Licence to Fail

Design now – a day of discussion on the future of design
Harald Herlin learning centre, Otaniemi, Espoo

The day packed with talks and discussions was all about defining what design is going to be in the future.

We heard an inspirational speech from Anna Valtonen (Vice President for Art and Creative Practices, Aalto Uni, FI). Valtonen raised questions about design shaping the future as well as renewing the society. In the future we need to have various viewpoints, not just follow our own individual paths as designers. We are also going to need new ways of viewing phenomena. Valtonen’s message is that designers are advocates for the unmeasurable: designers have the means to make the invisible visible and tangible. The world is changing and we (designers) need to keep up with the change.


Anna Valtonen: Why Design Now?


Kalevi “Eetu” Ekman (Design Factory Director & PDP Professor, FI) reminded us in his videotalk that design is always there: it is done either consciously or unconsciously. Ekman underlined that a trained designer can change things dramatically. As an example he named industrial companies that have a lot of engineers working for them. A skilled designer can make a huge impact on thinking in such companies.

Be curious and playful,
rethink, redesign,


“Into Unknown Territories: Case CHEMARTS” was a talk by Pirjo Kääriäinen (Designer in Residence, CHEMARTS, Aalto Uni, FI) and Tapani Vuorinen (Professor, Wood Chemistry, Aalto Uni, FI). Kääriäinen and Vuorinen held an interesting presentation on combining science and design. They had organised a multidisciplinary project for students and came up with productive results. Kääriäinen and Vuorinen had interesting thoughts about the cooperation and raised questions such as “is design alone enough or does a designer need expertise in another field to qualify as a designer?” Also as science is mostly based on details, design is able to frame the problem, look at the big picture and figure out what to do with those results. They pointed out that for multidisciplinary cooperation to succeed a deep disciplinary expertice is needed.



“Bringing the glacier downtown: designing an everyday encounter with big things happening far away”, a talk by Ben Rubin (Director of The Center for Data Arts, Parsons, The New School, US) was an introduction of an intriguing way of city planning. Rubin and his team had combined for example databases of news, sounds of nature and texts to form aesthetically enjoyable design.


Ben Rubin’s work


In my opinion the most inspiring talk of the day was held by Jouni Linkola (Head of Service Design, ‎Elisa, FI). Linkola had named his speech “How to fail faster? – From waterfall ICT projects to growth hacking”. Linkola vividly described the reasons why the over 100 year old telecommunications company Elisa has sustained its position in the market. The markets have changed over and over again, technology has progressed dramatically and the company has been forced to evolve and change just as rapidly. For example the big change happening as we speak is that data no longer belongs to companies. The time of stable relations to banks or healthcare institutions is ending as the data now belongs to the customers that move it around as they please. Customers appreciate an easy and fluent service that feels safe.


To find the good ideas
fail faster with the wrong ones!


Elisa as a company has kept up with the changing markets with a surprising means: a licence to fail. Elisa invests in design, learning and truly clearing out what their customers want. They make plenty of experiments, find ideas that are either useful or useless. The point is that the more they fail or find the wrong answers, the more they find the right and useful ones. Often the experiments generate data the designers were not expecting. But they have the courage to put their ideas aside and carry out with the customers’ ideas. The point is to find the good ideas and fail faster with the wrong ones.


The Design now event was a thought provoking day in many ways. The talks made me understand two things that are essential to design: A designer needs to see things and phenomena as a whole, to understand the big picture. The time of designing products is history. Second, the world is changing as it always has been. A designer has to have the future in sight all the time. Design does not only have an assisting role in change. Design has a dominant role in shaping the future as well as renewing the society.

Written by: Mira Grönlund

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