Katja Soini is the Alumna of the Year of the School of Arts, Design and Architecture

The design professional is Senior Advisor at AFRY working with the built environment. She's also Chair of the design professionals’ association Ornamo. Soini is delighted that design is now recognised as a key factor in business management.
Vaaleatukkainen nainen mustassa mekossa seisoo ulkona ja hymyilee, taustalla betonisia rakenteita
Photo: Anni Koponen / Ornamo

Can you tell us what kind of role does design play in your work?

‘I am very much in touch with the future, and I'm happy that design has found its way into the core of business. My work roles have not focused on developing a single product or service, but on using design methods and approaches to create the structures and conditions in an organisation to enable growth.

There has long been talk of bringing design and designers into the top management of companies and growth companies, and now this turnaround has really happened. Personally, I see design maturing as a management approach as valuable as, for example, commercial know-how, i.e. design thinking and methods are being used to manage organisations.’

Where do you want to make a difference through your work?

‘I want to strengthen the implementation of two themes that are particularly important to me – people-centredness and sustainability – in society. My background is in user-inspired and co-design, i.e. empathic understanding of the user's perspective. I help to bring a human perspective to all aspects of business operations and development.

In my twenty years in real estate and construction, I have been able to bring these themes into service design and strategic development of the built environment. 

I see human-centredness as the key to achieving what the UN definition of sustainable development calls for: ecological, social and economic sustainability. It allows us to get people and organisations to act differently, towards a sustainable future. This is also the goal I am promoting in Ornamo. It means that we designers as a profession take our own responsibility – after all, we have an early influence on what products, services and systems are produced and how sustainable they become.’

I am delighted that we designers are now increasingly in positions of influence in the business world."

Alumna of the Year Katja Soini

How do you see the future of design?

‘We designers are now increasingly in positions of influence in the business world: we and our methods are recognised as a key way to lead companies and businesses. 

The City of Helsinki, Senate Properties and already many other public organisations now have a number of design professionals working as sustainability or energy experts, for example. This shows the diversity of what our generalist skills and approach can provide. We are needed in this day and age.’

What does the Alumna of the Year Award mean to you?

‘I was overwhelmed when my "academic father", Professor, Vice Dean Turkka Keinonen called about the recognition. I started my Master's degree under his guidance and he was also the supervisor of my doctoral thesis. This recognition makes me both happy and grateful. I am truly grateful for the education I have received at the University of Art and Design Helsinki and later at Aalto University, which has helped me to build my own personal identity as a designer. It has enabled me to do what I think is right and in line with my values, and to contribute to the wider world. This wonderful recognition is an asset – it gives me more strength to do these interesting things.’ 

The Alumna of the Year Award was announced at the Annual Review of the School of Arts, Design and Architecture 8 March, 2023 in Dipoli, Espoo.

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