Archives

Panel Discussion: Design Thinking – a tool to create and develop better services

Fraktio, a Finnish company crafting state of the art web applications, arranged an online panel discussion to explain and analyze Design Thinking principles. All five participants had a vast experience in designing services and contributed with practical examples on how Design Thinking had been taken in use with their customers.

Fraktio, Design Thinking
Fraktio, a Finnish software company, arranged a discussion on Design Thinking with a panel of experts in October of 2020.

To start with, Vitali Gusatinsky, who leads the design team at Fraktio, emphasized the importance of innovation and experimentation in service design. Vitali also described how renewing services from scratch, in an old-fashioned manner, many times require sizeable resources involving high risk-taking. This was the basis for the panel discussion; comprehensively looking at optional (new) ways of creating value through an iterative design process.

As a tool to develop services, Fraktio presented a five-phased model, which looks as follows:

  1. Empathize – Listen to users
  2. Define – Define and select a challenge
  3. Ideate – Create proposals
  4. Build – Build a solution
  5. Test – Show the solution to

To truly understand consumer behavior, you really need to go out there and listen to users (empathize), e.g. through semi-structured interviews. According to the panelists, it many times is needed to sell this phase to stakeholders in organizations, as people sometimes falsely think they already know what users want and need. Although user research is a powerful tool to minimize risk and wasting resources, it unfortunately still often is underestimated.

In an interview setting, however, one should focus on finding new insights rather than taking things for granted or focusing excessively on stereotypes. By challenging both yourself and the interviewee, you can validate concepts and develop new ones quite effectively. This again pushes you towards innovation together with a customer, that in a perfect world creates sustainable value for both actors.

As we know, multidisciplinary teams and co-working is a key factor in a design process and the panelists agreed on a few crucial aspects to consider. Firstly, one should closely define and analyze the challenge at hand from many perspectives. This involves collecting all types of data (current state) that supports co-creation of ideas constituting towards possible solutions.

When facilitating multidisciplinary workshops, it’s important to build an environment where participants feel like a designer. The panel ensured, that everyone can draw (sketches) and that everyone has the brainpower to produce both a variety of ideas and possible solutions. Certainly, there may occur tension and resistance in the beginning, but it’s the facilitators role to ensure everyone feels comfortable.

When a substantial amount of ideas has been produced, it’s necessary to converge; in other words, prioritize and focus on one solution to be developed as a prototype. According to Fraktio’s designers, a prototype can literally be anything and does not by any means have to be something complete. A prototype should work as “something real that evokes discussion”, preferably created as rapidly and cheap as possible. By iterating and quickly generating new, developed, prototypes for testing purposes, you’ll be able to capture feedback and help showing direction in service development.

In my opinion, it’s crucial to build a culture that allows failing and testing radical ideas. The purpose of a design process is not to be right, but rather gaining insights through a systematic approach and most importantly, creating services that create user value.

Written by Thomas Djupsjö
MBA Student at Laurea, University of Applied Sciences

The panel discussion was held in Finnish. Content has been translated by the author.

Resources

We are Fraktio – Fraktio (2020)
https://www.fraktio.fi/in-english

Perjantaipaneeli: Kuinka Design Thinking auttaa luomaan parempia palveluita? – Fraktio (16.10.2020)
https://www.fraktio.fi/perjantaipresikset/2020/10/16/perjantaipaneeli-kuinka-design-thinking-auttaa-luomaan-parempia-palveluita

Let’s play!

In service design you stumble sooner or later in the use of Legos. They can be used in many different ways and stages. In Global CX 2020 Day which themes this year were CHANGE, Transformation and Future of CX, one of the keynote speakers Sirte Pihlaja, CX/EX advisor, community creator and global #1 best-selling author tells on her talk “Get ready, Get serious, PLAY!” us how to use Legos and how to play, seriously!

Its is said in her introduction that Sirte Pihlaja’s purpose in life is to make people happy and happiness is also what she first talks about. She points out that for three years in a row Finland has been selected the happiest country in the world, even though even her colleagues wonder that every year. The aim of the company Shirute is anyway to make people happy.

Picture 1. The happy emoji. Photo by author.

Why happiness is then so important?

You have to be happy to deliver happiness. The atmosphere of the workplace is important and how workers feel is vital for business. If you are not feeling well, the customers won’t be neither. One of the first researchers of happiness was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who recognized and named the psychological concept of flow, a highly focused mental state of mind. Flow is important cause it raises your creativity and productivity, when you are in the highest mode of concentration. And why this interests also business life is that you can achieve more in one hour during flow than in one day in normal working state of mind. It was also said that boredom is the opposite of flow.

