

Under the guidance of Michael Ferraro, executive director, and Judith Bowens, associate director, students in DTech have participated in innovative projects that:

  • Enhance education by combining coursework with professionally guided learning, creating dynamic opportunities to leverage the fresh perspective and new ideas of talented, creative students.
  • Engage industry through partnerships with companies ranging from innovative startups to global leaders that de-risk innovation on behalf of major brands and retailers.
  • Empower entrepreneurs through direct engagement with emerging designers, working with faculty and students to migrate early-stage fashion businesses to next-generation enterprise software and technology.

Here are some recent highlights from the program.

Reimagining training for enterprise software
As representatives of the emerging workforce, students reconsidered training for enterprise software with a one-size-does-not-fit-all point of view. Instead, they focused on user roles, job responsibilities and workflows. They brainstormed how to deliver more configured content that addresses different user needs and expectations via a variety of devices. The team stratified the development of training materials by identifying three user profiles within an organization. They then prototyped a solution for each:

  • A responsive app for millennials that prioritizes roles over features, supporting newer employees’ career aspirations.
  • A gamified app for professionals who are already familiar with enterprise software and want to improve their skills.
  • A conversational app employing AI for executives who already have extensive knowledge of their company and industry.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) designed for fashion
FIT is vested in the success of emerging designers, many of whom will run their own small businesses with the aspiration to grow, but existing software solutions are too big and complex for most small- and medium-sized businesses. The product team for Infor CloudSuite Industrial (SyteLine) agreed to engineer configurations that meet specific needs within the fashion industry.

Students are working with designer Noah Waxman, under the close supervision of adjunct professor Neil Hicks. Waxman manufactures shoes in the U.S. and Europe; sells through wholesale, online and retail channels; and manages a warehouse in New Jersey to fulfill orders. As students implement critical solutions for Noah’s brand, they have an unprecedented opportunity to see firsthand how enterprise software supports — and can help grow — a business. They are learning the entire fashion lifecycle: sourcing, designing, manufacturing, sales and delivery. At the same time, they are providing valuable insights into the evolution of the user experience in enterprise software for the next generation.

Wearables get fashionable
Neue, a Swedish fashion tech company, approached the DTech Lab with an opportunity to explore the advanced digitization of fashion for two leading Swedish fashion brands: Ann-Sofie BACK and POC Sports. A team of students designed a cutting-edge dress for BACK, featured at the 2018 Harper’s Bazaar ICONS event, that explored fashion as a service powered by wearable tech.

Ann-Sofie BACK signature pieces are often clever plays on what is fashion. Embracing a characteristically subversive theme of self-love, the FIT/BACK team explored ways to change fashion’s environmental footprint. They leveraged Neue’s A2 technology platform to support a better informed, smarter apparel rental industry.

For garments designed for the sharing economy, the interconnected software lets wearers unlock exclusive rewards such as BACK’s Spotify playlist, based on rental frequency and duration of wear time, which also provides valuable information for the brand. Electroluminescent wires and vibrating knickers, controlled through the A2 Playground app and voice control, allow for customization of frequencies and intensities to create unique experiences for each wearer.

Another team designed a backpack for POC Sports, which included directional signals, brake lights and haptic (vibrating) motors that are activated along a trip mapped on an iPhone.

Stay tuned for more updates from DTech, where FIT students and faculty and Infor are redefining the future for fashion, retail and enterprise software. Learn more about DTech at dtech.fitnyc.edu.

Chuck Wentzel is the senior director of communications and chief of staff at Hook&Loop. Learn more about our work at hookandloop.design.