Helsinki Innovation Adventure: Diving into Design Thinking and Service Design at Aalto University

04 June 2024

Full-time MBA participant Yun Chen shares her experience on the International Elective Module at Aalto University in Helsinki.

Embarking on a one-week study tour to Helsinki, organised by Warwick Business School (WBS) in collaboration with Aalto University Executive Education (Aalto EE), was an exhilarating and transformative experience. This tour was meticulously designed to deepen our understanding of Design Thinking and Service Design, immersing us in the innovative and vibrant culture of Finland.

Setting the Stage: Pre-Tour Preparations

Our journey began with an online meeting with Aalto EE’s programme team. Annika, the programme manager, provided a comprehensive introduction to Finland and the prestigious Aalto University. The anticipation grew as we learned that all logistical aspects, including airfare, accommodation, and lecture fees, were covered by the tuition fee. For those requiring visas, the school ensured a seamless process with reimbursements available.

To prepare, we engaged in pre-reading materials, laying the foundation for our exploration of Design Thinking. This preliminary work was crucial, enabling us to dive deeper into the subject upon arrival.

Immersive Learning: The Heart of the Tour

The lectures and guest speakers at Aalto EE were nothing short of enlightening. Professors Tua and Floris, whose coordinated outfits became a charming anecdote of the week, delivered their insights with remarkable synergy. Their dynamic partnership reflected their deep understanding and passion for Design Thinking.

We were not mere spectators but active participants in the learning process. From conducting street interviews to developing prototypes, we were immersed in hands-on experiences. This practical approach cemented several key insights:

  • Human-Centric Problem Solving: Design Thinking tackles complex problems from an "outside in" perspective, prioritizing a deep understanding of people and their needs.
  • Holistic Approach: It encompasses desirability, viability, and feasibility, offering a comprehensive framework for problem-solving.
  • Problem-Loving Mindset: We learned the importance of finding a problem worth solving and focusing on the problem itself, rather than jumping to solutions.

Real-World Insights: Company Explorations

Our visits to Kela, LähiTapiola, and Tietoevry showcased Design Thinking in action. We observed how these organisations incorporate innovative solutions into their operations, reflecting Finland’s commitment to exceptional design and functionality. The architecture and interior design of their offices were equally inspiring, embodying the principles of Design Thinking throughout their spaces.

Cultural Dive: A Day of Finnish Delights

Our free day was a delightful exploration of Finnish culture. We indulged in a rejuvenating sauna session at the hotel, a quintessential Finnish experience. Shopping at local thrift stores was a hit, with many items from the iconic Finnish brand, Marimekko. At Hakaniemi Market Hall, we savored delicious salmon soup and bread, which was as healthy and tasty as the meals we enjoyed at the University. Annika had mentioned that Finns favor food that nurtures both body and mind, and this was evident in every bite.

Reflecting and Applying: Post-Tour Insights

Back in the UK, the conversations about Design Thinking continued. The concepts we had learned were not just academic; they were practical tools that we could apply in our professional lives. This week in Helsinki not only enriched our understanding but also inspired us to adopt a more innovative and empathetic approach to problem-solving.

In conclusion, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the faculty at WBSand Aalto University for orchestrating this incredible week of learning and growth. The insights gained and experiences shared have left an indelible mark on us, equipping us with valuable skills and perspectives that will undoubtedly shape our future careers. This study tour was more than an academic exercise; it was a journey into the heart of innovation and design excellence.