Chief Design Officer Anne Stenros brings lessons from the corporate world to design in cities

Helsinki is a pioneer as a design city, also by international standards, says Anne Stenros, who becomes the City of Helsinki’s Chief Design Officer in September. Photo: Kalle Kataila

Taking the office of Chief Design Officer of the City of Helsinki in September, Anne Stenros knows that it takes good situational leadership and courage to look into the future to retain competitiveness. Helsinki has an opportunity to show both to other cities and to businesses that strategic utilization of design pays off.

Anne Stenros joins the City of Helsinki from the office of Professor of Practice, IDBM Programme Director, at Aalto University, having previously served KONE Corporation as Design Director in 2005–2015. Stenros believes that the public sector could learn from the corporate “clock speed” concept.

– Everything happens fast in the corporate world, because risks increase the longer one waits – whether we are talking about developing something new or about problem solving.

Other examples from the corporate world offered by Stenros are functional processes and a functional organization, which are requirements for an experimentation culture, engagement and co-creation. These qualities rely on a strong culture of expertise to turn plans into reality. In addition, Stenros emphasizes future orientation.

– It’s imperative in the corporate world to take an adequate look into the future to be competitive. This is linked with situational leadership: when need be, one must be able to improvise for the common good and to grasp opportunities.

Helsinki’s design contribution arouses international interest

According to Stenros, the strategic role of design grows further in importance when such a large organization as a city recognizes the integral role of design and creative problem solving in the strategic development of the organization.

– I wish that this development will serve as an example both to businesses and to other cities as they reflect on their future strategic approaches.

If our work is successful, it can multiple the demand for designers in the future.

Stenros says that Helsinki is regarded as one of the pioneers in the utilization of design in the public sector. According to her, the many international contacts with her after her appointment as Chief Design Officer clearly show that there is great interest in Helsinki’s contribution to design.

– I just returned from Hong Kong, where several design leaders wanted to hear how design activities will now be advanced in Helsinki and what those activities will be.

Helsinki has been and will continue to be one of the most exciting design-driven cities – providing an example watched with interest.

Internal training and strengthening of external design image

Stenros plans to focus first on internal training and the external brand image in her duties as Chief Design Officer.

It is important to inform the City organization more widely than before about the possibilities and significance of design as well as the social impact of design. The strengthening of the external design image is related to the Helsinki brand building in the global environment.

Stenros will also be responsible for Helsinki Lab, a project about to go under way to strengthen the user-oriented city.

– The details of Helsinki Lab’s operations are still to be defined, but the objective is a kind of Design Thinking living lab. That is, we are developing an interactive platform for service design.

Anne Stenros recommends at Helsinki Design Week:

Ornamo’s City Design Meeting Point, 8 September, 8:30–13:00, Helsinki City Hall