Universities now have to work hard at attracting students and that includes making sure they are ready for the workplace. Today at the Leicester Mercury Connections breakfast briefing, we heard from Helen Donnellan, Director of Business Engagement at De Montfort University.

Helen made it clear the DMU is focused on providing students with the right education and experience to get them ready for work. The DMU wants businesses to be able to employ students who are creative, hard-working and able to fit straight into a role.

For this to happen, the links between businesses and the DMU need to be strong. The DMU makes sure every student gets meaningful work experience. Helen urged companies to get in touch where they might need someone for a specific project. The DMU pays for the cost of the student so there is no cost to the business, and the university will find the right student for the placement.

Helen also explained the help and advice available to start-up businesses such as the Innovation Centre on campus which is a co-working space providing advice and information along with events and speakers.

Helen also talked about the lead the DMU is taking in helping businesses to stay safe by training in cyber security. They offer courses which focus on both technical solutions and the psychology of cybersecurity and provide short course and taster sessions.

It was a good introduction for me into what the DMU offers businesses and it is great to see such a positive and proactive attitude. Businesses can get a lot out of their local universities. For more help from the DMU, contact Helen Donnellan and her team at the Innovation Centre: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

At The Print Show on Thursday 20th September, I saw Patrick Collister’s ‘Building Windmills’ presentation – the title from the ancient Chinese proverb that goes: “When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others build windmills.”

Patrick was creative director of Ogilvy & Mather which shows in the many ways he uses examples, images, quotations and reference points to highlight how many ways there are of challenging the norm and finding a new ideas.

He now works with many global companies to encourage creativity and to encourage us to apply this to print, he shared 7 steps from his Creative Toolbox:

  1. Have an idea

Think about what you are doing and stand for something. He said people associate print with authenticity and showed how some publications, like Private Eye, are seeing subscriptions increase.

  1. New combinations

Consider how print can be used in conjunction with something else to be more powerful. Patrick showed examples with digital, data, music, video and even how a magazine had incorporated a phone charger. He challenged us to think of new combinations that would work with print.

  1. Scenario Planning

Ask yourself what will happen in your business should specific scenarios happen. When video is the normal way to obtain information. When search is predominantly voice activated. When Brexit happens. And use the answers to come up with new ideas.

  1. Challenge Assumptions

Patrick showed that some of the world’s leading brands use print, including Facebook who have launched a magazine, Google who use print, and Net-a-porter who distribute their printed magazine to 64 countries.

  1. Parallel worlds

We can now cut out the ‘agent’ and go straight to customer. We should look for new formats and new places – people are using printed floor coverings because people on their phones are looking down.

  1. Do the opposite

Patrick stated that when it is important, it’s print. Brands will print or publish on good quality paper with high production values because they know the premium feel transfers to the luxury feel of their brand.

  1. Innovate

Develop ideas in existing markets. Packaging is now a real area of change with NFC chips connecting your product with your mobile and digital experience. Buying a product can now have additional dimensions.

Finally, Patrick talked about the 70/20/10 rule, used by Eric Schmidt at Google, who believes 70% of time should be spent on core business tasks, 20% on related projects and 10% on unrelated projects as he believes, “In the long run, a few of those unrelated 10% ideas will turn into core businesses that become part of the 70%. And that’s good for business and the bottom line.”

Print has a real value in our digital times and creativity is needed to continue to develop the ideas and the communication of those ideas to the creatives and marketers who will use them. Patrick’s 7 steps are a great way to inject creativity into your business thinking.

Patrick’s Crouching Tiger YouTube channel is here

More of Patrick’s examples are shown in detail in his magazine Directory which you can subscribe to here

To learn more about how the University of Leicester works with businesses, I went to ‘Free Cake Friday’ on 27th July 2018 at the Leicester Innovation Hub. This initiative provides a forum for businesses and innovators to meet academics and business support organisations such as Innovate UK and the LLEP to help you develop ideas and grow your business. It is an open day from 10 – 4pm with presentations and networking opportunities.

