Yesterday afternoon, instead of sitting down to complete a research paper due for a conference later this year, I suddenly found myself embroiled in an intense conversation about the nexus of design thinking, sustainable innovation and the fuzzy front end. Lotta Hassi of Decode Research group wondered out loud why there weren't any definitions available of design thinking and I couldn't resist piping up. An instant best friendship was born. While some might think of bananas, this experience best describes what its really like to be sitting at Aalto University's Design Factory. You never know when someone will want talk about business or design or technology or simply the challenges of innovating in today's uncertain times.
My desk is in one sunny corner of the "Open Office", which is seperated by an additional layer of security from the main body of the cavernous building that houses the DF (as the denizens lovingly call it). Ironic, true, but the reason is that the Product Design Research group sits here and their work for Finnish SMEs requires some kind of protection from passersby who may turn out to work for a competitive startup. The startups, in turn, are relegated to the basement, where they rent offices, the only ones who pay to be here. Still, they seem quite happy to be here too, I've had long conversations on sustainable design with Antti Pitkainen, managing partner at Seos design.
That's the real beauty of the way this space has been designed, it works. The goal was to enable conversations across disciplines, companies, students, researchers and, even, random passersby. The two key locations for these serendipitious meetings are the kitchen/pantry/dining/lounge space and outside the side door where the smokers hangout. The first was designed to be the heart, but the second, as always, wasn't part of the original design. In fact, the resident spatial designer Esa Santamaki, whom I met when stepping out for smoke earlier today, tells me that his intent isn't ever to reach a "finished" design for the space, for then it would stop growing and evolving. For him the Design Factory is design thinking in practice, as its evolution allows him to observe and capture learnings from the way people use space for his thesis. He hopes that the lessons learnt here will influence the design of office spaces everywhere, enabling serendipitous creativity that spontaneous meetings allow. His thesis and its goals can be found on the link to his name.
I'm sure I'll have more stories to tell as I continue to sit here but whatever chance or circumstance led me to this hub of design and innovation, strategy, business and technology, I feel like I'm right at home.People are very very bright, very aware of the world and whats happening in design and business and are always ready with a quick hello. In fact, you could say, that here in Finland, everyone speaks my language.
All photos by the author.