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Runa Sabroe

Strategic design in Helsinki

By June 17th 2011

Finnish design is more than Marimekko’s colourful flower universe and Aalto’s strict functionalism. Finland is in many ways a spearhead nation when it comes to strategic design. MindLab has visited Helsinki.

“Why wait if you can do it now and do it yourself?” asks Kalevi Ekman, director of Aalto Design Factory, Helsinki, when MindLab comes by to visit. Design Factory is a product of the fusion of the design school, the technical university and business school and has existed for just over two years. They work with design here and teach design in all its forms.

At Design Factory, most people seem to do their best to live up to Ekman’s motto. For example, when MindLab visits the walls are getting painted from white to black and red. A larger group of international students are having their lunch the same place. No one seems to take notice of paint buckets, high ladders and painting equipment used to the significant refurbishment. As a physical proof that the place is always changing.

Or when some of the students develop a new videolink-equipment and place it in the common room/kitchen/coffee lounge, connects it to the new sister organisation in Shanghai and declares that it should be streaming sound and video 24/7. That should solve the potential problem with enormous physical distances between the two organisations!

Design Factory seems to be a living proof of what design can do. The whole place stems with a spirit where you localise a problem and without much hesitation use design methods to develop solutions in one format or another, with the purpose to improve them and perhaps give them yet another format.  Maybe this is where the basis of successful development lies. This basic passion and will to experiment is what the place builds on.

To use design as a strategic tool is the headline of Sitra’s new design unit, Design Lab, which MindLab also visited. Sitra is well placed in a Helsinki high rise, with a view where you feel that you can see all nooks and crannies of the city. As a manifestation of Design Lab’s goal of using design methods to rethink the system and through this develop new solutions. Here you literally see everything from the top.

Sitra is an independent funding organization and was actually a present to the people of Finland on the 50th anniversary of independence and has thus existed since 1967, but it is a novelty that they engage in strategic design.

Bryan Boyer is a member of the design team and tells us that they work with using design, not to give physical form to objects, but to create a better platform for decision making. For example, Design Lab has been taking up some of Finland’s serious challenges, like the increasing old age burden. The design team gathers twenty experts on the topic for up to one week and demands prototypes of new solutions by the end of the meeting. Not finalized new solutions, but provisional and qualified suggestions.

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