As Bryan surreptitiously hinted at last week, I’ve just joined the Strategic Design Unit here at Sitra. I’ve relocated to sunny Helsinki from wintry Sydney, which was not an idle decision, though the unique charms of Finland, Sitra and strategic design work ultimately made it easy, almost obvious.
I’ve been working on ‘the other side’ of Helsinki Design Lab (I was a participant in the Sustainability studio, as well as the moderator of the corresponding session at HDL Global, both last year) as well as being a designer on the Arup team for the Low2No project, working closely with Experientia on service design and urban informatics. Equally, I’ve been practicing something akin to the Sitra understanding of strategic design for a while, dating back to my work at the BBC and on through various urban development and building projects at Arup, but I’m very keen to consolidate, develop and articulate this work. To me, Helsinki Design Lab provides the best possible platform for that.
In this respect, my first week proved fascinating, as we’re deploying the strategic design ‘studio’ model within the Synergize Finland programme. Three concurrent studios run all week at Hub Helsinki, addressing matters such as education, youth, entrepreneurship and the future of work, and often the interdependencies between all four.
My colleagues and I are not 'front of house' – three other local designers are in that role – but we help shape the way the event unfolds over the week in numerous small ways, from the ongoing design and calibration of the space, to participating in discussions (that three of us are recent-ish immigrants proves somewhat useful), to advising on visualization aspects throughout.
Throughout, Marco, Bryan, Justin and I are observing and discussing how the strategic design model is performing, noting the differences between these studios and last year’s set, looking especially for the particular differences that design can make in this context. It’s safe to say that this will be an ongoing discussion, which we'll do our best to report on here and elsewhere.
In other news, I’ve been preparing for an Australian state visit (that's a visit by representatives of an Australian state) in a couple of weeks, who wish to learn more about Low2No in Jätkäsaari. So I’m rapidly catching up on the aspects of the project I couldn’t see from my vantage point at Arup – it’s interesting shifting from designer-as-consultant to designer-as-client (or one of the clients, at least.)
The rest of the time has been spent meeting new colleagues at Sitra. It's a unique organisation, and at first glance is staffed by equally unique specialists, experts and high-achievers of all hues. I hugely enjoy the process of immersion in a new context, a new culture and a new organization. These times are precious, when a new country or context is full of intrigue, history and mystery, tiny details leaping out at you from all corners as you begin the process of recasting ‘foreign’ to become ‘home’. And yet this sponge-like state is, or should be, also part of what it means to be a designer (amongst other trades, of course). I often recall the acerbic words of fictional design educator Winter Sorbeck in Chip Kidd’s novel The Cheese Monkeys:
"You are a designer. You have to eat the world with your eyes. You must look at everything as it you're going to die in the next five minutes, because in the relative scheme of things, you are. You can't miss a trick ..."