Aalto Summer Design Studios X Digitalist Mentoring
In Finland, most of the companies employ less than 50 people, and the thriving of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is essential for the competitiveness of the Finnish economy.
Companies around the world utilise design to grow their business and to deliver cutting edge products and services. However, the design is for many SMEs an underexplored opportunity, and reports on practice show that becoming more design-driven is challenging for them 2.
The Aalto Summer Design Studio’s were initiated by Aalto University and the MeTex foundation, as a three-year research project aimed to develop strategies for ‘design’ to more successfully enter Finnish SMEs 3. The program brings together talented Aalto Arts Students, aspiring Finnish tech SMEs and leading Finnish design agencies. The set-up uniquely combines design research and real-life design projects, where students run the design project and Doctoral candidate Patricia Naves studies how the companies learn from the student’s interactions.
In the summer of 2020, the second round of Aalto Summer Design Studio’s was run (remotely). From Digitalist, former Design Director Jane Vita, had the opportunity to be involved as a mentor. In weekly meetings she provided her expert knowledge to support Jelske van de Ven, Master in Collaborative and Industrial Design and Berke Özkök, Master in Interior Architecture, in their 8-week project for harvester head manufacturer Kone-Ketonen. Our marketing had the chance to learn more about the project’s ins and outs in an open conversation with Jelske.
Kone-Ketonen is one out of the ten harvesting head manufacturers in Finland 4. In this highly competitive market, they develop high-quality product innovations while challenged with the continued need to deliver the best’ for forest professionals.
In this context, designers as advocates for end-users can often help companies to become more customer-driven and find ways to innovate and grow in ways that meet user needs 5.
About the project
The CEO of Kone-Ketonen was interested to learn “what young loggers are looking for when it comes to harvesting, and how they want to be approached.” This brief was the start of an explorative project for which Jelske and Berke conducted deep-diving research in a creative and contemporary way, and navigated the challenges of directing an open design process. Where research and user insights were the primary project objectives, the students over delivered by also developing a tool for the company to continue capturing user insights as well as expanding the companies a competitive edge by exploring a series of strategic portfolio suggestions.
User insights and research
What started with a classical research approach, consisting of surveys, soon expanded in a dynamic set-up. In the ‘forestry discussed’ Instagram-live sessions, Jelske talked with loggers from all over the world and openly discussed topics of work pressure, sustainability and bushfires. The research method perfectly matched this new generation of loggers’ communication and interaction style, and the conversations contributed to a rich contextual sensitivity. The session discussions highlighted the passion young loggers have for their work, the motivation they find in the job, and the challenges they experience daily. The insights the students got through their explorative research setup opened up a world of opportunities to pursue in the second half of the project. Their research showed how valuable user-centred design approaches are when defining where the business should be heading.
Custom user-research tool
To support the company in continuing the line of user-driven product innovation after the project ended, the students developed a digital research tool for Kone-Ketonen to independently explore, in a scalable way, what product innovation and services end-users are looking for. The tool utilised similar principles to a sales configurator and was built around the task of allowing users to create their ‘dream harvester.’
Service portfolio suggestions
With the service portfolio suggestions, the students opened up the dialogue on how supporting the customer experience could set the business aside from its competitors. They used their skills to translate insights into new product and service offerings that made strategic use of the existing knowledge and skills of the company while providing additional value to the end-user.
“We learned that young loggers are not only looking for mechanically excelling heads but expect complimentary services. Services that support them in finding what they value in their work; adventure, freedom and teamwork.”
– Jelske van de Ven, Master in Collaborative and Industrial Design
Project experiences: Jelske
On this project I have grown as a designer and practised leading an open and exploratory design project for a real client; using my design skills in an unfamiliar context to explore needs, systems and practices. The pandemic challenged us to be creative and innovative in how we go about our research and design deliverables, but it was these challenges and a bit of courage that led to unique end-results. Working with this type of heavy industry and mechanical tools was outside of my comfort zone, but I learned that in the end, the human perspective is what makes the difference. Connecting with loggers and learning about their working lives is what drives the change. It was a rewarding opportunity to work with the loggers, Kone-Ketonen and Digitalist Group. A great experience preparing me for my future career.
In the future, I hope to continue to use my design skills on a strategic level and work with hands-on and explorative ways of research to establish unique collaborations and drive innovation and tangible impact that address the wicked challenges of our time from a human as well as a systemic perspective.
Kone-Ketonen was impressed by the student work and recognised the value of working co-creatively when developing future harvester heads. Soon the Aalto Summer Design Studio’s will start its third round and new Finnish tech SMEs have the opportunity to take part in this unique collaboration to grow their business and experience the value of design for their company.
“Even if remotely, the experience of being a mentor was gratifying. I met Jelske and Berke, two brilliant young talents eager to join the industry and show the world what they can do. In such a short time, they got the experience in managing stakeholders, pivoting some ideas, design research, prototype, concept iterations, and so much more.”
– Jane Vita, Former Design Director, Digitalist
 Aalto News page
Aalto News, 2020. URL: https://www.aalto.fi/en/news/small-tech-companies-meet-summer-design-school-reveals-a-great-potential-for-customer-driven
Kone-Ketnonen, 2021. URL: https://kone-ketonen.fi/