One way to feel happiness and engagement is playing. Play is the most fundamental human learning mechanism. It helps innovate new solutions that we need in business and life over all. Or as Stuart Brown has said: Play is like oxygen, once it’s missing, you’ll know it. Pihlaja says that also businesses should be more playful, because that’s how you keep up in the competition.

How do me find new solutions?

Pihlaja also says that we are born creative but the surrounding world and education system actually makes us less creative and it has also been tested. Already in 1965, 1600 children aged 4 to 6 years were tested and it showed that 98% of them were creative, after 10 years the creativity rate had sunk to 30% and after 15 years it was only 12%. The test was repeated with one million adults and the numbers were even more crucial, only 2% of them hit the genius level on creativity (see pic 2). Or as Esa Saarinen says it, the world is full of great philosophers, it is just that most of them are about 5 years old.

Pic 2. How your creativity “evolves”. Photo by author from the slideshow.

Let´s teamplay!

Playing helps us feel connected to our group of people, while you’ll also get to know other people better and faster. Teams grow sense of belonging when playing together. Members of a organization also feel then fresh and boosted! As Amber Case says, we have become slaves to our digital devices, when people’s primary task is not to be computing but being human. And what else is more human than interaction, or play? Imagination is actually the human superpower.

How do you built playful culture?

You have to change the ways of working, invest between your ears, not on material or equipment. And we should also accept, if not embrace failure, because it makes company more mature and open.

Pihlaja says that in a company we have to ask why we do something instead of what we do. You first have to get your employees know that “why” and then people will buy your product. But you need to think differently than everybody else. Pihlaja off course introduced us to LEGO Serious Play, a methodology that LEGO created for themselves when they needed to renew their business. It is a registered trademark for a catalyst for change (see pic 3).  It has different variations and applications like: Strategy, Beast, Cx play and Identity.

Pic 2: Lego Serious Play. Photo by author from the slideshow.

And as said before, imagination is the only limit what you can do while playing. Pihlaja says that with Legos you can for example do customer journey experience and mapping, customer management, built personas and so on. You can also corporate landscapes and make a shared model made out of individual models. And built future scenarios! In addition to everything mentioned in pic 4.

Pic 4: What Lego Serious Play can be used for. Photo by author from the slideshow.

One of Pihlaja’s teaching during the workshops is: Don’t think, just built! That is how you unleash your potential!

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala, SD student.

A cocktail of childish playing and academic research

Collaboration and direct engagement were the key words when two distinguished service designer specialists discussed the use of creative practices in designing sustainable futures. This inspirational talk was organized by Design Club, on 23rd September 2020.

Associate professor Tuuli Mattelmäki from Aalto University gave an overview of an EU-supported project Creative Practices for Transformational Futures (CreaTures) that aims at bringing in creative practices in the development processes towards socio-ecological sustainability in different sectors. The project is a cross-border and cross-sectoral initiative and includes a consortium of actors such as universities, NGOs and private companies, each of which brings their specific knowhow to the project. The key assumption of the initiative is that collaboration and direct engagement of different stakeholders are key issues when working with transformational processes and planning of different futures.

The results of the pilot project confirmed the immense power of imagination and “thinking out of the box”, that can be best achieved in collaboration with others. Moreover, the process of learning together and seeing things differently has value of its own, as it teaches the participants not only new ways knowing, but also new ways of feeling.

Creative processes have indeed proven to be transformational, but in many cases the problem is that they are fragmented: there are small groups working apart, each of them doing probably the right things but not joining the forces which could give added value to the whole process of transformation. In addition, they are often poorly resourced and not always correctly understood.

CreaTures project includes the whole chain of the design, from the observatory and laboratory to the evaluation & policy recommendations, which are, according to Mattelmäki, vital parts of the process.

Are creative practices under-utilized in developing and transforming societies and businesses?

According to Design Director Zeynep Falay von Flittner from service design agency Hellon, the mission of all service design should be to bring human to the centre of the business. We need more holistic stories about the future, not only technical solutions and processes. We also need tools to help us build different future scenarios and understand the consequences of each of them. The aim of these tools is to trigger conversation and to bring holistic understanding of interdependencies and long-term consequences of the possible actions.

Play!

A tool may sound quite technical and even boring but in fact best tools can be games that are both playful and experimental. One example is the Nordic urban mobility game that Hellon has used in the transport sector development processes together with different cities and communities. The game can be downloaded and printed for free (see the link below). The practice has shown that a game can provoke more and different thinking than normal participatory methods. It being a physical game helps to overcome the time distance and difficulties in immersing oneself into the different futures. A game also triggers action and commitment, as it creates a sense of urgency for the needed change.

