At the close of the World Design Capital® (WDC) Helsinki 2012 year, Icsid’s Secretariat team spared no time to speak with all four of the organisation’s Finnish members, all of which actively participated in Helsinki’s internationally acclaimed WDC programme. The interview gathers some insightful feedback from Krista Kinnunen, Senior Advisor PR, School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Aalto University; Anne Veinola, Communications Manager, Editor-in-Chief of the Finnish Design Yearbook, Design Forum Finland; Joakim Karske, Head of Design Strategy & Portfolio, Nokia Design and Petra Ilonen, Project Manager, the Finnish Association of Designers Ornamo.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your membership experience participating in WDC Helsinki 2012. When did your organisation first get involved in the programme of events?

Krista Kinnunen (KK): Aalto University was actively involved in the WDC process ever since the start and played a significant role in Helsinki’s bid process in 2008-2009. Following that, the university continued to support the initiative through active participation on the WDC Helsinki 2012 Board, as well as in the planning and programming of numerous events.

Anne Veinola (AV): Design Forum Finland – the Finnish Society of Crafts and Design was one of the bodies that signed the original application – so we had been involved since the summer of 2008.

Joakim Karske (JK): Nokia had a chance to participate during the programme development phase in 2010.

Petra Ilonen (PI): We were involved from the very beginning during the bid process in 2008.

Q: Please describe what sparked your organisation’s/institution’s interest in the World Design Capital designation?

KK: Aalto University believed that any opportunities that would come out of Helsinki even just being shortlisted as a World Design Capital, would be inspiring and a good tool to raise the awareness and increase the dialogue about design and its role on society, as well as bring multiple partners together to better promote the use of design. We believe that creative collisions between science, art, technology and business lead to a better life. Improvements to design will in turn help more people live better lives.

AV: As design is such an integral part of Finnish life, Design Forum Finland wanted to use this opportunity to show the world how things are done in Finland and of course, in Helsinki specifically.

JK: As a leading brand and company in Finland, it was natural for Nokia to participate, so we aimed to utilise the WDC opportunity to launch our new design identity through a series of product launches in 2012.

PI: As the professional association for design in Finland, we saw the WDC as a platform in support of our mandate to enhance and elevate Finnish designers, as much as the City of Helsinki. We were therefore keen to demonstrate our support of project with Helsinki City officials.

Q: Tell us about the extent of your involvement in the World Design Capital 2012 Helsinki programme. What events did you participate in? 

KK: Aalto University’s WDC programme ‘Living+’ aimed to create better and more sustainable living environments. Living+ consisted of 37 different projects, from events of all sizes, to seminars and publications. A total of 140 events where organised that attracted an estimated 180 000 visitors. Aalto University was one of the major partners the WDC Helsinki 2012 programme. Our projects reportedly made up 10% of the total 500 WDC projects.

HV: Some of our own projects, the Fennia Prize 2012 design competition, Design Forum Finland’s Mini Seminars and the Road Show of Design, were integrated into the official programme of the WDC year. DFF’s Estlander Prize was announced alongside Icsid’s World Design Impact Prize at the World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 Gala in February 2012. We also produced one of the WDC Signature Events: the International Design House Exhibition in September in Suvilahti, quite a feat as it was such an extensive exhibition. We also cooperated in various other projects, design trips, meetings and seminars with the managers of the WDC designation in Helsinki.

JK: Our main contribution was a high technology design exhibition called “Hi-Design” which we initiated in conjunction with the Finnish elevator company Kone. Hi-Design ran over a three-month period in Helsinki and was among the WDC events that showcased cutting edge industrial and product design from leading Finnish companies. The focus of the exhibition was on product experience and the stories behind designing them.
Our “people made” exhibition explained Nokia’s involvement in social change over time and gave a nice snapshot from our most iconic products into our newly launched design identity.

Overall the feedback from visitors was really good as it appealed to all age groups. Proof of the success of Hi-Design as a concept is that a permanent Hi-Design exhibition is being planned in Helsinki for late 2013. Nokia naturally participated in other events throughout the year, like the Flow festival.

PI: We worked closely with the WDC Helsinki2012 organising team – in terms of disseminating information and as active participators/organisers.
Q: How was participation activated within your organisation or school as it relates to the WDC Helsinki programme? Was it mostly for management or were all employees/students engaged?

KK: Our WDC participation was coordinated by the School of Arts, Design and Architecture. The Dean of the school was a member of the WDC Helsinki 2012 Board. Information about the WDC was perpetuated throughout the university and we feel that everybody (faculty and students) had a chance to actively participate. Numerous suggestions for projects were made, out of which 37 multi-disciplinary initiatives were chosen. Altogether 2000 students and staff from three out of six schools in Aalto University, along with other partners, worked together on these projects.

HV: All our employees were engaged at some point, especially in the production of the International Design House Exhibition.

