Moving Two Ways

When I left California two weeks ago life seemed like an abstraction, a collection of letters and numbers splayed across the page with little hint of their kinetic potential. Having arrived to Helsinki, acquired a Finnish social security number, found an apartment and stuffed some furniture in it, and then took off on the Helsinki Design Lab 2010 (sort of) Grand Tour, I am here to report that my brain is currently oscillating through perpendicular planes of excitement and exhaustion.

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Last week I departed Helsinki to meet up with my colleague Marco Steinberg in balmy Singapore. Marco runs the Strategic Design Unit at Sitra, which I am part of, and has been traveling westward around this little planet since the 10th of March. As I write this Marco and our colleague Pia are making their way back to the shores of Finland, but I am continuing the tour to Seoul, Honolulu, and Los Angeles over the next two weeks.

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If you plan to attend Postopolis LA you’ll be able to see me present a more complete picture of what we’re up to on April 3rd, but for those that will not make it to California you may enjoy the blog we’ve been keeping on this Tour. If you’re in Honolulu, I’ll be hosting a lunchtime salon at the University of Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies on April 1st, thanks to a kind invite from Stuart Candy.

You’re Going To Get Sick Of Me Talking About This…

…But let me try to lay out a brief vision for Helsinki Design Lab 2010, the 3rd in a series of events that started in 1968 on the island of Suomenlinna. Our goal for 2010 is to put the emphasis on doing. There are plenty of great design conferences that offer their participants an opportunity to meet great people, see good work, and talk about powerpoint slides. We’re interested in something different: we want to give our guests the opportunity to work together on real problems.

This will be a small event where designers sit at the same table as experts from the business, academic, and policy communities in a collaborative team. Our guests will meet with stakeholders within Finland who face significant challenges in their own domain (health care, education, industry, etc). The idea of HDL is then to charrette on specific, bracketed problems in search of two outcomes: a road map for their strategic rethinking and the identification of discrete opportunities that may be turned in to pilot projects. We believe strongly in using specific, tangible problems as a way to unlock the complexity that besots the massive, tangled issues which society faces today. For instance, everyone knows that health care needs help (even in a place like Finland!), but what exactly is the problem? What is the terrain of the health care? HDL 2010 will use Sitra’s unique position as a government agency to offer a framework and resources to help clarify these questions by applying the skills and mindset of the designer to strategic issues.

We’re interested in changing the world but realize that it’s going to take a while. If HDL 2010 succeeds it will be because the event proves the value of having designers involved with decisions at the highest levels of business and national policy. The problems we choose to tackle will be used as case studies that affirm a process which may be replicated in other contexts, thus making the proceedings of HDL 2010 relevant beyond the confines of Finland. After all, no single country owns climate change just as no single corporation can fix health care: these issues require a framework that is agnostic to borders of all kinds.

What’s up, Bangalore? (And ARN, LHR, BOS, SFO, NRT, SIN, HKG, ICN, HNL, LAX…)

This is the basic question we’ve been asking of each stop on the tour. We set out from Helsinki to check in with people around the planet who have a similar mindset about the potential of design to create meaningful impact beyond the shaping of objects. HDL 2010 will be a prototyping lab but we’re humble enough to realize that our efforts will be small compared to the number and diversity of problems out there in the world. This is why it’s important for us to escape the confines of Finland, see what’s happening everywhere else, and learn what keeps the rest of the world moving.

Are you redesigning your world? If so, we gotta talk.

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