Playing games might not cut out all feelings of anxiety and insecurity that are blocking creativity when thinking about different futures. But it definitely gives hope and enables us to see that there really are different pathways we can choose. Hope energizes and focuses actions. Playing games can also make the uncertainty and anxiety that is related to future scenarios more bearable and more fun.

One obvious challenge to using more creative practices is that organisations are often tied to traditional research and ways of working. To overcome that, Mattelmäki suggested to do more prototyping. It brings concrete evidence to even the most skeptical thinkers that there really are different options, and that those options are possible and doable. Like she put it: “the process itself keeps winning the participants”.

Joyful and pleasurable approach is important in envisioning of desirable futures. Designers work as facilitators or midwives in these processes and have an important role in that they help participants to go beyond the “what is realistic” thinking. There is a lot we can learn from children: they are open-minded and it`s natural for them to explore new ways of thinking and doing.

Hard business needs hope

Sustainability is nowadays a hard business, but there is definitely a need to look beyond the normal business solutions and traditional answers. Designers in general have one asset that is needed in the planning of a sustainable future: optimistic and forward-looking mindset. Hope and solution-focused approach is needed, particularly in this field where pessimism tend to take over in many discussions.

One of the biggest hurdles that service designers face in bringing unusual creative practices into traditional contexts is that managers are afraid of something they see as expensive and unpredictable or unreliable when it comes to producing benefits and fulfilling the cost-efficiency goals. Even among the participants of the event (the majority being designers and students), 0 % chose “saving time and resources” as the main benefit of their work in the field of service design. That indicates how cumbersome and costly the process is often seen to be, and how little trust there is on its cost-efficiency.

Perhaps we need more professional studies on the impacts and tangible results of the creative practices and service design. Evaluation and impact studies have spread out to practically all fields during the past years. Everything is measured and indicator has become the word of the day. To overcome the distrust of managers and directors in investing time and resources in playing games (and developing the business through play and creativity), we need to be able to show the undeniable outputs, outcomes and impacts of that investment.

The close relationship of research and business was pointed out by Mattelmäki. According to her, development work based on scientific research gives more credibility and speeds up the implementation. One tangible result of creative innovation and game playing is that there will be a vast amount of wild ideas and enthusiasm, new innovations and innovators.

The next step will then be how the ideas are taken forward. That will be a topic for future discussions, but for sure collaboration and direct engagement will be key elements in that as well.

Laura Ekholm

More information can be found :

CreaTures. https://creatures-eu.org/

Hellon. https://www.hellon.com/

Nordic Urban Mobility 2050 Futures Game. https://www.nordicinnovation.org/tools/NUM2050

Designers as political changemakers

What are the commonly stated wicked problems and what can we do about them?

A common denominator for the so-called wicked problems is that they all have complex connections to multiple sectors of human societies and they cannot be solved easily, if at all. Wicked problem can also be a problem whose complexity means that it has no determinable stopping point at all (Tonkinwise & Cameron 2015). Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems. A common feature is that there are different opinions among the stakeholders on the content of the wicked problem and how it should be addressed.

Examples of wicked problems include climate change, unemployment, healthcare, international drug trafficking, nuclear weapons, waste, social injustice, an also the most recent global threat, the COVID-19 pandemic. They are more difficult than just complex problems and thus require different approach.

To learn more about these interesting macro-level challenges, I participated online in the public defense of Mari Suoheimo`s Ph.D. dissertation entitled ““Approaching Wicked Problems in Service Design”, in which she examines the challenges that wicked problems pose to service design and proposes tools to fight them. The opponent, Professor Mikko Koria from Loughborough University, London, led the discussion with his insightful questions and remarks.

Sometimes you need to say the obvious aloud

We can change normal problem to be a wicked one. As a concrete example Mari Suoheimo mentioned the making of an envelope – it`s a normal problem until we decide to make an envelope without any environmental impact, then it becomes a wicked problem.

There is lots of talk of wicked problems, and also it is common to hear that at the end all problems are wicked, or that a solution exists to every wicked problem. This is not true. Instead, the tools that are used to solve normal problems, are sometimes used in trying to solve wicked problems. Obviously, this doesn`t work, and according to some contributors, too simple tools may even complicate the problem-solving processes if applied to wicked problems. If a solution is found to one part of the problem, it can have deep influence on other problems and their possible solutions. As Suoheimo stated: simple tools seek to find a solution, while complex tools seek to understand the problem.