The first presentation was from Dr José Miguel Rojas and introduced the University’s involvement in the Audi Autonomous Driving Cup. Audi are running a competition to see which out of 16 teams across Europe can provide the best performance of a scaled-down model autonomous vehicle at a variety of tasks. The combination of knowledge of the team at the University, which includes machine learning, software architecture and software testing may be the reason the University of Leicester gained one of these hard to win places. Their team name says it all ‘DriverLeics’ (pronounced driverless, of course).

The team explained how they are designing software so the model will complete the various tasks which include driving in a straight line, driving uphill and downhill at the right speed, joining a road and parking. The aim is to achieve Level 3 where most of the functions are automated but the driver is still available to intercept. Safety was spoken about at length as understandably this will be the biggest issue. Designing for ‘road awareness’ is quite a challenge and it will be very interesting to see the results.

This was followed by a presentation from Professor Roland Leigh from EarthSense a company which monitors air quality and was born from the drive to use space data for practical purposes. It was stated that it costs the UK £20bn per year to deal with the impact of poor air quality including health problems and lower economic productivity. To help deal with this the company created an air quality measurement sensor to report on air quality. This lets government bodies, organisations and communities clearly see the problem and put measures in place to improve air quality. It was exciting to see how a practical application for space technology could lead to initiatives which have such a direct impact on improving lives.

After the presentations there was a speed networking event, designed to bring businesses and academics together. Along with the promised cake – with at least 10 different kinds they are hard to resist - Free Cake Friday provides a welcome opportunity to meet members of the University to discuss projects and indicatives and network with other business owners. If you want to learn something and have a project you think the University or local organisations could help with it is a great event to attend.

Today I attended the Ingenuity Breakfast Event at University of Nottingham entitled ‘Design Thinking to Transform Your Business’ which was delivered by Dr George Rice, Head of Commercialisation. This talk was a fascinating insight into how to evaluate ideas and solve problems using a defined process.  George confirmed universities are measured on the impact of their research and as such are increasingly focused on evaluating the practicality of an idea and the return on investment it will deliver.

George talked through the two stages of the process: Ideation and Prototyping.


Ideation is the process of refining the problem and examining different solutions. George recommended allocating half a day or a day, making sure the right people were involved and having a facilitator to collect ideas and provide the energy. The group should include a variety of stakeholders from different backgrounds including end users, sellers, third parties, team members and experts. The idea or the technology should be demonstrated so everyone has the same understanding. Then, using a ‘dartboard’ mapping potential uses (see photograph above), encourage everyone to write their ideas on sticky notes and place on the board. All ideas are encouraged at this stage no matter how practical.

Once this stage is complete, the ideas are then evaluated for their feasibility to give a shortlist of ideas for further, more detailed consideration. Ideas can be voted on by the group to narrow them down. Once this is done, the ideas are explored to discuss how much development work would be needed and what could be the potential return on investment. The ideas are then ranked in terms of value and speed to market so the best can be taken to the next stage.


It was emphasised that a prototype should be early, ugly and often. The concept of a prototype is that it is a working 3D model but that does not have to be the case; even a drawing will help to explain the concept as part of the validation process to allow feedback into the design process.

The concept of constantly iterating came over very strongly. The advice is to begin early, change the prototype as you go, even in front of your users. Don’t aim for perfection – there is no such thing in the process. Do just enough, don’t waste resource and make sure you record your test: anything not recorded, didn’t happen.

One important research point that was made was that what people say and what people do can be two different things and it is important to design research to get to the truth of what people want.

The University of Nottingham Ingenuity Breakfast Events always bring a fresh perspective to innovation and business and today was no exception. Dr George Rice showed there is a process and a rigour that should be applied to innovation and design. All businesses need to use their ideas to move forward and today's presentation showed how this can be done in a structured and organised way to deliver a beneficial result.

