Opinion

Design for science

Valeria Azovskaya

Visual and service design expert, Aalto University

27.10.2021

Collaboration between scientists and designers is not yet a very common practice. Visualisation is one of the tools materials researchers could easily adopt from design practices to explain complex scientific ideas and concepts.

Design can help in many different ways: it can provide support for a journal publication (photos, data visualisation) and prove helpful in drafting a funding application (graphical abstract, visualisation of research proposal) or a collaboration proposal for potential partners (detailed and self-explanatory presentations). Finally, design methodology can be employed at the very beginning of the scientific process and become an integral part of scientific research. Design and design methodology matter a lot, especially when scientific research is developing novel and unfamiliar concepts that extend far beyond the foreseeable future.

Two people at a workshop

Researchers can utilise design practices to explain complex scientific ideas and concepts. Image: Redpixel / Adobe

As a designer, I’m very lucky to be and work in Finland – especially at a higher education institute where the spirit of cross- and multidisciplinary collaboration is in the air. The traditional and evolving design fields and methodologies create a stimulating environment for one to develop and master their professional skills and match them with their interests.

Collaboration with designers helps scientists to create both novel and tangible concepts, create links between today’s realities and tomorrow’s opportunities, and broaden the horizon for innovations.

The focus on materials research in the Finnish context provides a great field for experimenting and trying out new ways of working, very often in close collaboration with scientists. There are many promising materials studies being conducted in Finland. Many of these are directly related to extremely urgent global matters: the recycling and life cycle of materials, decreasing the amount of plastic and replacing it with environment-friendly materials, researching sustainable and efficient sources of energy, improving life quality, and purifying air and water.

A woman looking into the camera

Valeria Azovskaya feels lucky to be working at a Finnish higher education institute where the spirit of cross- and multidisciplinary collaboration is in the air. Image: Valeria Azovskaya

Traditional Finnish natural resources and materials – forests and wood – are being researched and rethought, and they are expected to play a major role in the local economy in the near future. It is not just paper and construction materials that are being considered; they really can be part of any industry, and the sky is the limit.

Collaboration with designers helps scientists to create both novel and tangible concepts, create links between today’s realities and tomorrow’s opportunities, and broaden the horizon for innovations.

A brainstorming session with people looking at sketches and sticky notes

According to Valeria, design methodology can be employed at the very beginning of the scientific process and become an integral part of scientific research. Image: Mangpor2004 / Adobe

This collaboration should continue and prosper in future. We need each other and have a lot in common. Experimenting and entering the unknown are the basics of scientific and design discoveries. Trial and error is the infinite course of inspiration.

*Originally published in July 2018


Aalto University has launched a free online design course called Design Bits to help non-designers from all over the world become more creative problem-solvers. Through exploration and experimentation, the course explains how design tools and processes work. Even though originally designed for university students, the course is available for anyone with a curious mindset and willingness to learn. More information about the course can be found here.

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