Aïcha Konaté spent her last summer studying within the Aalto University Information Technology Program (ITP). We wanted to know what she learned and how design students can benefit from this program.
- What is the Information Technology Program (ITP)?
ITP is a full-time academic summer program organized by the Aalto Business School in Töölö, worth 24 credits. Applications are open to any university student from Aalto and other universities throughout Finland and the world that have a partner relationship with Aalto. Last year, there were students from the United States, Canada, and Joensuu for instance. There are 3 ITP tracks: Digital & Interactive Entertainment (DIE), Information & Service Business (ISB), and Strategy & Experience Design (SED). Since ITP is organized by the business school there are mostly business students attending, but the goal is to create an interdisciplinary program with students from all backgrounds who are interested in the intersection of digital platforms and business. That of course includes many aspects of design.
- Why did you apply for the program and for which track?
I applied for the SED track of ITP for a few reasons. Though I enjoy the CoID courses, the 7-week schedule is very tight. I wanted to get my hands on a longer term project to have more time to do proper research and develop a design concept. SED was the only track with a clear design focus so it was an easy choice. I was also open to the idea of doing a minor and finding a productive way to spend the summer.
- What is the structure of the program?
The program is full-time, so it’s definitely not possible to work or intern concurrently. Students are placed in their first or second choice track in teams of 3-5 students. We then spend three months attending lectures from 9am-12pm four days a week, and working on a client project the rest of the time. We don’t choose our team or client ourselves, but are matched according to our interests by the coordinators.
The morning lectures are divided in three parts and taught by three instructors. The instructors are working designers with experience at companies including Hellon and Futurice. For a CoID student, the lecture material was more than familiar, though it was still interesting to hear different perspectives on the topic and some new case studies. The lectures also incorporate work towards the project, so they’re still valuable in that sense regardless of how much one already knows about human-centered design.
- What was your team’s business project about? And what was the outcome?
Our client was Alko, the alcoholic beverage retailing monopoly in Finland. We were asked to explore the potential for a mobile app for Alko, whether it was necessary at all and if so, what the app should focus on to add to the customer experience.
We were in constant contact with the digital team at Alko and had several meetings throughout the summer. At the end of the project, we gave a final presentation and delivered a project report, which included a clickable prototype of an Alko app and a design concept for the whole service. As with many other school projects, the contributions from our work were not immediately released, but we hope to see our recommendations reflected in future digital products released by Alko. For now, our work is still confidential.
- Did you know your project team before? From which studies did they come from?
I did not know my project team before ITP. We were an unusually small team of three, but it actually worked out quite well. My team members are Master’s students in Corporate Communication and in Management and International Business, both in the business school. However, they were of course both interested in design as they chose to apply to the SED track, and had some prior knowledge about the concepts and software.
- What did you enjoy especially about the program and that summer?
There are at least two things that stand out about ITP: 1) having more than seven weeks to complete a project and 2) project management skills. It was great to have a longer timeline to spend on a project and dedicated time to work on each skill required (e.g. research, prototyping, Adobe software, etc.). There was more time to explore and understand the context and to test different design ideas.
As for project management, it was not new to me especially since I have several years of working experience. However, at work, we often skip over some things. ITP created a clear structure for keeping an organized schedule and continuously working on the final deliverables. I don’t think I’ve ever started writing a final report during the first week of research before! It may have seemed excessive at first and yet, I was definitely thankful in the last week that we’d established a detailed schedule that we’d been able to follow, and that the majority of the report was already written.
- Anything you struggled with?
Of course it can be a bit tough to spend the summer indoors, especially when you need to show up for lectures at 9am sharp. Also, working on one single project within the same team for three months can be a little intense. That’s a lot less variety than I usually have at work or in my other courses. I wouldn’t exactly say it was a struggle, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind. It was important to make sure I set time aside to spend outdoors to enjoy the (short!) summer and to take a break from the project when needed. It could be as simple as biking between home in Arabia and Töölö every morning and afternoon and taking a short walk by myself after lunch.
- What were the top three things you learned?
The project management skills were definitely one thing. I’ve just started working on my thesis two weeks ago and I have a detailed week-by-week schedule and a first draft of the thesis already going. Of course, there will be changes along the way, but I feel a lot more grounded with these documents already in rotation. I thought I was organized before, but I definitely learned a lot from ITP in that regard.
This is perhaps twisting the question, but I also learned about the business school and got to know many students there. We’re in a bit of a bubble in ARTS, whether we’re in Arabia or Otaniemi. We also hear a lot of about engineering students and their culture, especially since we’re about to move to “their turf” in Espoo. Business students have their own culture, so it was interesting to get a taste of that.
Finally, I learned a lot about Alko and Finnish people’s habits and associations with the store. It’s such a staple of Finnish culture that people take it a bit for granted, but once prompted, they have many memories and rituals with the place.
- Any regrets?
Overall, I’m happy with how the project went. One thing I would improve was how much time I spent working on certain skills. My background is in psychology and design research, so I have a lot of experience in all sorts of research methods, storytelling, and writing. It had been my goal to stretch myself and focus more on other aspects of the design process, but I also didn’t want to impose too much on my team members who were newer to the overall process and had their own goals for growth. At the end of the summer, I wished I had spent my time a bit differently.
- Can you recommend these minor studies to other students?
I would definitely recommend ITP. It’s not for everyone of course, but I think there’s a lot to be gained by taking on a months-long project and working with students from other fields. From a utilitarian point of view, it’s also a good way to quickly complete a minor, get 24 credits, and make plenty of new professional contacts. I was very happy with my client, my team members, and how we all collaborated on a very interesting project.
If you’re interested, ITP applications for this year close March 28th.