Contemporary Design

Experimental Design

The course follows a pre-determined and changing topic that establishes the frame inside which the students work. Each time a different corporate partner is involved determining the characteristics of the introduced course case. The first part of the course is done more collectively, with students generating ideas and materials on which every student can continue their individual work later on the course. All the findings are documented with the aid of varying media. Here students are encouraged towards an experimental approach, re-thinking about the possibilities, processes and materials not forgetting the case in hand. The second part of the course is done individually where each student continues on the earlier findings developing them into novel artefact, let it be an object or a film.
Linda Mandell_Barrier_LJ1A9611
Barrier by Linda Mandell 2018
Lecturer Anna van der Lei

Feral Helsinki 2023

Making Sense with More-than-Human Urban Ecologies

The process-led course provided a co-creative space for feral investigations of more-than-human ecologies in Helsinki and its surroundings. Through the seven course weeks, we explored and drifted with local other-than-human creatures – such as trees, crows, sparrows, hobby-horses, abandoned houses, park benches, rocks, Norse mythologies, our house plants and sounds behind our windows – to learn about their lives, hoping to form new relations and make sense of local ecologies together. While drifting, we questioned who has the ability and power to produce knowledge about local everyday realities, whose interests and concerns are taken into account, and who often remains less visible, un-heard, un-noticed. Our creative investigation was guided by feral ways of sensemaking that invite open-ended, embodied, sensory-rich, and spontaneous encounters unfolding beyond the bounds of human control. In practice, we experimented with various performative and imaginative sensemaking techniques including walking, drifting, listening, storytelling, prompting, crafting, baking, noticing, and sometimes simply remembering to collect experiences and co-create feral data artifacts of varied formats. The course outcomes – Helsinki Feral Data Artifacts – were showcased at the Uroboros 2023 festival in the National Gallery Prague in the form of short films and creative essays compiled into the Feral Zine.

Course teacher: Markéta Dolejšová
Teaching assistant: Zoë Robertson
Course partner: Uroboros Collective
Guest teachers & tutors: Jaz Hee-jeong Choi, Ville MJ Hyvönen, Andrea Botero, Ossi Oikari 

If you’d like to know more about the feral course, reach out to [email protected]

Text on a black background saying: Beyond stereotypes feral  beauty of hobbyhorsing
Contemporary Design
A close up of dry leaves and a text over the image saying “Maybe I wish that you were a forest”
Contemporary Design
A bent gray shape on a white background
Contemporary Design
Red brick building in the background, drawn green plant like shapes covering the image

My Feral House

by Minchen Haga Stenersen

Contemporary Design
Interface of ”The Bedroom” website: Ten blurred circles of various colours on a beige background

The Bedroom

by Mingzhu Fan

Contemporary Design
A black and white drawing of a bird on the left, on the right text saying Nut Bracteates

Nut Bracteates

by João Justino

Contemporary Design
Wooden stool in front of a residential building


by Soli Uutera

Contemporary Design
Image of a houseplant in the background, white text saying ”ECOSYSTEM” over the image


by Mattia Anderle

Contemporary Design
Many small brown birds gathered on a slightly snow covered patch of grass

House Sparrow

by Fanny Kajela

Contemporary Design
A moss covered wooden sculpture standing in the snow

Seurasaari Bench

by Yutaro Komaki

Contemporary Design
3D modelled blue block representing the ocean, in the ocean there is a device and on it two walruses, above them clouds and birds
Contemporary Design

Experimental Design and ChemArts in collaboration with Suominen Oy 2022

What would happen if instead of a brief or problem we start the design process with the material itself? What if we trust that freedom to experiment is the foundation for new? And what would happen if we would do this in the context of an industry collaboration? 

The collaborating with Suominen was meaningful for both partners as the students got to know a global industry leader of innovative and sustainable nonwovens and Suominen got to see the importance and potential of experimental design. The course allowed the students to sketch, communicate and improvise with Suominen’s fabrics without the fear of making mistakes. During the run of the course the students conducted lab-based explorations discovering and developing experimental approaches - which they later implemented in their design process - and novel concepts.

This happened with the support of ChemArts who kindly opened their lab, shared their knowledge and provided additional materials for the course.