The most essential contribution of Suoheimo`s Ph.D. research to the field of Service Design is to increase our understanding on how we should deal with macro-level problems and how service design can be used to tackle these big and complex problems. One of the most important findings is that service designers do have a role in combating wicked problems; they know how to facilitate the process, they do understand the importance of collaboration and they do have tools to tackle wicked problems. However, even though you would have appropriate tools, the process is never simple, nor easy, and it always requires the participation of several actors. As Professor Koria cited the dissertation “Addressing wicked problems can lead to painful processes”.

Suoheimo`s most important concrete contribution is the Iceberg Model of Design Problems, that Suoheimo developed together with her colleagues. The model is an excellent visualization and helps service designers to understand the different levels of complexity and to choose the right approach and appropriate tools for each level. Besides service design, this model can be utilized in change design, social design and sustainable development design.

Stop project-thinking!

According to Suoheimo, it became evident during her study that wicked problems are always political. Complex social problems are entering more and more into the field of service design and topics require interdisciplinary approach more than before. Designers are good at zooming in and out of problems. It is not a coincidence that service design and collaboration are strong in Nordic countries where also democracy is highly valued and widely applied.

When trying to solve wicked problems, the role of the designer is to facilitate the collaboration and make sure that the problems are viewed holistically. Professor Koria challenged Suoheimo and asked her what does collaboration actually mean if it is not seeking to find a solution. According to Suoheimo it means doing together, as against doing from top to down. It`s about going against power structures. Designers can indeed be political changemakers.

Due to their nature, wicked problems should not be thought of as short-time projects. Wicked problems are often macro-level challenges and are influenced by political decision-making and regulated by national and international legislation. There should be a long-term commitment to solving wicked problems, and also long-term financing. The question is, how do we guarantee sufficient political and financial support to service design in their work with wicked problems?

As Professor Koria stated at the end: this thesis raises more questions than it answers, which is a positive (but hopefully not wicked) problem. What is does is that it definitely leaves room for more research and contributions from scientists and service designers.

-Laura Ekholm

References:

Mari Suoheimo 2020: ”Approaching Wicked Problems in Service Design”. Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 286, ISBN 978-952-337-223-8, ISSN 1796-6310, Lapin yliopisto, Rovaniemi 2020. http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-337-223-8

Tonkinwise, Cameron 2015: “Design for Transitions – from and to what?”. Academia.edu. Retrieved 9 November 2017.

Wicked, wicked problems

New study in the field of service design!

Mari Suoheimo’s doctoral examination was held on 18th of September in the University of Lapland. The opponent was professor Mikko Koria from Loughborough University London and thesis supervisor was professor Kaarina Määttä.


First Suoheimo introduced us to complex and simple problems and made some examples of them. A simple problem is tying shoelaces and complex or even wicked problem is solving the Covid-19 situation. Suoheimo also pointed out that there is a lot of discussion of wicked problems in the field of service design. The talk in the field is that all design issues or problems are in fact wicked or that the concept of wicked problem is already solved. To Suoheimo’s point of view, that is not how ever the case. But she continued that almost any design problem can be turned in to a complex or wicked one. As an example she said that designing a envelope is simple design issue, but designing and developing an envelope that has zero impact on environment is already a complex issue.

An example of a wicked problem.
Source: Google free images.

In the thesis Suoheimo addresses how to approach these questions. And she said that her interest in the topic already raised in her studies in Brazil when her teacher introduced her to wicked problems that are intangible problems, just like all services usually are.

The thesis it self consists of introduction, three articles, discussion and conclusions. First article is a literature review on the Relation and Role of Service Design with Wicked Problems, second is called “Strategies and Visual Tools to Resolve Wicked Problems” and last focuses on how to apply the theory in to practice and is based on case study “Process of Mapping Challenges of Cross-Border Mobility in the Barents Region”, done with Toni Lusikka.

In the thesis she also introduces the new Iceberg model of design problems developed together with Rosana Vasques and Piia Rytilahti, co-authors of the first article. The model does not only help to understand the different levels of complexity of wicked problems but also helps to choose the approaches and tools to use in different levels.

An iceberg. The model can be seen in Suoheimo’s thesis.
Source of the photo: Goole free images.

In the beginning of the event there was a little bit definition of service design it self, like how it has evolved from hands on designing to much more complex service science. The aim of service design is to create better services. This can be done through designing a good service experience using tools like service journey, and mapping it. Suoheimo also talked about Stickdorns et all. five principles of service design. That I would like to stress that are actually newly developed to six principles: Human-centered, collaborative, iterative, sequental, real and holistic. (Stickdorn et all, 2018, 16). Suoheimo also says that the talk originates to Buchanan article on 1973 about wicked problems that started the whole debate and introduced one service science frame.

