Finally, I find the time (and internet connection!) to sit down and put my fingers to the keyboard (somehow this sounds less romantic than putting the pen on paper, but oh well) – to write some words about the two weeks in Helsinki. Alastair and Anja have done a great job in preparing and inviting inspiring guest lecturers and I was happy to join the teaching team and contribute to the course’s program. It’s been around my third teaching experience and I have to say, I really enjoy the mutual exchange of knowledge and perspectives. The students were so full of motivation and creative energy – what they put together in 8 days swept all of us off our feet. Beautiful what open and cooperative minds can achieve by joining up their forces.

Here a rough logbook of the Intro module of the days between 22.8. – 30.8.2013:

Day 1:
Alastair gives an introductory presentation on what openness and collaboration might mean, generally and for design. Our first guest lecturer is Hella Hernberg, an architect-of-sorts who published the book Helsinki beyond Dreams in 2012 and currently works for the Finnish government. She talks about the opportunities of un(der)used space in cities and how design and policy-makers need to work together for systemic social change. Anja and I talk about our experience at Aalto University, the transitions from BA to MA (and after), the possibilities offered (and hidden), and about our current practices.

Day 2: 
The day kicks off with a lecture by Aalto-professor and researcher Sampsa Hyysalo talking about different co-design processes and applications in different sectors. He uses the example of a Gothic cathedral to exemplify what a design process should look like to adopt to eventual changes – flexible, agile, and adoptive, co-created by many different minds and hands. Particularly interesting is the discussion afterwards about the timeline of a design process and the long-term engagement of people involved. Alastair gives another presentation about global issues and presented some examples from our research in emerging design practices. Then, we do a word-circle exercise with the students around the terms ‘openness’ and ‘collaboration’, asking for one word by each student associated with those terms. “Hot words” around openness become collaboration, communication, trust, sharing, community and honesty; compromising, understanding, efficiency and learning around the term collaboration. Good to establish a shared language and understanding.

This exercise is followed by a lecture and a workshop from my side dealing with new ways of practicing. What does it mean to rethink not only one’s practice, but a whole discipline PLUS conceptions of work all together? We consider this question in a molybdomancy-workshop, pouring melted wax in cold water and interpret its abstract shapes for our work futures, as a reinterpretation of the Nordic tradition to pour lead to foretell the future during New Year’s eve. And yes, we were getting a little nervous about the smoke rising up to the smoke alarms, but fortunately, nothing happened!

Day 3:
Saturday morning, a trip to the woods of Otaniemi to Aalto’s Design Factory. The day evolves around the Value Propositions created by the students in their pre-assignment, based on the mini-booklet Open Source Creation – Making Open Design A Business Reality (2013) that Alastair, Anja and Kathleen Pekkola had put together before the module started. We create different groups, disciplinary and interdisciplinary to discuss common features and differences and develop a typology for the VPs. Later on, we create groups around the final outcome of the module by asking everyone to put their desired output on a sheet of paper and scream it out loud to find like-minded allies (kind of like selling fruit on a market) – quite quickly, 10 groups shape up and develop their ideas in a world-café format. We would have never come up with that list by ourselves: an open handbook, open recipes, a blind design experimental workshop, audio tracks/music, a video channel, open space, event, café/food intervention, posters, and games to present the students’ thoughts on the course’s overarching themes to the public. In 5 days time. Wow.

Day 4:
After some well-deserved rest on Sunday, we gather in the large lecture hall Sampo in Arabia to kick off the next five days. This Monday morning, we have Outi Kuittinen and Juha Läppänen from Helsinki-based think tank Demos and artist/cultural organizer Juha Huuskonen with us. Outi and Juha L. talk about the “rise of the curious class” (Peter Durant), present and explain buzz words such as wicked problems and system thinking, and introduce some of their unconventional practical projects and experiments such as the Koulu-festival and Peloton. Juha H. talks about his involvement with the Open Knowledge movement in Finland (he co-organized the world’s first Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki last year) and about the significance of agency and activism for society. I particularly enjoyed his reference to the great philosopher Hannah Arendt and her book “The Human Condition”, which talks about what it means to be active (and currently sits on my nighttable waiting to be read, but in German – Vita activa oder Vom tätigen Leben :)).

The afternoon is spent with a lecture by Anja on Halfway-products and a workshop in which this concept is applied to the diverse disciplines. A challenge, but not impossible – the struggles trigger many interesting discussions about possible entry points of people in the design process.

Day 5: 
Tuuli Mattelmäki, team leader of the ENCORE research group at Aalto University and author of the book Design Probes (2006) presents her views and experiences as a design researcher working with empathic design and co-design methods in different sectors. Great to hear what’s happening behind research doors, especially for students – I only found out about design research in my very last year.

The afternoon schedule is all about tutoring the ten student groups to discuss and develop their ideas further. They all seem to be doing very well and to organize themselves.

Day 6:
Morning lecture: Tapio Koskinen, secretary of the European Design Innovation Initiative hosted by Aalto University, presents some really interesting insights straight from EU level. In 2012, the European Design Leadership Board made up of 15 international experts met up in Brussel to discuss the value of design to develop 20 recommendations for a new European 2020 strategy in a co-design workshop. The outcomes were put together in a report which was delivered to the European Commission and can be downloaded for free here. Check out his slides here.

After an introduction to the Aalto Fablab, students elevator-pitch their group ideas and decide together how to put all of it together. The event group suggests to provide the platform for all of the other student projects and make the final “exhibition” an open-air party in Karhupuisto park in Helsinki’s Kallio district to reach out to the general public, not just the usual suspects around school. Great idea. Everyone agrees and rushes off to continue working in their project groups.

Day 7:
The guest lecture series comes to an end with two inspiring talks by Sandra Vina and Maarit Mäkelä, the first a doctoral student in the latter’s research group Empirica that focuses its gaze on empirical research between culture, design and the arts. Sandra talks about her research topic, which focusses on design interventions in public space. Maarit introduces a new perspective on openness in design from a more artistic and craft-based viewpoint. She also presents a new group research project Handling Mind that just recently kicked off – what happens in people’s brains when “thinking is embodied” while “the mind is handling”? The students rush off inspired to finalize their work for the last day.

Day 8:
The final day kicks off with the student groups’ 10-min-presentations. We are blown away. The diversity of the projects and the tangible  joy in the making is infectious. After presentations, everyone spreads out to get prepared for the evening.

Thanks to the students for their openness, inspiration and efforts, to the guest lecturers, the Aalto staff supporting us, Aalto, everyone I forgot to mention and last but not least Alastair and Anja. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to a next time.

Marathon of openness and collaboration
Posted by katharina on 12 September 2013