Teaching team
Anna van der Lei - Lecturer in Contemporary Design
Iines Jakovlev - ChemArts lab tutor
Mira Niittymäki - Teaching assistant (workshop)
Juan Guevara - Teaching assistant (readings)

Photography: Esa Kapila, Tatu Vuorio

Lab photos: Mira Nittymäki

Special thanks to: Pirjo Kääriäinen, Ingrid André, Tapani Vuorinen

A person wearing a facemask made of natural looking material + a white material sample on the right side of the layout

Out of the Wood

by Madeleine Beltrandi
Beauty & Skincare

Contemporary Design
Someone washing their hands in a bowl of water using a pink cloth + pink water remains afterwards

Get dirty with soap!

by Sonja Dallyn and Anastasiya Yurievna Grachova

Contemporary Design
Two orange liquids in a glass container, green corrugated material in the back

Shaping Scents

by Riccardo Guiducci

Contemporary Design
A hand wrapped in a white textile on the left, a fork and knife used to cut into the material on the white right

Feelings Matter

by Janne Melajoki
Data visualisation

Contemporary Design
A white paper bag like packaging with a pink phrase saying ”will work for food”


by Markus Vainio
Sustainable packaging

Contemporary Design
A hand extending to pick up one of the square packaging solutions

Suomo Package

by Hanna Arhe

Contemporary Design
A plant sitting in a folded plant holder, material samples placed next to it


by Elisa Lanzani

Contemporary Design
A collection of white rolled up textiles, some tied together, others pressed

Rolling Sausages

by Etienne Thevenet
Furniture/sculptural artifact

Contemporary Design
A person wrapped in a wet white textile


by Tatu Rouvinen

Contemporary Design
Lit up dome shape on the left and a lamp on the right

Liikkuva puu

by Laura Monten

Contemporary Design

Projects 2021

Case: New Order of Fashion (non-profit organization)

Teaching team: Anna van der Lei (Aalto) & Harm Rensink (NoOF) 

Case assignment:

By analyzing their own behavior students are asked to rethink their consumption and look at new and experimental ways to trigger behavioral change when it comes to fast fashion consumption, local recycling and care for items.

New ways to collect and distribute used cloths locally? Why do we throw away in the first place? Why do we buy so fast something new? What can we learn from our grandparents? New sustainable materials? How to become more aware of the value of clothes we already own.


Consumer behavior, local recycling, identity, care, memories, consumption model, personal empowerment

a rendered image of augmented shoes in use

Augmented Footwear

by Niklas Alenius

Contemporary Design
an organic shaped hairy sculptural object leaning against a table with smaller sculptures on it

Garments Through Sculptures

by Apolline Laforet

Contemporary Design
photo of photos on a wall
Contemporary Design
process photo of a video shoot where clothes are being tested

Two Outfits Tough Day

by Turkka Taipale

Contemporary Design
sheep at farm

Postconsumer Sheep

by Mira Niittymäki

Contemporary Design
Red recycled cellulose used as a pattern on fabric

From Dissolve to Patterns

Dissolving recycled cellulose with ionic liquid to create coloured patterns on fabrics.
by Iines Jakovlev

Contemporary Design
a person dressed in tin foil with black background

I AM WEARING . (2021)

to wear (verb)
by Ena Naito

Contemporary Design

Tomorrow's Archives Exhibition 

Fiskars Collaboration: Iittala and Arabia Projects 2018 

There are different approaches to the design process. Perhaps the most obvious one is to use the design process to solve problems and to create novel concepts for products and services. But what if there is no clear problem to be solved and the target outcome is deliberately left unknown? What if we start from the material (or color) instead of the object and engage in an open-minded dialog with the material itself and start exploring without the fear of making mistakes? What if we trust that freedom to explore is the foundation for new? This is what experimental design is about.

Iittala provided us with hundreds if not thousands of brown Teema plates, as they had been discarded, not because they were broken but because the brown colour did not sell that well. Additionally we were given several kilos of ‘waste’ glass from the Iittala factory in Finland.

In each course the design process was exploratory and probing consisting of a series of experiments. The practiced approach was hands on allowing the students to sketch, communicate and improvise with the material without the use of pen and paper – or computer and software, for that matter. During the run of the course the students conducted studio based research discovering and developing experimental approaches – which they can later implement in their design process – and novel (composite) materials and concepts.

Design Centre Helsinki 2019


Fiskars partners in design exploration with Aalto University

The cooperation between Fiskars and Aalto University started in 2017 by defining shared interest areas in the long term, and first concrete projects started in 2018.

Aalto experimental glass pattern. Glass bubbles form a map / photo by Eeva Suorlahti

Red Coca-Cola crates pass into history

Design students consider new uses for the plastic from the crates that have been used for decades.

Photo: Anna Berg
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