ME310/SUGAR is a nine-month design thinking program at the Kyoto Institute of Technology where leading companies work with students around the world to develop innovative products or services. Starting with a loosely defined project brief, teams utilize design thinking methodologies to discover unmet user needs, conduct rapid prototyping and testing, and deliver a detailed concept. Many of the final concepts developed in the program have been further developed by companies and brought to market.
The types of projects in ME310/SUGAR vary greatly. In the past, there have been projects focusing on agriculture, air travel, autonomous driving, consumer electronics, digital transformation, disaster relief, elderly care, industrial machinery, textiles, and more. ME310/SUGAR's approach to innovation can be applied to many different industries. Be sure to check out the past case studies in the PROJECTS section.
The history of ME310 dates back to 1967 at Stanford University where the program began as a project-based-learning course for mechanical engineering students. At the turn of the century, the program became globally distributed, bringing together leading universities and students from around the world. This movement lead to the birth of the SUGAR Network. The Kyoto Institute of Technology has been running ME310/SUGAR since 2009. For more details, check out the HISTORY section.
The Design Thinking Approach
ME310/SUGAR's approach to innovation is what is now known as design thinking, the methodologies and mindset that originated from Silicon Valley and spread around the world over the last decade. Design thinking focuses on the three core principles:
・Deep understanding of human needs and context
・Rapid prototyping, experimentation, and iteration
・Innovative culture that brings the best out of teams
While traditional product development methodologies may lead to incremental improvements, design thinking takes a more disruptive approach to innovation. Radical ideas are not disregarded from the beginning, early ideas are quickly tested through rapid prototyping, and users are always at the center of the design. Kyoto Institute of Technology has been at the forefront of design thinking education in Japan and routinely runs not only programs for students but also workshops for companies.
Every project in ME310/SUGAR is undertaken by students in two different universities bringing cultural and skill diversity, which is known to correlate with breakthrough innovation. In order to sync with the academic calendars of universities around the world, the nine-month program begins in late September. For the first month of the program, the students learn the ME310/SUGAR approach to innovation through various warm-up exercises. The corporate project begins in late October, around the time of the SUGAR Global Kickoff Workshop which brings together many of the universities in the SUGAR network. This is where the teams who will be working together meet for the first time and start coordinating the collaboration.
Once the projects begin, student teams will be based in their home institutions with intermittent travel to each other's universities. Regular lectures cover specific design thinking tools such as need finding, benchmarking, and prototype testing. Each team meets with the teaching team (professors and teaching assistants) in weekly small group meeting sessions to get feedback on their topics. Regular milestones guide the teams through the design thinking approach so that they can reach interesting results sooner.
At the end of the nine months, teams are expected to deliver a detailed concept that is accompanied with a refined prototype and extensive documentation. The prototype is often received by the company for further testing and development. The documentation encapsulates all the learnings the teams gained including the many failed ideas. In early June, the entire network of universities come together in Silicon Valley for the SUGAR EXPO and ME310 EXPE where all projects are presented in a trade fair style event with booths and speeches. This is followed by a local expo in Kyoto and sometimes presentations inside companies as well.
Students are at the heart of the ME310/SUGAR teams, and at the Kyoto Institute of Technology, students typically come from the fields of engineering, design, architecture, and management. Other universities in the network have a different different expertise with some focusing on deep technologies, software development, or business innovation. Supporting the teams are a network of coaches, alumni, teaching assistants, and professors. The program at Kyoto Institute of Technology is led by the following professors.
Design and architecture
Sushi Suzuki was a student in ME310 when he was a graduate student at Stanford University where he worked on one of the first globally distributed projects in the history of the program. Since then, he worked as a teaching assistant and executive director of the program, helping expand the program internationally and help coordinate projects with companies and foreign universities.
In 2009, he brought the program and design thinking to École des Ponts ParisTech and helped start d.school Paris Est in France for two years. Before coming to Japan in 2015, Sushi worked at Panasonic Europe setting up an innovation team and the German startup Yocondo as a Concept Developer.
In addition to ME310/SUGAR, Sushi leads the Kyoto Startup Summer School program at the Kyoto Institute of Technology and supports the local startup scene as a facilitator for Startup Weekend and pitch coach for numerous organizations including Slush Tokyo.
He also runs workshops around the world for students, companies, and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Sushi holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a B.A. in Studio Arts from Rice University and a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.
Design and architecture
Keita Tatara is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Design and Architecture at the Kyoto Institute of Technology (KIT) and has been involved in the ME310/SUGAR program at KIT since 2010.
After graduating from KIT in 1999, Keita moved to Copenhagen to study furniture design at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (KADK). He participated in the Scandinavian Furniture Fair in Copenhagen and furniture exhibitions during his stay in Denmark. After graduating from KADK, he returned to Kyoto and established a design studio where he designed and produced furniture. In 2008, Keita joined KIT and has taught mainly interior design and product design. He also teaches furniture design at several other universities in Japan. Besides teaching, Keita has been studying the history of Danish furniture design and published a book summarizing his research in 2019.
He is a member of The Japan Society of Design, Japanese Society for the Science of Design, and The Scandinavian Architecture and Design Institute of Japan.