City of Helsinki evaluates the impact of design

The City of Helsinki initiated collaboration with Aalto University’s Department of Design last spring to evaluate the impact of design activities. The evaluation represents the first extensive survey of the City’s design projects and the benefits and challenges of those projects. The results of the evaluation were presented at the closing seminar of an Aalto University design course in December 2019.

Students of Aalto University’s Strategic Co-Design course. (Photo: Laura Oja, City of Helsinki )

The City of Helsinki has utilised design for many years in the development of services and the built environment. Design has also been incorporated into strategy work and organisational development in recent years.

“Helsinki has been a pioneer in the use of design in the public sector, but information on the scope of the City’s design activities and on the contents and impact of those activities has not been gathered systematically,” says Helsinki’s City Design Manager Päivi Hietanen.

Opportunities and challenges of design

According to the analysis produced by Aalto University researchers, Helsinki has utilised design extensively and without hesitation for a variety of purposes. Design has been used to make customers’ voices heard, to increase the understanding of customer needs, and to improve services and internal operating models. The researchers also see it as a strength that design and customer orientation have been incorporated into the City Strategy.

Some of the challenges discovered in the survey were the great variance in design expertise and how well design is utilised in the City organisation. Furthermore, design activities are often carried out as projects, and the opportunities and concrete benefits of design are not yet fully recognised.

“The findings of the researchers strengthened our own understanding that it is advisable to invest in systematic and persistent design activities. In addition, we should compile and share information and lessons from various design projects increasingly systematically,” Hietanen asserts.

Visualisation of city design map. By Bin Shamsul Amri Daud, Nader Sayún Michel, Zheng Zheng, Menegolli Alessia.

Students visualise a city design map

The City of Helsinki and Aalto University collaboration produced a city design map. The map divides Helsinki design activities into six categories. The city design map can be used to categorise various design projects and to evaluate their properties and impact. The map helps users to store information on projects and to communicate about the City’s design activities.

The collaboration continued in the autumn with the Strategic Co-Design course, in which students worked on the results of the analysis phase. Students took a closer look at the City design projects and refined the city design map.


Written by: Arnoud van Gemeren, Smart City Hub.
Header image: Oodi, Helsinki’s new Central Library. (Photo: Subodh Agnihotri.)

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