Education collaboration generates new ideas for using design

More and more companies are recognising the potential of design and are constantly seeking new ideas for their activities. Collaboration with young designers can provide a fresh perspective. Last spring, Aalto design students collaborated with audio equipment manufacturer Genelec in a project on exploring the use of concrete for future concepts.
Henkilö makaa lattialla pää betonista tehdyn kuvun sisällä, kuvussa on lukuisia johtoja
Chien-Chi Kuo: Mind Oasis

Young designers studying at Aalto University's Department of Design get a taste of working with companies right from the beginning. The first year’s Collaborative and Industrial Design (CoID) programme focuses on the role of design in society. The aim is to develop skills that will enable students to become design experts and leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators in a variety of roles in industry, business, communities, education and the public sector. 

Already during the Bachelor’s degree, there is a design course included, often executed in collaboration with a partner company. In spring 2023, the partner was Tampereen vesi (the water company of the City of Tampere), and the aim was to design water supply points for the city, especially for the summer season. There have also been collaborations with material technology company Betolar, for whom the students designed business gift ideas, and with the Espoo Cathedral Parish, with an assignment to design dew trees.

At the end of the Bachelor’s studies, students partake in a design project, where they also have project responsibility. The design challenge comes from the partner company and students get to practice project management, scheduling and communication with the partner alongside the design of the product development phases. Partners include Uponor, a supplier of building and utility systems, Drop Design Pool, a design company producing outdoor pools and fires, and SKAND, a designer of electric boats.

Design as a corporate asset 

Later, during the Master's degree, practical business cooperation will deepen. Lecturer in design at Aalto University, Simo Puintila leads one to three courses a year, in which a cooperation project with a company is carried out. For example, Product and Form is a course for Master's students that over the years has had cooperation projects with companies such as Bang&Olufsen, Iittala and Meeko. In spring 2023, the course collaborated with Genelec, a manufacturer of audio equipment. 

In practice, a partner company or organisation will gain from a design course collaboration in seeking product ideas or new ideas, and this partnership can provide them with positive insights and a fresh perspective on how to develop their business.

For an increasing number of companies, design is central to the process right from the start. For Genelec, this means that basically nothing is designed without a designer being involved.

I firmly believe that such cooperation creates fertile ground for new ideas and enables our continuous development and renewal."

Siamäk Naghian, CEO, Genelec

‘We are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the talented design students at Aalto University. This course collaboration opens a window into the world of young, creative minds and offers us the opportunity to gain fresh new insights into our business. The collaboration also gives us a hands-on opportunity to support and encourage the creators of the future’, says Siamäk Naghian, the CEO of Genelec.

‘Genelec has always valued collaboration with educational institutions and the innovative spirit of young people. We firmly believe that such collaboration creates fertile ground for new ideas and enables us to continuously evolve and innovate. We look forward to seeing the results of this collaboration’, he continues.

Although the assignment is slightly different for each course, the collaborative process is the same. The initial stage involves identifying the objectives and defining common goal for the collaboration and signing a collaboration agreement.

The pedagogical aim of the course is to get the students to work throughout the process themselves from start to finish. Puintila considers it pedagogically important that the students experience the design process thoroughly during their studies and thus also learn to understand and justify their own role as designers in multidisciplinary teams in working life.

For companies, being involved in the teaching process often opens up a new perspective. At the same time, the company supports the students by offering them the opportunity for real hands-on design work. In practice, this can include lectures, visits and the donation of components or other materials for the design task. 

Concrete was chosen as material

With Genelec, concrete was chosen as the material for the assignment. Otherwise, the brief was quite open: to design something inspired by Genelec, using concrete as one of the materials.

‘Concrete is a good material from a pedagogical point of view, as it forces the student to think through the whole design process before the final prototyping, as it is very challenging to shape the concrete pieces after casting. On the other hand, when object design is done in concrete, you are always a bit on the edge of something new, as it has really not yet been used as a material in product design’, Simo Puintila explains. 

We aim to provide creative and fresh perspectives on the task at hand. It is also important that students find their own designer's voice."

Lecturer Simo Puintila

A challenge-based course is always a challenge for the students, the teacher and the company alike. 

‘Our goal is of course to be able to offer creative and fresh perspectives on the task at hand. It is also important that students can find their own personal designer voice’, says Puintila.

The aim is to provide students with a wide range of perspectives on design and plenty of inspiration. The course includes lectures, excursions, group work and product trials, i.e. prototypes on the way to final solutions.

‘With top-class guest lecturers and visits, our aim for students is to get a behind-the-scenes look at where and how designers and other professionals actually work.'

Yunhao Zhong: Touch Music
Yunhuan Zhong: Touch Music

On the Genelec collaborative course there were lectures by Finnish sculptor Pertti Kukkonen on the use of concrete in art, Professor of Concrete Technology Jouni Punkki on concrete as a material, artist Kaisa-Leena Halinen on the use of moulds in art, and architect Mikko Summanen on the connection between architecture and acoustics.

The focus on sound reproduction issues was discussed with Genelec experts at the company's premises and during a visit, with the CEO Siamäk Naghian, Chief of Product Development Aki Mäkivirta and Technical Support Manager Anders Nyman providing their perspectives. Founder and designer Jonte Knif at Knif Audio, company which makes sound reinforcement equipment for world-class artists, talked about the design of loudspeakers and synthesizers. The student group also visited the Music Museum FAME to learn about sound design in an exhibition design session with composer Sampo Wiik, and the G-livelab club, where producer Niklas Aaltio introduced the principles of the club and the group later attended a gig by musicians Timo Lassy and Joyce Elaine Yuille. The students also had the opportunity to exchange ideas about their studies and experiences with Tuomas Hämäläinen, an Aalto alumnus who works for Bang&Olufsen. In addition, musician Markus Nordenstreng talked about the connection between sound and music and a visit was also made to the HIFI studio, hosted by CEO Tomi Hyvärinen


Kuo Chien-Chi – Mind Oasis

The art installation is a captivating concrete dome interlinked with ten speakers, each emitting a distinct noise. It offers a unique refuge for the audience, inviting them to immerse themselves in an experience that transcends the overwhelming barrage of information in the modern world.

Yunhao Zhong – Touch Music

With rapid technological development, advanced audio devices have become capable of playing music with increasingly high fidelity, transferring the most subtle details. But this is all based on one obvious condition, the sense of hearing.

But have we ever considered the accessibility of music? 

Is there a way for people with profound hearing loss and deafness to enjoy music as well? In this project, by enlarging the vibration on the surface and lowering the frequencies of the sound, the target users can access the most information in the sound and thus experience and enjoy the music through the sense of touch

Models for concrete speakers designed for Genelec by the CoID Master course students can be seen during the Helsinki Design Week at the Sound Experiences exhibition from 8 September to 17 September at the Music Museum FAME, Mall of Tripla, Fredikanterassi 5 A, Helsinki.

More information about collaboration

Kaksi naista tekemässä kankaisia rintamerkkejä. Kuva: Marko Oikarinen / Aalto-yliopisto

Corporate collaboration

Research collaboration strengthens expertise and future business development. New product and service ideas are created in study projects. Our campus offers an inspiring operating and networking environment. At Aalto's recruitment events, companies meet the top talents of the future.

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Department of Design

The Department of Design is a diverse community of competent, creative and responsible individuals. In design, we appreciate technical skill, social significance and artistic expression.

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