This year was professionally an interesting one, yet surprisingly tough. I got to delve into a totally new field that proved to be much more interesting than I expected, plus I got to see a part of the workings of European Commission.
In the end of last year my work situation was up in the air, and I sent applications to numerous places where the job description seemed to match my skill set. One of them was the position of a media coordinator in the department of design in Aalto ARTS, the art college branch of the frankenstein gestalt of Aalto schools. It was a post for 365 Wellbeing, a large project that was about designing for wellbeing.
I can honestly boast a rather wide general knowledge of things, but it turned out it had a gap the size of service design. My notion of design was that it’s molding forks and faucets, ie. manufacturing items. The idea that design could have something to do with wellbeing, health care, teaching or anything like that was totally new for me. Frankly I was a little bit suspicious about the whole deal but decided that I can handle high academic/artistic vapors for a year if need be – the project was one year and it was part of the World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 program. Glad I was totally wrong about the vapours.
The project started in earnest on the day after I was hired, so there was very little time to get oriented. I whipped up a basic sort of online and social media visibility for the projects and started delving into what the whole deal was actually about. After the first week I went “damn, this is what I should’ve come to study in the first place”. Design is not just creating physical objects, especially service design is about identifying problems or missed opportunities, and creating processes, solutions and tools to fix the situation. Service design is about jumping into a totally new field, learning the gist of it as efficiently as possible, and then giving a sort of informed outsider-perspective on how to do certain things better. This is something I sort of do when I get to a new job, and I found it utterly fascinating that I had managed to accidentally scrape the surface of a totally new field for me. I’m also an usability nazi of sorts, and design is certainly directly connected with that.
Working on the 365 Wellbeing was my main job, but I got roped into doing another project too, which was damn interesting and quite high profile: European Design Innovation Initiative. It was one of those Moments in life: I was in an exhibition opening in Helsinki Design Museum, rubbing shoulders with ambassadors and other such people, holding a camera and a glass of sparkly, feeling pretty good about the work day, when I was approached by someone whom I didn’t realize until after I asked was the dean of the whole school. “You did such a great job with the 365 Wellbeing launch, are you interested in helping with this European Commission project.” Well, like I’m going to say no to such an offer.
Designing for Wellbeing
So, in concrete terms, what was the project about? There were 12 sub-projects, each of which dealt with some field of health care and wellbeing, ranging from mental health care and a service campus for the elderly to a STD-clinic and child protective services. This really made an impression on me, since as I already described, service design seems to be a problem solving profession which requires you to learn new stuff really fast and to come up with practical solutions. In one of the projects the students spent eight weeks living in a neighbourhood with a rather bad reputation and coming up with ways to make it better. In others they had to tackle pretty harsh stuff, such as handling the transfers from clinics and doctors to others in mental health care, and figuring out the ways how to reduce the amount of no-shows in clinics.
Utterly fascinating stuff.
The art school was also a fun place to work in. You never knew what to expect when you stepped in through the doors, since the lower lobby was used as a space to arrange small exhibitions. Also, people were doing weird things on the building’s roof which I could see from my work room window, everything from photo shoots to flying kites.
Brussels and the European Commission
The gist of the European Design Innovation Initiative was to gather 12 experts of their field in Europe to come together and brainstorm ways to bring up the role of design as a catalyst for innovation and productivity in the European business, healthcare, wellbeing industry and so on. My first trip to Brussels was to visit and to document a workshop where all of these people got to invite a bunch of their contacts for a co-design session, which the designers facilitated. It was a superbly interesting trip and a painful in the sense that I would’ve wanted to be a fly on the wall over all of those tables at once. I got to meet and interview such interesting people that it almost felt wrong to get paid for the trip.
I also got some free time, because one of the sessions was apparently closed for some reason or another. I took the opportunity to go an explore Brussels in the night, managing to get myself alone into a bad neighborhood where a I ended up exploring a bar with the most angry young arab guys ever, and a horrible dive where the bar-lady had half of her teeth missing, but the selection of trappist beers was extensive and cheap as dirt. On the next day I had great time buying some chocolates and visiting the comic museum.
There were a couple of more trips to Brussels, where the venue was a room in which the European Commission had apparently been dreamed up originally.
A Year of Design
Since my post was paid with the World Design Capital 2012 money, it started and ended with WDC 2012. There were some talks about continuing the post, but apparently there was no chance for that in the end. The year was interesting, but it was also quite damn tough at times, surprisingly so. Let’s just say that I started working in a new post, right in the beginning of the project, the post title had the word “coordinator” in there and it involved 12 projects in an arts school. So, yeah, I guess you can get the gist of the problems. Looking back, the job was well worth the trouble, though: I got to visit places I’d never otherwise gone to, and learned to see the world from yet another new perspective. There’s so much more you can get from a job apart from the salary, and this year certainly had a lot of interesting stuff to offer.
Judging by the work offer I got and accepted, the trend will hold for the next year too.