Design as challenging norms, assumptions

I have to admit, I haven’t been a huge fan of radio until recently when I discovered the YLE archives (YLE = Finnish Broadcasting Company). Whether I’m biking to the office or taking the subway, I sometimes like to tune in to one of YLE’s speech channels as some of the programs from back in the days are pure gold nuggets! The reason why I happen to listen to the archives is because my morning in Tokyo is pretty close to midnight in Finland (-6/-7hrs) and apparently it doesn’t pay off to have original content during the wee hours of the night.


The reason why this post relates to design and societies is because of a program that discussed taxis in Finland. According to the person who was interviewed in the program, I think he was from the The Finnish Taxi Owners Federation, taxis in Finland were among the most technologically advanced in the whole world. Back in the days, mind you! I think the program was from late 1990s or early 2000s. After hearing the interviewee make that claim, and contrasting it with services like Uber and Didi Kuaidi, I suddenly realized what was wrong with it. The crucial point here is not whether the technology is top-notch or not, but how well the foundations are designed. Or, in other words, whether technology is used to redesign the foundations.

Here’s another example:


See my hand on the left, and a glove on the right I designed to keep my hand warm during the winter? Something’s not right here. I would need an additional finger to make the glow serve its purpose. (for people with six fingers this would be perfect though!)

So the point here is, it doesn’t matter how brilliant the design is, if the premises are wrong. No one needs a sci-fi taxi if the experience is shitty. Nor does anyone with ten fingers (2 x 5) need six-fingered gloves. You can still get things done with a taxi from the future, but is it good design? Purposeful design?

To conclude with a positive note, here are two examples from Finland on interesting design-driven approaches to education and societies: Redesign of  Society by my colleague Kari-Hans and Helsinki Design Lab’s idea to use school dropouts as lead users. This echoes quite well with design-driven innovation, to borrow Verganti’s term here.

A few more examples, if you don’t mind.

Nendo’s stackable triangle roomshoes

More info about the roomshoes.

A Nosigner / Dentsu / Tokyo Govt’s Disaster Prevention Department collaboration

Here you can find the manual in English.

So, here you go! Examples of the kind of design that in my opinion challenges existing assumptions and norms in order to create propositions about a better future. And, as always, please have your say in the comment field below.

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