Suoheimo sees that there are four levels of design: 

1: Graphic design
2: Industrial design
3: Service design
4: System design

And points out that service design actually touches all the four levels. Service design is also not an island, it touches and goes limited with other fields too. And when in comes to complexity some fields actually understand it’s use more deeply, like social sciences. Also action research and design thinking are similar nowadays. The new double diamond process is closer to action research, and Suoheimo points out that all the models start to look the same.

The opponent Mikko Koria said that the theme of the thesis is interesting, topic and valuable if not even essential for the field. But the thesis actually raises more questions than answers, which is a wicked problem it self. He also conducts that there is a loose use of the term wicked problem in the field, it’s now a buzz word, which is a worry.

The problem with wicked problems is that in service design we are using tools that are not designed to solve wicked problems which makes the process even more painful, ’cause the process is anyway painful, not ever easy. And wicked problems can have many sides too (political, social, and so on). You first have to understand the problem to know how to solve it.

An example of wicked problem solution. Source: Google free images.

So what we need is new courses! And programs! Especially interdiciplinary courses with organizational studies and management …and more resources in the service design field.

The good news: Service designer’s role is to be an agent of change because we are able to make the change.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala, SD student.

References and to look for more info: 

Väitös: Palvelumutoilun ikeät ongelmat

Suoheimo’s thesis

Stickdorn, M., Lawrence, A., Hormess, M. E. & Schneider, J. 2018. This is service design doing: Applying service design thinking in the real world : a practitioner’s handbook. First Edition. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Buchanan (1990) Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, Vol. 8, No. 2, (Spring, 1992), pp. 5-21. The MIT Press.

Playfulness creates savings

I participated on the 23th of September in Helsinki Design Week’s Aalto University’s Design club online talk “Creative practices for transformational futures” with Tuuli Mattelmäki, associate Professor and Head of department of Design in Aalto and Zaynep Falay a Partner in Hellon design agency, that does collaboration with Aalto University.  They were talking about their new co-project Creatures.

Picture 1. Logo of Creatures.
Photo by author from the slideshow.

This talk was very popular and international. It was said in the beginning that there were around 70 people from 17 countries around the world, all the way to New Zeeland.  And according to the poll that was held first there were people from different sectors from design to business world.

First Mattelmäki talked about the project from Aalto’s perspective. Aalto is the coordinator of the whole project. The consortium is large and international and includes practitioners and institutes from North to South Europe. There was also a pilot of the project done in the University of Sussex.

The point of this EU funded project is to bring creative practices in to design and development in different sectors. Mattelmäki showed us some examples of the meta-projects done with for example soil and environment, see picture.

Picture 2. Department of Design. Photo by author from the slideshow.

Mattelmäki also introduced us to the keys of change when it comes to managing with the problems and issues that we need to change and solve in the modern world. The keys are collaboration and direct engagement. We need to bring people together, one way or another, as the Covid-19 situation has showed us. She also pointed out that the problems and also future scenarios are scary, which can block our imagination and thinking, so that is why we need playfulness and creativity that can help us overcome it. Other keys are experimental qualities and learning together as well as intervention and processes themselves, that can lead to new ways of feeling and being, and also create innovations and knowledge. In addition Mattelmäki shared some research data about the creativity that is linked below.

Falay continued about the subject matter and introduced us to Hellon, an award winning design agency. She said that opposite to many other service design offices that are digital, Hellon focus is not in digital development but human centeredness and they really bring the person in the center. In Hellon they like to do things differently and push the boundaries, see picture.

Picture 3. About Hellon. Photo by author from the slideshow.

They have a history of designing future scenario design game, that is also linked below. In this project they are developing a new game and firmly believe that playing and playfulness is the key to solve problems and develop future design, solutions and sustainability. Falay says that playing makes uncertainty more bearable and more fun. It gives much more than traditional work methods.

The upcoming sustainability futures game creates new ways of thinking and is based on experimental practice. In the game there is no need to win, it’s more about the atmosphere and playfulness itself that pushes our thinking and makes us creative. But developing the game is serious business, you have to have relevant content and the back work that needs to be based on research is essential.

They are already testing the game with different audiences and have had a positive feedback. But sometimes it’s also a challenge to get people to take the playing as a method and the game seriously. The route to get it work is through mature design process and especially prototyping! You also need to have some more enthusiastic and open-minded people in a test environment first on board and rest will follow.

The conclusion is that for the future world, we need hope, co-creation, cross board collaboration to get things move forward and developed. We need to have science and research, designers and people in the business world to work together to create the change.

