AOD students soon to move to the Colombo Innovation Tower for an education experience at the heart of an innovation led, tech driven ecosystem

The idea of education is about to take a radically new turn with AOD this year. Disrupting the norms of operation seen in traditional education in a big way, AOD has announced that it will be part of a business catalyst space; Not just any catalyst space, but South Asia’s latest business, design and tech tri-factor ecosystem—Colombo Innovation Tower (CIT). AOD was among the leading contributors of the space that were recently revealed by the CIT. Among the trailblazers of this ecosystem, AOD took a central significance as the space’s heart for design thinking, new ideas and creative talent, exposing its students to a world of new experiences, industry interactions, employment opportunities and powerful networks of investors and sponsors keen to fund good ideas and promising young minds. AOD will be moving into the Colombo Innovation Tower space in Colombo 4 this July, to be part of a hub that will also house partners like SLINTEC, the Dutch design economy experts of CIRCO, Fashion for Good and HNB wealth management.

Speaking to Sunday Times Education, Hashini Sirisena Daniel, Head of Marketing, Design Corp, shared her take on how AOD's move to the Colombo Innovation Tower is the first of its kind, and a groundbreaking move for Sri Lankan education.

Why would a design educator be operating right next to a tech startup engine, a global expert on circular economies and a local veteran in resource management, among many other unusual partners?

Because the types of professionals that are gaining increasing demand and are predicted to present the most important skill-mixes of the future, are interdisciplinary. They are no longer just clever degree holders with paper qualifications and the ambition to climb up the ladder along a single direction; the professionals that economic experts at the World Economic Forum are predicting to dominate the next fifty years are those who are creative, and have the ability to apply multi-prong approaches to problem solving. This means that tomorrow’s successful professionals not only need to be experienced in their specialty, but also have an awareness to navigate through the mandatory dynamics of our everyday work lives like technology, business and wellbeing. This multidisciplinary understanding also means that the future professionals will approach problems in much more complex ways through various perspectives, allowing them to come up with much more sustainable and effective solutions, AOD has long been a promoter of an education system that would prepare the younger generation to respond to this kind of future. By constantly updating its curriculum, establishing international education links and working in partnership with various industries, AOD has been pushing a study experience that creates unusual designers for well over a decade. With its July 2019 move to Sri Lanka’s innovation hub, AOD will now be in a stronger position to take forward its groundbreaking education model to become more effortless and conducive to the students’ everyday learning reality.

“What we can expect to see from this move will be quite unlike anything we’ve seen in Sri Lankan higher education before. AOD students will be, quite literally, at the epicentre of Sri Lankan innovation and studying amidst the most groundbreaking thinking in the country in terms of design, business and tech. This means that when they graduate, AOD designers would have worked in collaboration with not only fellow designers from international backgrounds and local industry professionals, but also wealth management experts, technologists, economists, manufacturers, researchers and a whole gamut of professionals. Whether they want to work for a company or on their own as entrepreneurs, what they will be able to accomplish with this kind of exposure will be phenomenal.”

How will this new kind of business symbiosis influence the students resulting from this education?

One of the most defining qualities of AOD graduates has always been their ability to work with the industry. Now, being situated at the CIT means that their industry exposure will multiply exponentially, building new bridges between their knowledge on design and unlikely areas like finance, marketing, testing and research. This will allow the students to become all-rounder professionals that are highly sought-after by companies and brands looking to employ creators who are much more than creators; it will also help them become the kind of entrepreneurs who investors and sponsors can rely on to get more than just the right design.

“The idea is to not let students learn in isolation, off just theory, books or a screen. We now know that experience has much more depth than what we perceive from our eyes and ears. And without the complete experience, we now know that only an incomplete portion of information is transmitted. So, AOD’s approach to education is to make study experiences much more meaningful and all-encompassing. Being in an environment like the Colombo Innovation Tower where innovative thinkers from a multitude of backgrounds are in and out every day, AOD students will be studying and working at the same time, understanding at a very practical level, how the business of ideas work today within the context of other businesses, building brand dialogues and sustaining corporations,” said Hashini. She also added that all these benefits will also be open to AOD’s alumni, because the relationship that the school maintains with its past graduates is an active one that stretches way beyond their formal education, to ensure that they remain relevant to the world of design years after.

At a macro scale, how will the professionals resulting from this unusual model for education drive impact across Sri Lanka, and the rest of the world?

In the education philosophy that AOD embraces, driving impact through design is central. The decision to move to the Colombo Innovation Tower also derives from this focus. Working with a cross-disciplinary mix of businesses, brands and innovators, AOD will be able to tap into knowledge, learning and opportunities presented by all of them. In turn, the impact of AOD’s involvement as a design thinker, doer and instigator will drive impact across all these channels, impacting from the top corporate tiers to the individual creative entrepreneurs and their collaborators like small-scale printers, artisans and other makers. AOD believes that this kind of omni-channel approach to innovation is what really works, especially in stimulating a growing economy like Sri Lanka. “With AOD’s move to the Colombo Innovation Tower this year, we predict that the graduates released by 2021 will be exceptionally influential in driving impact through design, with fantastic connections across many industries and the ability to make their work meaningful to many through these networks. The new generation of AOD designers will really be the ones to drive Sri Lanka’s design thinking movement to the very ends of our economic channels.”