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My Career: From Start to Finnish

Mariana applies service design to immigration questions

 Get to know more about Mariana via LinkedIn and Linktree.

Credits: : Mariana Salgado

Mariana Salgado, Argentina, Service designer

It was the Nordic design approach that attracted Mariana Salgado to Finland 23 years ago. Mariana started her design career in the fashion industry in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and had a good job there designing window displays. But she wanted to do something more aligned with her values. The Nordic design scene was well known, and she started to look into studying it in Finland.  

Soon looking turned into action. In 2000, Mariana moved to Helsinki to do a master's degree in product and strategic design at the University of Art and Design Helsinki (today, Aalto University). And this was just the start. She finished her degree, fell in love with a Finn, and continued to do a doctoral degree and then was a postdoc researcher at Aalto University.  

Since 2012, Mariana has applied her design expertise to immigration-related projects and currently works as a service designer for the Finnish Government. Her passion for both topics also comes through as the host of the number one design podcast in the Spanish-speaking countries, Diseño y Diáspora.

I wanted to work with immigration because… as an immigrant with a lot of privileges, I feel the urge to be able to support others in a similar situation. My background is in design, and designers, especially strategic and service designers, work in various fields. Many other complex problems could benefit from a holistic design approach, but I chose immigration because it involves humans and understanding humanity.  

Mariana has published several books based on the interviews she has done for her podcast.

Mariana Salgado

Also, immigration to Finland is increasing, which is a good thing as we need more immigrants here. Therefore, we need more transdisciplinary methods to tackle the many challenges and opportunities for immigrants.   

Many immigrants in Finland are without work, and many of them have high education backgrounds. Nearly half of immigrant women are sub-employed or unemployed, which is only one aspect of immigration that needs more attention.  

My typical day starts with… making a mate. This is an Argentinean drink that replaces coffee. I work in the government, where we have many meetings, so normally my day starts with a meeting.  

Currently, I work on projects on the politics of immigration, on the national dialogues on immigration and on the preliminary study for the revision of the Aliens Act. My role could be summarised as designing participation. As part of making public policies, we invite different stakeholders to participate in the process. Mainly we collaborate with public authorities, NGOs, companies and researchers. Whom to invite, when in the process and using what method is what I co-design with my colleagues. Afterwards, I work with my colleagues to compile and analyse the materials collected in workshops, meetings, questionnaires, dialogues, seminars, etc. All these materials are taken into consideration when we write public policies. 

Rowing is one of the activities Mariana enjoys in Finland.

Mariana Salgado

What people often misunderstand about service design is… what it is in practice. When you enter a working group with the title of a designer, your colleagues often think you'll be responsible for the visual deliveries of the team. This isn't the case, as many service designers are primarily involved in research, proposing new working practices, designing participation or reviewing public policies.   

Another common misunderstanding about service design is that we are experts in methods and don't understand the issue at hand. However, some of us have been working with the same topic for years, so we are interested in it and might even know something about it. In my case, it is immigration. But for other designers, it could be health or transport, for example.  

Service design has been a buzzword because it has been used to discuss the design of services, strategies, processes, collaborations, public policies and other intangibles. Everything that doesn't deal with the tangible world was transferred to the domain of service design. This brought certain confusion as not all of us are doing the same things and our working practices are very different.  

“It's important to call on different groups for a constructive dialogue on immigration.”

The main differences in working life in Finland compared to other countries where I have worked are….I haven't worked in my home country for the last 23 years, so it's hard to compare. However, through my podcast, I do a lot of collaboration with Spanish speakers.  

I mostly enjoy the Finnish work culture as it's productive, and we aren't supposed to do extra work without being paid. Workers' unions have done a good job, and most workers know their rights.   

I'm passionate about our project on immigration dialogues because… it is important to call on different groups for a constructive dialogue on immigration. It's a way to support democracy, increase understanding within groups and support integration and participation in Finnish society.  

Mariana started a Spanish-language podcast to shine a light on designers and design researchers who often work behind the scenes in society.

Mariana Salgado

The aim of the immigration dialogue events is to increase understanding of different aspects of immigration, of its changing nature, and to broaden the debate on immigration from asylum policy to the overall picture. We want to also promote integration and the inclusion of immigrants. 

We are looking for discussion organisers among, for example, municipalities, associations, companies, authorities, political parties, networks, projects, educational institutions, museums and libraries. We hope there will be numerous immigration dialogues in different parts of Finland where those born here and those who have moved here can hear each other's views, become aware of new things and build a vision of a diverse Finland together. The aim is not to reach a consensus but to build multi-voiced understanding.  

I started a podcast on design for social change to… give voice to designers and design researchers who are doing great work for societies but aren't being seen and listened to enough.  

There are over 185 000 lakes in Finland, so plenty of opportunities for swimming.

Mariana Salgado

My podcast is the most listened design podcast across Spanish-speaking countries. As someone living in the north, I wanted to learn from the global south. The podcast is my way of keeping up to date with the topics I'm interested in. I can also do the meta-work of reflecting on my role and practices in dialogue with the people I interview.  

We cover various topics, from design in government and immigration to health and the future. 

The podcast's success has surprised me… because I'm not interviewing mainstream designers that get prizes in design exhibitions, but instead the ones hidden from society. This is because they primarily work in transdisciplinary teams, the government, cooperatives and NGOs.

The podcast and the widespread practice of doing events online after the COVID pandemic brought me a lot of visibility, and now I'm often invited to give talks at conferences. I'm also consulted in the speaker selection. In addition, since I have interviewed more than 400 persons working in design, I have a good map of what is going on in design for social innovation.  

My favourite thing about Finland is… that public education is of good quality and is free. Although there are lots of things to improve in the school system, it's one of the most important factors that make life with kids easier here. I love that my kids can go to the nearby school and know it's a good one.  

The public libraries are also great and part of the public education system I admire. They are our living rooms, where we can gather, study or work. I love them.   

Mariana appreciates the good cycling routes in Helsinki.

Aku Pollanen

I would advise anyone considering moving to Finland for work... to join a workers' union immediately. Not all foreigners know about the importance of this. The unions support workers' rights in many ways and also give the possibility for better unemployment benefits.  

A tip for looking for a job: always do a lot of networking within your community. I'm active in the network of designers in the public sector, and I've learnt a lot from them.  

What I enjoy most about living in Helsinki is… being both near nature and in the city. I often go to the theatre, go kayaking, ride bikes and visit friends. I love that there is an extensive bike lane system here. The distance between my work and home is nine kilometres, but the route only has two traffic lights.  

Published on 26.10.2022