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Helsinki’s design journey

How did design thinking become part of everyday life in Helsinki? Over the course of a ten-year design journey, design has earned a permanent place in the City’s core functions.

Helsinki as World Design Capital 2012 

Helsinki – together with Espoo, Vantaa, Kauniainen and Lahti – was World Design Capital 2012 (WDC, World Design Capital). The theme of World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 was Open Helsinki — Embedding Design in Life.

The use of design expanded in Helsinki during the World Design Capital year from the design of objects to the design of services, spaces and visual identities. The user perspective assumed a core role in design.

Helsinki’s World Design Capital year was a success. Design helped to solve problems in various environments, such as schools, social and healthcare services, and the urban environment.

All in all, the programme of World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 comprised 580 projects implemented in cooperation with a network of 290 organisations in Finland and abroad.

The heritage of World Design Capital Helsinki 2012

  • Design became a topic of social interest.
  • The user perspective as part of design was enhanced.
  • Design was used to solve problems in various environments.
  • New types of cooperation emerged between different sectors, and new co-working methods and places emerged in Helsinki.
  • Helsinki’s role strengthened as an internationally exciting City of Design.

One city at a time is designated as World Design Capital every two years by World Design Organisation (WDO).  

Design Driven City introduced design expertise to public service design 

The work of the successful World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 project was continued by the two-year Design Driven City project (2013–2015) coordinated by International Design Foundation. Design Driven City developed design-related expertise in public service design.

The project served cities by providing them with expertise in the utilisation of design and helped the design sector to understand the needs of the public sector. The 10 Theses of Design Driven City strengthened the role of design in the development of City of Helsinki operations

Helsinki is a UNESCO City of Design

Helsinki applied for and was admitted to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Design in 2014. In cooperation with other Cities of Design, Helsinki has been able to share its experiences and to participate in the discussion on the use of creative methods and design in the development of cities.

Helsinki’s international role and reputation as a design city have strengthened owing to the membership in the global network.

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network comprises more than 200 cities, about 40 of them Cities of Design.

Design leader for the entire City of Helsinki organisation

Helsinki is one of the few cities in the world and the first city in Europe to employ a Chief Design Officer. Helsinki’s first Chief Design Officer was employed in 2016. The Chief Design Officer serves the entire City organisation, tasked to strengthen the strategic development of Helsinki, the utilisation of design in the development of public services and the resident experience, and the work to develop Helsinki’s international design profile. The second Chief Design Officer of Helsinki is Hanna Harris since 2020.

The Chief Design Officer is supported by the City’s internal design team Helsinki Lab, which promotes the use of design in urban development.

Helsingin designjohtaja Hanna Harris. Kuva: Sakari Röyskö
The second Chief Design Officer of Helsinki is Hanna Harris since 2020. Photo: Sakari Röyskö

Helsinki Lab serving the City

Helsinki Lab is an internal City of Helsinki design team, which promotes the use of design in the development of Helsinki. The Lab supports the City in the development of services, digital solutions and the customer experience, and it coordinates internal City of Helsinki design activities together with the Chief Design Officer. Helsinki Lab experts lead development projects shared by all parts of the City organisation, give advice in design projects and support the City’s design community with the help of events, information and peer support.

Helsinki Lab is headed by City Design Manager Päivi Hietanen.

Kuvat: Maarit Mustonen, Sakari Röyskö