Design? Probably. Human-centered? Not for now.

This blog post reports on work-in-progress within the DfG course! The post is written by group 1C working in collaboration with the Digital Population and Data Services (DVV) and the Ministry of Finance (VM) on the project ‘Life events for a dignified old age’. The group includes Myrta Brugger and Emilia Ahlroos from Collaborative and Industrial Design program, Martin Guyot from Creative Sustainability program, and Tom Bos from Aalto Business School.

Written by: Tom Bos

On Monday, February 27, our team was born and launched on the tracks of the “Life events for dignified old age” adventure. Since then, we focused on getting to know our partners from the Ministry of Finance (VM) and the Digital and Population Data Services Agency (DVV), understanding our mission and starting research about our topic!

A key moment in these first steps of our Design for Government journey was the round table discussion we had with our partners working at VM and DVV, which was held on Wednesday, March 8. Talking all together about our brief and its main concepts significantly helped our team get an up-to-date understanding of the challenges linked to the digitization of life event service packages and to retirement and old age in Finland. Thanks to this face-to-face meeting, we identified our partners’ grey areas or questions regarding the policy they want to implement, with a focus on the life event of retirement, of course. Our partners shared some important facts about the transformation of the Finnish population and their views about the future of their country. We talked about old age, pensions, data, design, family, hobbies and much more. But in the end, this very question kept running through my mind: “what is human dignity ?”.

I realised this is one of the key questions they keep looking answers for, and that we will need to address, especially from a citizen perspective.

Snapshot from the roundtable discussion

The greatest complexities arise exactly at boundaries.

– Meadows, 2008

“Life events for a dignified old age” quickly turned out to be a very complex – though exciting – topic since it is, in many aspects, related to diversity, to a wide range of possibilities. We quickly understood that there are many – many! –  stakeholders involved in retirement and old age, whether they are public or private; that because each working career is somewhat unique, the pension system is complex; that citizens’ expectations can be diverse and even sometimes contradictory; that potential futures for Finnish society in terms of population and digitization are blurry, etc. In the early stages of the project, we keep our thinking boundaries as wide as possible. Yet, we already felt the need to focus on a specific part of the whole, diverse system to design our final proposal.

The aim of digitalising service packages relating to life and business events is to more comprehensively take people’s and businesses’ differing needs and situations into account when developing and providing public services in the future.

– Digitalising and automating life and business events, Ministry of Finance

As a matter of efficiency, the three groups working on “life events for a dignified old age”, which ours belongs to, agreed to split the research into a work stream. These were identified as critical areas for the project: citizens’ perspective, organisations’ perspective, and megatrends. As a team, we focus on organisations, which in my opinion, is the most challenging domain because of how diverse organisations – and their several interactions – are. Their purposes range from pensions to health care through social life, insurance, and many other services. I must confess that I was a also bit frustrated because our work does not directly focus on citizens’ needs: in a way, our research does not – because of the work division – respect human-centered design’s core principle – at least for now. Indeed we can return to a more human-centered perspective when sharing research findings with other groups. For now, our desk research and interviews will help us gain a deeper understanding of the role of organisations which are in relation to the user before, during and after retirement, starting with an interview of two representatives from VTKL (The Finnish Association for the Welfare of Older Adults) next week! This will help us build the global system we need before focusing on a specific issue and designing a solution fit for citizens’ needs.

Ultimately, these first weeks were intense with meetings, information gathering and planning. Given how complex our topic is, we could explore several avenues for our research, which is why we decided to split the main research streams related to the life event of retirement with the other groups working on it. My team is now fully focused on understanding the role of all the organisations involved in a citizen’s life before, during and after retirement –  what a demanding task! Still, I am happy to learn and to work on this complex life event, retirement. We, as a group, look forward to meeting and interviewing representatives from such organisations!


Meadows, D. H. (2008). Why systems surprise us. In Thinking in systems

Digitalising and automating life and business events – Valtiovarainministeriö (

The DfG course runs for 14 weeks each spring – the 2023 course has now started and runs from 27 Feb to 31 May. It’s an advanced studio course in which students work in multidisciplinary teams to address project briefs commissioned by governmental ministries in Finland. The course proceeds through the spring as a series of teaching modules in which various research and design methods are applied to address the project briefs. Blog posts are written by student groups, in which they share news, experiences and insights from within the course activities and their project development. More information here about the DfG 2023 project briefs.

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