Helsinki is known around the world for its design thinking that reaches throughout the city, all the way to its leadership. According to Design Foundation Finland’s Jorma Lehtonen, it's thanks to education – but we still need a lot more.
Using design to create better and more functional cities is relatively new, but Helsinki has already included it in the city's official strategy. What have we been doing right here?
JL Education plays a very big role in pushing through design thinking in Helsinki. Finland is known internationally as a top country for design schools, which is most apparent in Helsinki. Aalto University has done considerable work in increasing the importance of design in improving the city’s services.
Helsinki has succeeded in making design understandable and demonstrating its benefits to city officials. Significant organizations that speak up for design and put design thinking into practice are for example Design Forum Finland and Ornamo. It is also important to note that as the capital, Helsinki is an attractive location for design offices. Eighty-five percent of Finland’s design offices are situated in Helsinki. Recent graduates and entrepreneurs want to be in Helsinki, making it a centre for design. The influence of this inevitably spreads to the city’s officials and leadership.
What could still be done better?
JL Helsinki is still in the trial stages of applied design. However, we are on the way towards deeper design thinking, and that’s a wonderful thing. In order to adopt deeper design thinking, it is necessary to educate politicians, officials and citizens so that they understand design. Education gets rid of the mysticism shrouding design, making it easier for officials to accept the methods of design. It is often mistakenly believed that designers will look at services from a purely artistic point of view. It's important to demonstrate what a designer actually does and what methods are used. Methods include observing users, documenting their activity and practical development. Design may help lower the cost of services when they are streamlined and centralized, for example.
What direction would you like to see the city heading next?
JL Time will tell what the next stage of design thinking in Helsinki is. At the moment there is a lot of interest in whether design will be implemented into administration and whether it will be taught in elementary schools. Let’s hope that there will be more than one or two designers in Helsinki’s administrative structure. Simply undertaking projects is not enough to implement design thinking – design methods have to be a part of the framework of services. Only then will design truly remain a part of the city’s functioning.