Events and public defences

Doctoral dissertation: Design Space Broadens Perspectives on Organization and Strategizing


In her interdisciplinary doctoral research, M.Sc. (econ) Tarja Pääkkönen examines the significance of design and design thinking in organizations and their strategies. The study shows that design can expand our views beyond what is generally thought about organizational management and strategy, and thus reshape and broaden our understandings of organization and strategizing as well as popular conceptions related to them. The research elaborates on the concept of design space which helps rethink organizations, strategies and design in novel ways and together as part of a larger whole.

M.Sc. Tarja Pääkkönen's doctoral project addresses the role and significance of design in organizational decision-making and strategic contexts. The study establishes links between theories of design research and organization and management research and encourages us to look at organizations, strategies and design from new perspectives.

Interest in design has recently been on the increase in organizations and its potential and possibilities have attracted a great deal of discussion. According to Pääkkönen, design offers multiple opportunities for organizations.

"Design has already enhanced our understanding of user experience, because human element is at the core of, for example, service design approaches, and that is why engaging people in the development of design solutions is a common practice. Also, the increasing digitality of products and services brings additional demands for creating user experiences that are easy to access and understand. However, the possibilities of design in organizations extend far beyond mere incorporation of customer perspectives into the product development process leading to more attractive products and services for greater profit," Pääkkönen states.

From organization- and user-centeredness towards awareness and transparency in strategizing

In organizations, design can be viewed as a strategic tool or more extensively as an enabler of renewal. If the role of design is reduced to that of a mere tool, the chances are that design will be conceived of as serving only decorative purposes or as supporting operations aimed at maximizing profit. Then again, if design is seen as an enabler of renewal, it can, for example, promote awareness in organizational strategizing.

"Due to their role in multidisciplinary networks and projects in organizations, designers as actors occupy an in-between position, which allows them to both strengthen and challenge strategic interpretations. Designers can also make the diversity of human perspectives visible and promote the view that humans occupy roles other than that of the consumer," Pääkkönen says.

In addition, designers can diversify commercial technological interpretations of the significance of innovations and encourage organizations to pursue responsibility, transparency, and ethical and sustainable solutions, because design in general is geared towards change for the better.

"In such cases, strategic decision-making would benefit from early consideration of factors involved in using the product or service, including consequences – some of which can even be harmful – such as risks and negative impacts on third parties. After all, innovations are never automatically good, but they can cause negative consequences such as ecological drawbacks or other unwanted changes to our everyday lives. Such changes can be detected, for example, in the context of large-scale digitalization of society: production of digital devices, removing them from use, and recycling them involve challenging environmental and human rights issues and, on the other hand, our everyday lives are becoming increasingly digitalized, which, in turn, has brought about information security challenges and a sedentary lifestyle associated with using digital devices. This was hardly the original purpose of the innovations. Design work and management, for their part, can raise awareness of challenging questions related to the entire life cycle of products and services by introducing these questions to the strategic decision making of companies, and by doing so, support responsible management and future of organizations," Pääkkönen says.

Design space provides a framework for strategic development

In her study, Pääkkönen uses the concept of design space to refer to the interrelationships between organization, strategy and design. The design space is a multidimensional shared space of the organization and design that is subject to constant change. It can be anything from a concrete space in which a few individuals work on design processes to a state of design thinking that penetrates the organization and is geared towards positive outcomes. The organization's strategy exists and develops in this design space in interaction with all actors involved in the strategy building process.

"A general conception of strategy is that it is handed down from above and implemented elsewhere. Against the philosophical backdrop of organizational becoming and design perspectives, strategizing aims at involving actors and perspectives of all those influenced by strategic decisions, because strategy and the meanings associated with it are constantly being developed at the individual and community levels. Instead of treating strategy as a strict design process, the concept of design space can help view strategy as a continuous process of becoming where people participate in dialogue about issues emerging from different situations, make sense of things, that is, create meanings for their collective experiences and reason things out," Pääkkönen describes.

In the design space, strategizing assumes more democratic forms compared to the everyday conceptions of strategizing, because the design space allows extensive participation of all actors to whom the strategy applies. What is more, in the design space, strategy is not developed only through language but also as a material and embodied phenomenon because, after all, the language of design is not reducible to speaking or thinking, but is also strongly characterized by interaction by inclusion, making and interaction.

The research encourages organizations to consider the possibility of transitioning from the current framework of management thinking to the design space.

"The established management perspective is a state produced by industrial society in which rational thinking is privileged and the human perspective is often downplayed. In the design space, people would have a greater opportunity to participate and influence issues, and the organization's operations could gradually become less organization- and management-centered. Signs of this new kind of space are already visible in society in many ways: There are mechanisms that allow individuals to make their voices heard, which has already brought about democratic changes. If organizations embrace this thinking and set out to develop their operations towards the proposed direction, there is a tremendous opportunity for a responsible and better future," Pääkkönen concludes.

Information about the public defence

M.Sc. (econ) Tarja Pääkkönen's doctoral dissertation Making Sense of Design Space: Design Perspectives on the Idea of Organization and Strategizing will be publicly examined by permission of the Faculty of Art and Design of the University of Lapland on Friday 1 October 2021 at 12:00 in the Kaarina Hall (lecture hall 10, the University of Lapland main building, Yliopistonkatu 8, Rovaniemi). Ed.D. Kristiina Soini-Salomaa from the LAB University of Applied Sciences will act as the opponent and Professor (Emerita) Kaarina Määttä from the University of Lapland will act as the custos.

The public defence can be followed online at:

Coffee will be served in Restaurant Petronella after the event. Welcome!

Information about the doctoral candidate

M.Sc. Tarja Pääkkönen became interested in design already during her master's degree studies. After having worked in various roles, for example in research brokering, she has been in her current position as a Senior Lecturer (UAS) in a multidisciplinary higher education environment for 20 years. As a researcher she is interested in the multidisciplinary underpinnings of design theories and interpretations of agency in design in strategic organizational contexts.

Further information:

Tarja Pääkkönen
tapaakko (at)

Information about the publication:

Tarja Pääkkönen: Making Sense of Design Space: Design Perspectives on the Idea of Organization and Strategizing. Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 317. ISBN 978-952-337-273-3. ISSN 1796-6310.

Permanent link to the dissertation: