Design adds joy to learning

HDW’s Children’s Design Week has been part of the Culture Path by the City of Helsinki since 2020. Culture Path is a common objective for the educational and cultural/leisure-time divisions of the City of Helsinki. It aims to ensure that every elementary school pupil has an opportunity to visit various cultural contents and events. There is a proposal for specific cultural content for each grade level included in Culture Path. Within basic education, Culture Path provides events, art, books, parties, theatre and circus, for example. Children’s Design Week is included in the proposal for fifth graders. Culture Path’s content includes a HDW classic: the PechaKucha Night.

PechaKucha is a presentation concept developed by Japanese architects, within which each speaker is allowed to present 20 images. Each image is shown for 20 seconds. Each presentation consequently takes exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds. This rule is non-negotiable, but the content and topic of the talk are completely free. This simple way of sharing inspiration has made PechaKucha one of the most popular event concepts in the world, and today PechaKucha nights are being organized in more than 1200 cities. During Helsinki Design Week, PechaKucha is one of the most popular main events, and these inspiring nights have been organized in Helsinki for nearly twenty years.

The pandemic continuing, the idea has been to develop a free-of-charge, accessible content concept for exceptional conditions. The HDW team and SuoMu, the Finnish Association of Design Learning, developed a remote concept to encourage teachers and pupils to organize satellite PechaKucha events in classrooms all over the capital city. Now teachers, headmasters and parents, too, can download guidelines as well as a question poster and a template for 20 speech bubbles here.

Weekly met with designers Mari Savio and Anna Kokki from SuoMu to find out whose PechaKucha presentation they would like to experience.

Helsinki Design Weekly: SuoMu was established in 2013. Which were the reasons in the background?

Mari Savio: At the time, I was working as the regional artist for design education and exploring how design learning is seen and felt in Finnish schools. There was plenty of interest all around Finland, and some fine projects had already been accomplished. However, there was no nation-wide operator dedicated to design education. There was a need for someone to carry design learning forward in cooperation with others. Another reason for founding the SuoMu association was to bring the MUTKU teaching package created with the help of Arts Promotion Centre Finland to schools. SuoMu is a pioneer in design learning and the only operator in Finland completely dedicated to promoting and developing design learning.

W: Is there a role model for what SuoMu does? Where do you think the use and importance of design education are presented successfully?

Anna Kokki: There is one interesting case in Denmark. A joint organization by Lego and Billund, the CC Playful Minds runs three programmes: Playful Skills, Playful Spaces & Playful Innovation. Their operations include workshops, research to support designing with kids, learning new skills and public urban space development. LINK Many museums, too, offer interesting programmes for children.

MS: In the beginning of SuoMU, Tiina Leinonen wrote a wonderful thesis on the topic, explaining the status of design learning in Europe. When founding SuoMu, we also explored Reggio Emilia, Montessori and Steiner pedagogics, among others, and visited fine design projects and creative learning innovations in, for example, Denmark and Italy. Our other role model is also from Denmark: the Louisiana Museum and its fabulous studio near Copenhagen. Our greatest dream is to establish a creative learning centre in Finland, too. We could create fantastic premises for learning, experimenting and design exploration.

W: SuoMu has been in operation for eight years already. How has your operation environment changed? 

AK: We drafted SuoMu’s objectives in 2019. All along we have obviously wanted to promote the use of design learning, but compared to the first years, we are now “workshop rallying” a lot less. The workshops and events have largely been centralized to our cooperation partners, and the same goes for our method development. This is a sensible way for the small and agile operator that we are.

W: Which social changes have particularly influenced your operations?

AK: The pandemic made us cancel some of our events and tailored workshops. Just before the pandemic we were about to start a discussion series called “Evening Tea with SuoMu”, for example. Our objective with that one was to provide a forum to meet people interested in design education. We have many design freelancers among our members. This was not an easy time for the design field. Regarding longer-term phenomena and megatrends, the most important ones to us are lifelong learning and continuous adaptation in working life. Design learning supports both of these. Our next step is to advance the design learning of high school-aged kids. We did one successful pilot before the pandemic. Unfortunately, its continuation was caught in the crossfire of the pandemic and a new round for financing, but we feel now there is a need for more of this.

MS: During the early years, we worked as a small team, with lots of enthusiasm and very few resources. For example, we organized a vast number of visits, projects and many other events for schools. Little by little we managed to gain financing and our operations grew and became more focused. Good cooperation partners, such as Helsinki Design Week, cities and cultural centres, have been of vital importance to us, and with them we have been able to organize events, courses and festivals. This way we have been able to make design and its use as a learning tool available to thousands of people.

W: You have already published a guide for design education in the comprehensive school (“Mutku”) including complementary media booklet and sketchbook. Are there any other publications in the making? Or, is there anything else you have thought out for the future?

MS: Our design package MUTU for upper secondary schools is being implemented in Finnish schools, and we want to help distribute and utilize it. We are also involved in the A&DO project, and we hope that through this joint venture SuoMu can influence establishing a centre for creativity and design learning in Finland. This is a brilliant chance to become an international forerunner and to create something comprehensive that will make Finnish design and learning expertise more visible. We have developed a Design Learning course for the Aalto University, which is continuing to its fourth year and includes the MUTKU juniors. These junior courses and related activities form a brilliant concept of which we are very proud. Young people can participate in facilitating workshops and devloping learning materials!

AK: Next year we’ll be planning our 10th anniversary festivities. Let’s see what we come up with! I dream of MUTKU 2, an updated guideline for the comprehensive schools. Hopefully we can soon realize the evening tea events.

W: Tell us more about the Explore, Invent, Experiment & Tell method used with the PechaKucha adaptation during Children’s Design Week.

MS: Using design as a learning tool simply works. It adds creativity and joy to learning It requires learning by inventing and experimenting. The Explore, Invent, Experiment & Tell method is a design process in clarified form as a learning tool. We have seen that the typical design way of working, where you learn by studying the subject and proceed by experimentation, applies effectively to learning and motivates the learner. The process is not an absolute as such, and at best, it acts as a backbone: the basis and background for experimentation and creative problem solving. The important things are trust, pride of succeeding and learning from mistakes. 

W:  Was the development of the Culture Path for the Children’s Design Week a typical assignment for SuoMu? What kind of a process was the development of the PechaKucha guideline?

AK: Developing the children’s PechaKucha was in many ways a very familiar assignment for a designer, and a very welcome one for SuoMu! I often start this type of development by self reflection: what kind of guidelined would I need?

This is related to the fact that from elementary school to adulthood I suffered from paralyzing stage fright. I try and use all that I learned from that experience and my personal learning track to help others. Mari and I have cooperated in several projects. We usually start by drawing by hand several models and scripts. To us this is the best way to parse our ideas and plan.

W: Have you done PechaKucha yourselves?

AK: I would definitely like to try PechaKucha!

MS: We have attended Helsinki Design Week’s PechaKucha Nights over the years, and they are awesome events. I have presented myself at a PechaKucha in Loviisa. My presentation was about design learning.

W: Whose PechaKucha would you like to see?

AK: Would be fantastic to see a PechaKucha presentation by Vivienne Westwood. From Finland, I’d love to hear from service designer Anni Leppänen.

MS: This list can take a mile. To mention a few, I’d like to hear from author Eeva Kilpi, artist Teemu Keister and Habitare’s creative director Laura Sarvilinna

W: What would you like the fifth graders doing PechaKucha at school to learn or experience?

AK: I hope kids have fun and are laid back about their PechaKucha.

It’s a good way to practice telling by showing. PechaKucha also involves a game challenge, and you don’t have to achieve perfection during every twenty seconds. All you can do is try, and most of all, learn about storytelling from others, too!

Culture Path is a common objective for the educational and cultural/leisure time divisions of the City of Helsinki. It helps create communal structures between the divisions, and its objective is to have cultural activity planned for each grade. Culture Path helps ensure that pupils have the opportunities to visit various cultural contents and events during their basic education.

Children’s Design Week develops architectural and design literacy: once we recognize design in our built environment, we are able to demand design quality. Design topics in children’s cultural offerings, such as creativity development, brainstorming and exchange of ideas, produce concrete opportunities for the future.

Children’s Design Week will be organized again from 8 to 18 September 2022, but school kids can do PechaKucha any time they want. For more information, please visit here.