JK: We had people involved across the organisation depending on the type of the event. Nokia World, which is our annual investor, media and partner event, was moved to Helsinki, partly because of the WDC 2012 designation. This was our own opportunity to talk about our new colourful design identity, which we launched through our Lumia smartphones.

PI: Our main programme was ‘The Hands that Draw the Future’ exhibition and video interviews of selected designers in Kunsthalle Helsinki (Taidehalli) during summer 2012. Our members were involved in WDC Helsinki programme largely through their own projects.

Q: What do you think your organisation or school gained from participating in this yearlong programme of events? 

KK: WDC was an opportunity for Aalto University to show what we can gain and achieve by doing creative multi-disciplinary collaboration with old and new partners in the field of design. The projects brought our schools and disciplines closer together and strengthened the Aalto spirit. We developed new ways of working with several enterprises and the public sector, among different networks that will benefit us all in the future.

HV: Lots of experience, new contacts and publicity. Increasing knowledge about Finnish design is among our main missions and this was exactly the aim of the year.

JK: Inspiration, visibility and media coverage.

PI: Our organisation got to be more renown to the general public. Different organisations also got the chance to work together on many levels.

Q: The WDC Helsinki 2012 theme was ‘Open City: Embedding Design in Life’. How successful was this theme and how do you think it benefited design in your city and country? 

KK: The theme Open city literally opened doors and lowered barriers for new groups of people to get involved with the world of design and to see design in new light. Design is all around us and it can make life better for all people. As an old design country, Finland needs to exploit design even more and find new ways of using design for better living environments.

HV: At the very least, it made “ordinary people” more aware of what design is and that it is also more than just products. There was much talking and writing about service design, as an example. Also, there are several projects and initiatives that aim to increase the use of design in the public sector to the benefit of the citizens, particularly in public services. It is possible that in the near future, Helsinki will be seen as a trailblazer in this field. It is also important to underline the impact on tourism which the year gave to Helsinki and its partner cities – there were many more journalists and ordinary design-interested tourists visiting the city.

JK: The idea was very nice, and we had some nice successes, but at the end of the day it’s difficult to engage the wider audience with too many small events. Personally, I believe the main value for WDC in Helsinki was that it enabled a change in mentality and gave insights to the public sector about the role of design in a wider context. My own ambitious goal for WDC 2012 was that the government would have approved a “creative director” for Finland.

PI: The theme was visible as there were many open participatory events for the public. Some public design projects were raised in the city, which was highly important.

Q: Will you use this momentum that has been built around the events in Helsinki to continue with any projects/plans or launch a new initiative in the region?

KK: Two thirds of Aalto University’s WDC projects have continued beyond the WDC year and Living+ will be launched as a multi-disciplinary platform for user-friendly living environments at Aalto University during 2013. Design is being discussed in many forums in society today and a national design policy programme is underway. Aalto University will continue to have an active, constructive and creative role in this dialogue.

HV: Naturally, we hope that this will boost the design sector and creative economies as a whole but so far, Design Forum Finland has no specific plans besides our already quite extensive and innovative activities.

JK: Possibly, yes.

PI: The most important goal was to create new liaisons between different design operators and companies. Those connections will continue to be nurtured.

Q: World Design Capital Cape Town 2014 is starting to gain momentum as the city assembles a local management team and develops its WDC programme under the theme ‘Live Design. Transform Life.’ Do you plan on participating or collaborating with Cape Town? If so, how? And have you already begun to discuss these initiatives within your organisation or with Cape Town?

KK: Aalto University’s involvement with the WDC will continue with activities in Cape Town (South Africa) through a partnership with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. The universities are collaborating on a joint initiative: Design for Urban Transformation. The concept creates innovative solutions to urban and societal challenges in the spirit of creative sustainability and future design. The rapid change of technological, societal and environmental living context inspires us to take an active role in society. We acknowledge our commitment to societal impact and sustainability issues through research, education and projects. Goals of the CPUT collaboration are: strengthening the partnership with society and creating a new platform for students, researchers and professors to engage with real-life challenges. The collaboration is being coordinated at Aalto University by Aalto Global Impact.

For more information on the results of World Design Capital Helsinki 2012, please visit


About World Design Capital (WDC)
While there are many awards that recognise individual accomplishments in design, the World Design Capital designation is unique as it aims to focus on the broader essence of design’s impact on urban spaces, economies and citizens. The designation provides a distinctive opportunity for cities to feature their accomplishments in attracting and promoting innovative design, as well as highlight their successes in urban revitalisation strategies.

The World Design Capital is an initiative established and managed by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. Past cities to hold the title include Torino (Italy) in 2008, Seoul (South Korea) in 2010 and Helsinki (Finland) in 2102 whilst preparations for Cape Town (South Africa) are underway for 2014. The WDC 2016 designated city will be announced in November 2013.