In the session there was a final poll and the results were clear.  0% answered “saving time and resources” for what is important in their work in design. Which is indicative of one of the biggest hinder we face when bringing unusual creative practices into traditional contexts and that should be tackled with managers and leaders as well. Mattelmäki stressed that academia is in fact connected to the society. There has to be research behind the work. And one of her favorite things is collaboration, how research can actually help businesses and enterprises. Research brings credibility to development. It helps also to get implementations done faster. Which saves money in the end. Or as Hellon puts it, customer experience design is today’s number 1 driver of profitable growth.

Pic 4. Collaboration. Photo: authors detail of the slideshow.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala

References and to look for more info:

Creatures
Creatures laboratory
Hellon
Hellon’s future game
Survey about creativity

Light et al. 2018. Creative practice and transformations to Sustainability making and managing cultural change.

Light A., Wolstenholme R., Twist, B. 2019. Creative practice and sustainability – insights from research.

A complex conversation over the (business) world

A Helsinki Design Week’s Aalto University’s Designs for a Cooler Planet’s program Design Club talk on 10th of September about the topic “System Innovations for Business Sustainability” and how does the talk transfer into today’s global business environment with academic researcher Dr. İdil Gaziulusoy and business Dr. Heli Antila, the Vice President, Biobased Solutions at Fortum was highly interesting and complex. 

First İdil Gaziulusoy challenged us with her ideas of System Innovations for Business Sustainability. She shared us that the system innovation works in three levels aka Three Spheres of Transformations that are:  

Practical – > product, services, innovations, technology (technological responses) 

Organizational -> New business models (systems and structures) 

Socio-cultural ->  Zone of difficult questions, the role of businesses (beliefs, values, worldviews and paradigms) 

What is wrong in the current business world 

Normal businesses function in basic level and need to change to be able to keep in the run but to have the changes done in 5 years is too slow. Innovations are also done separately and system innovation for business sustainability is really hard to accomplish. Innovations happen in boarders, that might be only partly linked to companies strategies. Regulations work differently in different sections. Other problem is those multiple sectors and that sectors themselves are in silos .

A big problem is that we have imagination crises. We are in lack of time and lack of imagination. Innovation policy is made in short time frames in mind as well are political circles and decisions. One thing that’s holding us back is that there is only narrow idea of innovation, that is usually technological, when innovation itself is much more broader concept. We have the old models in our heads that also narrow the visioning. 

Transition to renewable energy resources could have been done earlier, but we have been keeping up funding the past world and old energy sources even though we have known for a long time that it’s not sustainable. Mainstream businesses work different because they have to undo their mistakes in the past.

We should not save the day, but save the future far away! 

We need to think not only if this is good for us but also for environment and society over all since no system innovation can be done alone. To built an ecosystem you actually need a huge network. Like university, regulation, non-governmental organizations, the state, government and so on. 

There is also need for innovations in innovation policy! And that is why we need strategic and creative foresight. That can be accomplished in cross-disciplinary vision workshops. We should get beyond the expert lines and to think over the boundaries. We need to have a real creative foresight! And have responsibility, take the initiative how can we make this happen. 

In circular economy for example new kind of business models are needed. From a company perspective it takes time, more than few years. You need to see what you can achieve from different perspectives and operators. In operational level we need new funding mechanisms, for example for research. University has an important role and should do also it’s basic research. 

Companies need be urged to think about business in a de-growth context. It’s companies who need to push for the regulations! We have to imagine how will our cities look like and have bold policy making since the businesses are ready for this. What companies should do then? Engage with researcher, connect with each other, push the policies, signal the market (like already done in mode) and have futures thinking.  

Some good examples 

To mention some examples of how different disciplines and sectors have successfully been brought together to jointly address global complex systemic challenges are already done in transition context and with collaboration, like urban and energy transition. One good example in Finland is also recycling plastic waste that has accomplished only in few years.

There are systematic changes in Fortum like in excess heat usage. Fortum also started to work for CO2 free products a long before it was regulated since it seemed “a good time to move to that direction”, already in year 2000. Even when the market didn’t support it. Fortum’s vision for the energy crises now is that in the future we will have a lot of solar and wind power and it will be cheap. But then we have lack of material that is hard even to imagine now.   

The micro enterprises are pushing the boundaries first. Nolla (a zerowaste restaurant) is a good example of that and we should not overlook micro enterprises and their power to make the change and create innovations that can be used in many sectors. 

We need innovations! 

Good news for service designers! The traditional role of designers isn’t diminishing. There are opportunities for designers, like role in transition concepts and other collaboration. We always need new innovators and innovations! 

Pic: How to participate in Design club talks during Covid-19. Photo by author.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala, SD student.

