Fortum: Design Practice at the Finnish Energy Utility

  • Design practice in a corporate environment using positions from contemporary art for discrete activism
  • Integrating Relational Aesthetics in the design of new energy services at the CTO of Finland’s largest energy utility corporation
  • Ethical positions for social relations as design material in the era of digitalization

In Relational Aesthetics, as an artistic position, relation-making or relationship building can become material for design activism. Be it antagonistic as critiqued by Claire Bishop or otherwise as presented by Nicolas Bourriaud, either ways relationality takes a central position providing design potential. While in the corporate world relationship management also plays a central role, between the business and its customers, its partners, its shareholders and many such other entities. The focus of ‘relations’ in the corporate context although is value extraction and exchange relating to profits, growth and such criteria that can be considered very different from the artistic position, relational aesthetics. So then what occurs when a design practice equipped with the artistic position of Relational Aesthetics meets with the corporate technology context within a energy utility company?

I tried figuring this out for over a year and half by building a funded collaboration between the CTO of Fortum the Finnish state energy utility and the Department of Design at Aalto University where I was wrapping up my doctoral research on energy research through design practice. The results from collaborating with Fortum were a series of projects where I embedded myself into existing projects, designed and produced exhibitions, organised design workshops with senior management, initiated new projects and also refined older energy service design related personal projects. What I have built from this experience is vast and varied, but an important takeaway from this phase is that to utilise and integrate social relations as design material within digital services also means to seek potential to nurture social relations using digital means, thus these aspects are not mutually exclusive and hold reflexivity by design.

Role: Design Researcher with CTO and the New Business Development Unit at Fortum

Project Collaborators from Fortum: Dr. Heli Antila and Janne Happonen

Project Funding Period from Fortum: 2015-2016