Design maturity at City of Helsinki

Anni Leppanen
4 min readJan 16, 2023


How might one describe design maturity at City of Helsinki? It has been 3.5 years since I joined City of Helsinki as a service designer. So much has happened during this time! Actually, (service) design has already had a 10 year journey in the city. This blog shares a recent academic article on design maturity at City of Helsinki and 8 key insights into progress made in recent years.

There’s a fresh (published 31.12.2022) academic article discussing the findings of a design maturity study conducted at City of Helsinki in 2019. The article also provides a great recap of relevant academic literature on design for government. Check out article “Design Enters the City: Requisites and Points of Friction in Deepening Public Sector Design” in the International Journal of Design Vol 16, No 3. (direct link to PDF).

Challenges for design maturity

So, I joined Helsinki as an inhouse service designer 3.5 years ago. Just as I started my new job, the professors & researchers of Aalto University Design Department had finished collecting the data on design maturity and its challenges at city of Helsinki — this data was the basis of the academic article. There is a nice summary of the challenges identified through research in the article (see image below).

Source: Pirinen, A., Savolainen, K., Hyysalo, S., & Mattelmäki, T. (2022). Design enters the City: Requisites and points of friction in deepening public sector design. International Journal of Design, 16(3), 1–19.

Design maturity challenges from the 2019 study were grouped in three areas by the researchers:

  1. City specific — Characteristics of the city as an organisation
  2. Design specific — Characteristics of the design field
  3. Shared — Continuity and leadership of design (A); integration of design into projects (B); implementing the results and managing change (C).

I will not summarise the article further, because it is really worthwhile a read. In addition to the academic article, there is a public English summary of the 2019 study shared by the City also. For those working inside the city of Helsinki, you can find the internal materials in “Palvelumuotoilijaverkosto” Teams files under “Muotoilun vaikuttavuus kehityshanke” folder.

8 key developments from recent years

Here are a eight key events from the timeline since the study. These events show progress in design maturity and demonstrate how we have been tackling some of the challenges previously identified.

  • Helsinki Lab “project mode” came to and end in December 2019, and our work was made a permanent part of the city organisation.
  • The role of lead service designer for digital customer experience was established just as Covid-19 spread to Finland. Digital service design became a major part of the city’s digitalisation programme, together with experimentation culture.
  • New chief design officer joined Helsinki in Spring 2019. This role was positioned in Urban Environment Division, while Helsinki Lab and digital service design continued in Chief Executive Office. Our CDO has led our efforts for example in placemaking.
  • The biggest service design project (ever) in Helsinki — renewal of city’s main website — started in Spring 2019. In the 2.5 years of the large project, around 3.5 million euros were spent in design. The project was city wide and enabled design to work across siloes.
  • Permanent role for Helsinki Design System and its product owner were established in 2020. The third key role in digital design leadership – UX lead – was also finally hired in Spring 2022.
  • The framework agreement for purchasing service design from design agencies grew from 0.8 million euros in 2018 to 3.6 million euros in 2021 (76% digital related). The third framework agreement period began in August 2022, with 3 specific categories and 12 companies: service design (8), digital design (4) and design for service environments (6). A major change was that digital design procurement was centralised.
  • Inhouse designers in Chief Executive Office, Department for Strategy grew from 3 people in 2019 to 12 people in 2023. The number of service designers in different city divisions has also somewhat grown, but there has also been many personnel changes.
  • Key solutions and tools for design have been released for city-wide use during this time: GDPR agreements and shared privacy policy for service design projects, virtual user community with over 800 participants, virtual service design tools (leanlab and Miro), playbook for digital customer experience, more comprehensive Helsinki Design System, just to name a few.
Summary of developments in 2019–2022

Pioneers of design and the research team

It is a privilege to have academic research done on one’s organisation! The insights are invaluable and thought-provoking. The challenges described are still relevant and the article also holds many ideas for further improvement towards increased design maturity. Thank you for this great work Antti Pirinen, Tuuli Mattelmäki, Sampsa Hyysalo and Kaisa Savolainen.

When I began this job 3.5 years ago, I had available the incredible work done by the design pioneers of city of Helsinki — and their support and practical tips! Thank you pioneers Päivi Hietanen, Meri Virta, Anu Mänttäri, Ville Meloni and Kirsi Verkka for your efforts and support in building the core design maturity of Helsinki.

About the author

Anni Leppänen is the lead service designer responsible for digital customer experience at City of Helsinki.



Anni Leppanen

Strategic designer, change agent and specialist in sustainability transitions, digital transformation, government and experiments.