To look for more info: 

Info of the talk
Information about Fortum
Nolla restaurant
Certified B Corporation

Two hours in pouring rain in the footsteps of Jane

On a Tuesday afternoon on the 8th of September a little group of people gathered together in front of a Aalto University building to walk two hours in a pouring rain among the Infrastructure of Otaniemi.

Picture 1: Walking in the rain. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

The walk was arranged as a part of Helsinkin Design Weeks Aalto University’s program Designs for a cooler planet – Race for the future and hosted by Eeva Berglund and Idil Gaziulusoy, of NODUS, the sustainable design research group in the Department of Design, Aalto University. The philosophy of the walk comes from Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), who was a writer, urbanist and activist who championed the voices of everyday people in neighborhood planning and city-building. The idea is to walk in cities to honor and activate the ideas of Jane Jacobs. Jane’s Walk is a community-based approach to city building that uses volunteer-led walking tours to make space for people to observe, reflect, share, question and re-imagine the places in which they live, work and play.

Stupitidy as a designer 

One of the points was to observe what works and doesn’t in Otaniemi, which originates in 16th century but is rapidly built in the last 10 years. Focus was also to discuss about sustainability and what choices to use when building new. The environment it self had a lot examples what not to do. Since it was raining it showed us clearly that water it self is an infrastructure and if the surfaces are not designed with thought, future and climate in mind the water does not go anywhere but creates floods, slippery roads and possible accidents, like seen in picture 2.

Picture 2: Water as an infrastructure. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

It came to me as a surprise that Finland which is often considered a pioneer in technical development is actually not only delayed in infrastructure and environmental design but also traffic and water engineering. Even though the half a year of November weather would definitely need the special environmental solutions. Often pointed out in service design one of the problems is people working separably in groups of experts. And that is also the case in landscape and infrastructure planning where there is a huge challenge of silos.

What to do then

There is a need for long vision workshops and people working together to solve the wicked problems like climate change and sustainability. Also Jouko Lampinen says in the Aalto magazine that radical creativity means getting out of the silos.

The good thing is that many the solutions already exist. There are plenty of Nature-based solution (NBS) for urban stormwater management with Low Impact Development (LID) Methods like Bio Retention, Vegetated Swale, Green Roof and Permeable Pavement (see picture 3).  So it´s only about the politics, city patterns and old restrictions that need to be changed. And not forgetting the hardest part, people, that need to change for example from car-users to bicyclist. There is movement of change and future seems possible for the young students but 30 years that it usually takes to make an over all change is too much time, the development needs to happen sooner. The point is not blame anyone but to find solutions together. The nature it self also has the solutions. Just by mimicking the nature we can built a sustainable infrastructure. It was also said that having just a little spots there and there are not enough but if there is 10% of sustainable building in an area it is enough to make a change. The key is to over all design. And to make effort, keep up the maintenance and care.

Picture 3: Example of a NBS. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

The other good news is that also the knowledge and skills already exist in Otaniemi, in the Aalto University and work in deed is in progress. There are development departments and open innovation house for example (see picture 4). The new designs and innovations of Aalto are done first in small scale and then moved to to bigger development and infrastructure. Just like in prototyping in SD is usually done!

Picture 4: Aalto Open Innovation House. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala, SD student.

References and to look for more info: 

Designs for a cooler planet
Jane’s walks
Department of Built Environment
NODUS – Sustainable design research group
Aalto University magazine Unfolded #4, Radical creativity

From ego to eco

I participated on 27.8.2020 in an online event hosted by Reach Network. The online webinar focused on the importance of life centered design, sustainability and ecosystem. The panel discussion consisted of Reach Network’s four design research experts: Bas Raijmakers from STBY in UK, José de la O from delaO Design Studio in Mexico, Rikke Ulk from Antropologerne in Denmark and Babitha George from Quicksand in India.

Photo from Unsplash

The resources of the planet aren’t endless and crises like climate change have changed design thinking from individual to ecosystem. It’s a shift in thinking: from not only focusing on how people can benefit to how the entire ecosystem can.

The event focused on the importance of looking beyond having the human in the middle of design and focusing more on the ecosystems that we largely depend on.

Shifting between the levels

The panelists discussed the complexity of the issue and the multiple levels that must be taken into consideration with life centered design. Rikke Ulk talked about shifting through individual levels, social levels and organizational levels, and understanding everything in between.

“The way we have been thinking about sustainability has been rather limited by not acknowledging all these levels. Especially in industrial design it’s been really focused on optimizing things and making everything more efficient but what we have forgotten is to look at how it all adds up.” – Bas Raijmakers from STBY

The designer mindset should be switched from “we have a problem that needs solving” to “how can we make better decisions for a sustainable future”.

