Helsinki has long been known as a city of artistic designers, but now it is becoming respected as a hotbed for design management.
Look around you. If you are sitting on an airplane, look at the seat in front of you, the overhead bins, the lighting. If you are in your office, think about the building, the doorknobs, the elevators. Next, your clothes, your mobile phone, the scissors buried in your drawer. No matter what you see, a significant amount of effort has probably been expended in designing it. There is a good reason for this.
Design is an important element in all types of businesses. A person may think of a “design industry” that focuses on fashion or household objects, but in actuality design is important for a huge swath of consumer, commercial and industrial products. Fiskars, best known to consumers for their household products, invests a significant amount of time and resources in designing its products. When a person picks up a pair of scissors, he might not realise how much effort goes into designing it.
“I think the most important point here is that at Fiskars design drives development rather than vice versa,” says Fiskar’s Development Director Petteri Masalin. “We put the user experience at the heart of the design. Quite often finished products on the market show little concern for the usability of the product, so the starting consideration for us whenever we design a tool is: what is its purpose and how do people use it?
“Our design philosophy is to combine advanced materials and engineering to produce something elegant and lightweight that acts like an extension of the body, giving the user extra power and control and reducing strain. Good design management is a creative process that creates tools that should feel almost effortless in their usage. I’d like to add that we think that design is cyclical, not finite. Our designers spend hours studying how people use our tools and then refining them constantly. It’s a bit like gardening – an activity which requires constant vigilance and management to create and recreate something beautiful.”
“In companies you will hear different titles like designer, product development manager or usability specialist,” says Sirpa Fourastie of the Finnish Design Management Association. “These titles show how design management is used in different ways and its importance. Design is not a stand-alone speciality, but it is used closely with other disciplines in the company strategy.”
She explains that teams using design management are efficient in estimating cost and the value added for a whole project, especially if design is used from an early stage in the process. Managers have long known that projects are more likely to succeed with designers involved, but now it is understood that design has an impact upon branding, innovation and overall corporate strategy.
“Design skills are part of a sometimes years-long research and development process,” Fourastie continues. “They are as important as engineering or marketing to communicate the value of the end product.”
Finland has long been known as a source for great designs – from Alvar Aalto’s architecture to Marimekko’s prints – but in recent years the greater Helsinki area has become recognised as a global leader in design management, using design in all areas of business processes.
“We have highly educated specialists with global connections,” explains Fourastie. “The Finnish Design Management Association enforces the strategic know-how of design in the business context and the use of design and research in the innovation process. FDMA facilitates discussion and accelerates the exchange of know-how and connections. This creates new business possibilities and a professional network.”
Another reason Fourastie believes international companies have become interested in Helsinki’s design management is because of the success of large Finnish corporations.
“Many companies in Finland are global leaders in their industry and they can give a great example for smaller companies,” she says. “And the smaller ones have flexibility and can offer other kinds of knowledge and services to the bigger ones.”
A number of international companies have approached FDMA, interested in the Helsinki design management scene.
“This demands investments of time and resources from both sides, but it also creates new business opportunities,” concludes Fourastie. “Finland is a stable country with a great infrastructure, and the possibility to work with our universities in design management makes this environment very interesting for them.”
Text: DAVID J. CORD, Helsinki Times
Did you know?
The International Design Business Management program is a joint teaching and research platform of Aalto University. The purpose of the program is to develop world-class expertise in global design business management through interdisciplinary research that cuts across the areas of business, design and technology.
Employment of Design Strategies
Employment of Design Strategies is an IDBM program funded by both public and private sources. It analyses the practices and structures of design management in the case companies on both organisational and process levels, and by doing so aims to open new insights into the strategic use of design in business.