Design Stories from Helsinki

Real stories about how to build design-driven cities.


In Finland, design has always belonged to everyone. We have plenty of gorgeous objects and buildings, but design runs much deeper in Finnish society, too. In this corner of the world, designers have always worked towards meeting the everyday needs of ordinary citizens. Right now those needs call for better solutions, not just beautiful and functional things. These stories are about how design can also be a key method in building a better city.

The roots of socially aware design lie deep in post-war Finland. At the time of rebuilding the nation, designers and architects were in the forefront of developing Finland into a modern society. The City of Helsinki's current commitment to design is a continuation of this tradition. The city is made for its citizens, and design helps to develop a human-centric city. This process is conscious of the needs of users and the functionality of services, of environmental notions, and of a boldness to develop the city through experimentation. It also invites citizens along to develop their city.

Sometimes it is worthwhile to give up the old and start with a clean slate. Design is a good tool for making smart decisions for the future. Understanding the needs and expectations of people helps renew the city and to produce better services. Designers have the know-how and methods to create mutual understanding and a shared outlook among city developers and users. Together we can build a city that works in the best possible way, for citizens and visitors alike. Dive into these experience and information filled stories on design!

How to speak about design: A brief guide

Why is design discussion sometimes so hard to follow? How can we talk about design in a way that does not exclude anyone? Here are some tips for smoother communications.

Use clear vocabulary.

Let the audience know what you mean with design and related terms. Design refers to both thinking and doing. Service design and city design have to do with developing services and cities. The term design in general implies that the object or service at hand has been well thought out in both quality and functionality.

Speak in simple terms.

Avoid specialist jargon and complicated concepts when discussing design and design thinking. When you address a large audience, it might be wise to speak about how well a service runs, about human-centricity, or reminding to keep the needs of the user in mind.

Use real examples.

If a discussion is getting heavy, lift up the mood. Tell your crowd that design can make a familiar yet troublesome task (such as renewing a passport) easy and pleasant. Everyone knows what it feels like when a service does not work. Real-life, everyday situations are often the best triggers to connect people to design. Read the stories in this publication for good ideas.

Design is more than just icing on the cake.

Design is development work that can be compared to any other kind of development. For design to reach its full potential in urban planning, it is essential to work beyond the surface level. A common mistake is to pull in a designer too late, when important decisions have already been made and guidelines set. This way, design can easily become an ornament. If the value of design is recognised early on, it can replace an outdated way of doing and radically shape the service into something new. Design creates true value.

Don't be afraid of the word 'design'.

Design is still not a familiar concept within the field of city development. It can be confusing to understand what design has to do with cities, decision-making or structuring public services. A new term becomes familiar only through using it. Say it out loud boldly, but remember to always explain what you mean in your particular context.

Gather and follow numbers.

Finland is a country of engineers, so design has a lot of traditions to break through. The value of design is often undermined as something soft. Hard numbers and statistics help to justify why design matters. A good tip is to find out how a design project has shaped customer satisfaction, or what were the financial impacts of re-designing a service.

Release early and often.

Design has to cherish experimentation and have inbuilt tolerance to incompleteness. Sharing something unfinished brings you valuable information and new ideas. You can even find a useful trigger to shift the direction completely. The best communication happens in two directions: stay in constant dialogue with people and listen to users.

More is more in communication.

Design is an everyman's right, and not just for designers. Everybody dealing with city development should learn about design! Speak through emotions so people remember your words. Designers should be able to explain their work in plain terms, and to justify the value added by design to both the city and to people. Dear citizen, if you wish to understand more about design, do not hesitate to contact an expert. They should be well equipped to share their work in a way that anyone can understand.