Photo from Unsplash

The challenges

With the added dimensions, the challenges involved are also more complex. José De la O talked about the core challenges of life centered design and the expectations that people have from design researchers in general.

“Sometimes when people ask your help as a design researcher, they always want to have tangible solutions that has to work on the get-go. You have to be aware of the consequences of the solutions that you propose.” – José de la O from delaO Design Studio

The work may seem endless, but in order to be successful you need embrace the complexities, and to be always learning, observing and sharing knowledge. De la O emphasized that it’s not so much as theory learning but interactive learning.

The panelists discussed a lot about finding an overall balance, that sweet spot of all involved levels. You need to be more humble but also embrace much more complex thinking, for example in terms of biodiversity.

Community support

Photo from VisitSamsoe

Rikke Ulk talked about a life-centered project she has been a part of in a Samsø, Denmark. Samsø is an island that is completely self-sufficient in green energy after the building of 21 wind turbines that were mostly funded by the island’s inhabitants. Now all of the island’s electricity comes from the wind turbines and any excess is exported to mainland Denmark.

Samsø has become a pioneer community, being part of green energy counseling in a global scale. Ulk talked about a new project she’s involved in which is another community based project in Samsø, where they want to move one of their two schools into a forest area where the school would have more ability to experiment. The idea of being in the woods and having new kinds of teaching facilities is not just about teaching the children about sustainability but more so installing them the ideology of it and offering them better learning opportunities.

“We think children have the ability of being sustainable. It’s natural to children to be curious and know that they are a part of everything.” – Rikke Ulk from Antropologerne

Ulk emphasized the importance of community support and how Samsø residents have embraced all the new changes. The citizens had the option to buy a part of a windmill which is how the island was able to become energy-positive in the first place. Additionally Samsø is striving to be fossil fuel-free by 2030.

For more inspiration:

The art of design research

Photo by Unsplash

I participated on 20.8.2020 in an online event focusing on design research. The event was hosted by Reach Network‘s Bas Raijmakers and featured a panel discussion with two experienced service design professionals Geke van Dijk from STBY and Babitha George from Quicksand, both part of the Reach Network organization.

Both Van Dijk and George discussed their projects, the craft of design research and what it takes to succeed in their field, with an active participation from other participants.

Iterative process instead linear

The design research process of Reach Network is described as more iterative than linear. New ideas often come up during fieldwork, so quick adaptation is key. The process starts with immersion phase where they usually study people in their own environments. Afterwards in insight creation the design researchers identify problem spots and opportunity areas. Last phase of idea generation includes workshops, brainstorming and modeling of strongest ideas.

Photo by Unsplash

George started the discussion by explaining a project she had been working with which dealt with public healthcare in India. She discussed the difficulties of when dealing with an intimate, hard topic and how to overcome these obstacles. She mentioned that the ability to adapt your methods and getting people comfortable were vital, for instance using hypothetical scenarios instead of asking direct, intimate questions for a softer approach. She listed building trust and offering a judgement-free-zone as key to the success in her project.

Both George and van Dijk discussed the importance of design research. They were asked during the panel discussion on how to get clients to understand the importance of design research and pay for design research. They emphasized that when design research is done right, it is very informative and helps with implementation longevity. Engaging with stakeholders and having a thorough, mutual understanding and clear communication is vital.

Qualitative research vs. design research

The panelists briefly talked about differences of qualitative research and design research. With design research, you have creativity included and you’re always looking for opportunities. It’s rich in storytelling and bringing a design aspect via persona posters and images from field, for example.

A participant in the event asked for tips on how to transfer complex data to a more understandable, audience friendly format. George and van Dijk mentioned that having key insights, summaries and lots of illustrations is a good starting point. They emphasized finding a balance with complexity and clear storytelling because you also don’t want to lose the richness of your findings.

Photo by Unsplash

The art of the craft

The panelists discussed the craft of design research and what it takes to succeed in their field. Design research is about constantly reiterating and customizing your methods. It requires a lot of experience and openness to learn new. It’s about learning of complexities but also keeping things simple. “It’s about constantly zooming in and out”, one panelist explained.

The needed skills include observation, conversation, creative listening, ability to adapt, motivation to always learn new things, but also being reflective and self critical of own biases. It’s not just about learning tricks of different tools but learning the craft and adapting those tools to own projects.

During the panel discussion, it was mentioned that design research is much like the Netflix documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, which featured Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master in Tokyo and his relentless pursuit of perfection, who even after three Michelin stars was always striving to be better.

In a way, a design researcher is never finished with learning their craft but instead always reiterating and customizing their approach.

For more inspiration:

Trailer for Netflix documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”