Space Ship to Reality

Reframing OpUS Open University

How to boost OpUS into an even more effective tool to aid university students in realizing their career trajectory

During this week I was really inspired by your work. I like you, because you're REALLY OPEN for other people. All these talkings during the day, in the evenings and even at night, special situations, this "game" (if it can be called like this)...Now it's difficult for me to formulate in concrete way for what exactly I want t say "Thank you". But I've realized one thing: people of your team are oriented in one way and at the same time you are so different, finally, you are like different parts of the one puzzle, which can help us (I mean, OpUS) to see and draw our own picture of socio-cultural sphere.
Zhumangalieva Raushan, OpUS student

What are the aspirations of the students themselves regarding a network aimed at boosting their potentials?

Read our debriefing of this very exiting one week workshop with 100 students from various technical universities:

Day One. The workshop started off when we divided you in to 8 teams as well as a team of bloggers and of anthropologists. We aimed the groups towards a phantasy project: the design of a Spaceship.

The space ship was, off course,a metaphor for an isolated community of your own design. The Space Ship is self contained, requires that we think about things such as the lifestyle that we want, our lifespan and our wellbeing (life, death and social needs), our resources, and our future.

By thinking about a “space ship” we actually addressed several kinds of Interaction that would be similar to what you would if and when you start to work on large, ambitious ‘unifying’ projects in your future work.

We used the space ship as a metaphor for thinking about the actual and ideal functioning of OpUS. In other words, like OPUS, your space ship needed a vision. Maybe also this was an opportunity to try and avoid earth-bound problems. Some of us were very idealistic about how in space, we could avoid earthy problems, cooperate and have a good life, within a very limited area, with a small group of people.  You actually started at this point, to make the SS more interesting. You added extra ideas, you gave it extra attention. You thought about how to have a good life in the context of the industry you were developing in this isolated place. The activities you created, reflected your interests and were grounded in your own desires and ambitions. We were beginning to get somewhere that was interesting for you and also for us.

By Day Three all groups pitched their work so far to their neighbour group your peers. The peer group pitched the idea back by adding their personal comments. They might have sent you back to the drawing table, made your brains open for a next step.

Then we started to think about negative things: problems, pitfalls, especially the mundane. And in fact, we began to see that the Socio Cultural aspects were very often the most ‘difficult’ and common ones to deal with, but also exactly the ones that will set an enterprise apart from the competition.

What may we learn form this realization? We think that you will be learning about technology elsewhere and that you can easily become good at this. Many of you are already. But what will make you stand out, is the work that you do in the Socio Cultural area.  The power to communicate also esides in this field.  Furthermore, the key question became: how to relate to people UNLIKE yourself? This is one of the great challenge for 2020 professional and it involves much more brainwork than ‘designing for a person like me’.

On Day Four, you really did a wonderful job in trying to dig deeper into matters!  

We worked on our social and cultural programs, and “grounded” them in real life. When we went outside, and really focused on these social and cultural aspects, It was amazing how much ground we covered and how many things that we achieved by just talking. Clarifying ideas, discussing tensions and difficulties, and changing our minds together, feeling free to do that, without points, without “deliverable”, without unnecessary competition.


Our attention to the space ship became a way to capture and detail your strong desire for an OpUS that is responsive to your ideas.

And what a discussion we had. Our groups came together as a whole team of 87 people, and we sat in a circle of our peers, and kept the conversation going. This too is an art. We gave you the microphone, and you realized that it was much more interesting for you to run this conversation than for us to tell you how to do it, or think about it. 

More About the Roles

Most of you have been Team workers. Working in teams may be rather common in some universities but not a usual practice in all of them. Most of you genuinely tried but need much more practise. The ability to work in a team is one of the most important skills an academically trained technical specialist should posses. We realized that the emphasis on ‘geniuses’ and ‘excellence’ in your academic training, but also in OPUS, does not prepare you for team work. So we have been working on that here.

Our Bloggers and anthropologists especially thought about this.

We found out that for our ideas to be a success, and even just to be clear, it is vital that we keep talking to each other. We need to help each other when we feel others may need this, not only for the sake of that person that you are helping but also because his struggle may represent an important aspect of your process.

Of course, disputes within teams do not only happen here in this workshop but anywhere in your life: in your sport team, your future job, even with your family we have to learn how to interact with roles of others. We have to find out what to do when roles are not being played properly. We have to learn how to cope with this, learn how to help these others to improve, find out what your most valuable role is.

Your Bloggers have been challenged to blog, you have been coached how to, and you received individual feedback. You may have become more conscious that there is a kind of ‘ art of blogging’. 

Your Anthropologists have been recording several datasets. They came up with these by themselves. They encountered problems in observing you as subjects and hopefully have learned to adapt some kind of a ‘fly on the wall’ attitude. They tried their hand at neat Data Visualisations, and at documentation.  They also helped us a great deal in thinking about Data interpretation by plotting all ideas, concepts and characteristics in a chart that reveals the way how all of them fit together in something of a framework.

Suggested reading on viusalisation and data: all books by Edward Tufte. If you are interested in reading more about socio cultural issues for designers we especially recommend the books by Richard Sennet. His latest book Together deals entirely with the art of cooperation and is highly recommended.

Closing Remarks

Do not be afraid to connect with us. We have been wondering why individual students do not routinely try to connect with us. We have been told that in comparison, in approaching a Russian professor or tutor it be may not done to connect. But realize this: we came here to help you. We are teachers and business people. Every global business person is carrying business cards (or a digital equivalent linkedin account) and these are meant to be exchanged. Our network matters to us, it matters to you, so do not be afraid to connect them together!

We hope you all appreciated watching The Powers of 10 by the Eames Studio and hope you will frequently have a look at it at . If only just to be reminded of the value of zooming in and out of problems, in order to think clearly about them. Take a fresh look, a “re-framing” look, especially at the social and cultural questions, the design questions, that connected our ideals to our realities. Our space ship to OPUS, and our social and cultural value to our plans for specific projects that “make a difference.”

Project kick-off: 
June 2012
Project delivered: 
July 2012
Project size: 
Project developers: 
Gijs Ockeloen
Design research
© Reframing Studio