The vision for this year’s IPIA Everything’s Possible in Print Conference held at the Congress Centre in London on 3rd July 2018 was to share the benefits of using print with as wide an audience as possible. Certainly the event lived up to its name, showcasing many diverse applications and covering many technological ideas and combining this with research and case studies to show print delivering results.

An intriguing point was made by Sofar Sounds explaining how digital fatigue was leading to a hunger for ‘real’ experiences and equates this to the resurgence of print and how its haptic qualities make people feel connected, how it’s easy to share and hard to delete. It was clear print is a differentiator.

Wunderman brought a different perspective, reiterating that brands want an emotional connection with their customers and shared footage of Echo Look which will take photos and videos of you on voice command. He quoted Comscore that 50% of all searches will be voice activated by 2020 – a change that will bring a new dimension to marketing.

A number of organisations shared their latest technology: Xmpie showed how their software supported fully personalised applications; LOCR demonstrated their personalised mapping technology, Talking Print wowed everyone with how they had incorporated sounds and lights into a brochure, EFI explained how they printed on any substrate, Fujifilm showed the new JetPress and Vivid explained how foil blocking techniques increased product views by 6 times and talked about how they were working on ideas for light up packaging which sounded intriguing.

Duplo reminded us of the multiple benefits of print, including how it offers a unique experience and Webmart reiterated the need to join digital and physical.

A plea not to kill print came from another medium, TV. ITV Studios use high quality printed brochures to promote their shows as it beautifully brings to life their stunning programme imagery. Adrian’s biggest disappointment seemed to be that not enough of us watched Love Island (sorry Adrian).

Proof of print working is essential for building a business case. MarketReach updated their excellent neuroscience research originally showcased in Private Life of Mail and urged marketers not to forget that consumers live offline too. Marketers were encouraged to go on the JICMAIL website, the industry benchmarking tool for the mail. Xerox shared a number of case studies which showed how print had increased response for many customers in a variety of industries.

Woodland Trust and Premier Paper brought an environmental angle showing how their carbon capture scheme had planted 187,000 trees and had increased sales through a genuine CSR achievement.

Ice Blue Sky rounded off the presentations by presenting a cool head and a calm voice when dealing with GDPR.

Graham Reed made a heartfelt tribute to Tod Norman who presented at the Conference last year. I was also lucky enough to work with Tod on mail seminars and can only echo everyone else when I say he made data insight fun and accessible, gave his time to anyone and was a joy to work with.

Overall the Conference shared many aspects of the possibilities of print and I can only see this growing and evolving for next year’s conference.

This morning I was lucky enough to listen to Alexandra Burns from PPL PRS Ltd speak at the Leicester Mercury Business Connections breakfast seminar about how and why you need a licence from them to play music in public. Alexandra explained how it was one of the ways that songwriters, musicians and artists are fairly paid and how the collection and distribution of royalties is a necessary service. After operating costs, all remuneration goes to the artists.

Interestingly, what became apparent is how your choice of music can represent your brand, motivate your staff and win you loyal customers. Pablo Ettinger from Caffé Nero takes music very seriously as part of the Caffé Nero customer experience. The full case study is here, showing Pablo talking about how he oversees a playlist that changes throughout the day to reflect his customers’ mood from classical in the morning to soul in the evening. He also supports unsigned artists through the playlist, another way of giving back to musicians.

It would be good to know more about how music affects mood and the working environment. PRS PPL are looking into funding research about how music helps concentration so it will be interesting to see this when it is available.

Most of us love music and find it essential to our lives. I often compile my Desert Island Discs playlist of 8 tracks – the agony of only 8 tracks – but am still waiting for my call from Kirsty Young to put my theory into practice. Today made it clear that where your business is playing music in public, it will benefit you to take it seriously. It may be another way to improve your customer experience and improve staff engagement.