Helsinki’s journey towards becoming World Design Capital 2012


Many cities and municipalities are currently operating under tight budgets and may believe that engaging in city branding is extremely expensive and maybe even unnecessary.

Consider this equation, however: in the case of Helsinki the city initially invested 3 million euros, but ended up raising 18 million euros in total as other stakeholders started to see the many benefits of developing the Capital of Finland through various design initiatives. An investment in Helsinki’s growth and development that multiplied more than five times and led to participation across the board of five cities, public administration, universities, companies, NGOs and private citizens.

Furthermore, the title as World Design Capital 2012 has led to extensive publicity. The story about Helsinki and the city’s one-year development program has resulted in over 10.000 articles in more than 100 different media around the world. A value that can hardly be bought for money. In other words, the title has boosted the profile of Helsinki both locally and internationally.

City branding leads to growth 
But how do you get as far as to win the title as World Design Capital? And how do you define a unique position for your city or municipality that makes you stand out from the rest? Would you like to know how your municipality can get started – then keep reading.

City branding can turn a municipality into a place, where people would like to live and work as well as an attractive travel destination for tourists. Considering the intensifying international competition investing in city branding is essential if you want to position your municipality. Moreover, city branding can be an important means to achieve your city’s growth targets.

Design as a leading development tool  
The project in Helsinki and the wish of becoming World Design Capital began with the city involving 300 motivated people from the community of Helsinki. Together they answered the question: what needs to be done if we want to achieve the title as World Design Capital 2012?

It quickly became clear that creating a strong city brand demands involvement of many different actors in order to create an authentic brand and strengthen the engagement of citizens and their identification with the city or municipality.

The idea developed into the slogan “Embedding design in life”. The slogan captures the idea of using design as a tool for the city’s development and change. The project has been an extensive journey for Helsinki, which has involved more than 300 exciting development projects, events and exhibitions.

“It is not about celebrating some heritage alone – it is not about design people – its about how Helsinki becomes a design driven city – how design becomes a driver for the city’s change and development”

– Pekka Timonen, Chairman of the Board for World Design Capital Helsinki

Design is thus not only about art – but about its usefulness and how it can be used as a booster of the city’s social, economic and cultural development. Hear Pekka Timonen, Chairman of the Board for World Design Capital Helsinki, tell more about Helsinki’s journey towards becoming World Design Capital.

World Design Capital – celebrating design
The World Design Capital is a city promotion project initiated by “The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design”. Every second year an innovative city is recognized for its accomplishments of leveraging design as a tool for development.

The aim of the project is to promote the global understanding of design as a driver of change and to create an international network through which cities and municipalities cooperate, learn from each other and share innovative strategies for design.

Discover the authentic strengths of you municipality
In Helsinki, design has been the driver of the city’s development. Which symbols or authentic strenghts are important for the identity in your municipality?

On October 30th 2013 we at Stagis are hosting a Municipality Branding Conference where you can get the inspiration you need to begin discovering and developing the strenghts of your municipality. Besides Pekka Timonen, who will let you in on some of the secrets of becoming World Design Capital, you will meet other prominent speakers such as Wally Olins, chairman of Saffron Brand Consultant, David Zahle, chief architect at BIG, Nikolaj Stagis, branding expert and CEO of Stagis and many, many more.

Read more about the program for the conference and sign up here.