Half a Century of Human-Centered Design
When Oras launched the world’s first single-lever faucet nearly fifty years ago, the design studio Edea’s predecessor, Ergonomiadesign, was involved in its development. Edea’s fingerprints can also be found on Valtra tractors, Molok waste systems, Hackman pans, and ABB frequency converters, among others. Over the decades, the studio has had hundreds of clients and worked on thousands of projects.
Edea was born in 1990 when two design firms established in the 1970s, Ergonomiadesign and Destem, merged. In the early days, the studio used the name E&D, but it changed to ED-Design at the turn of the millennium. The name Edea was adopted in 2023. Despite the name changes, the studio’s philosophy has remained the same: to develop products that stand the test of time and serve people in the best possible way.
Putting People First
When discussing Finnish design, the great names of the past come to mind, from Alvar Aalto and Kaj Franck to Tapio Wirkkala and Armi Ratia. Even today, designers are often seen as heroes who see better than others and proudly recount their achievements in the first person: “I perceived, I envisioned.”
“The best and worst trait of a designer is a big ego,” says Tapani Hyvönen, the founder and current chairman of the board of Edea. “It’s true that a good designer needs to believe in their own vision. Equally important is that the vision is based on real, acquired understanding.”
High-quality design starts with the people who will eventually use the product or service being developed. Often there are many of them; for example, refrigerators in retail stores must serve both the store owner and the customers. Store personnel, installation technicians, and cleaners should not be forgotten either. The decision-maker may not necessarily use the product themselves. All perspectives must be understood.
“Assuming on behalf of others is the worst form of self-centeredness,” says Sami Pyörre, who now leads Edea. “The original sin of a product developer is to imagine intrinsically knowing what is important to users of the solution being developed. The starting point for every project should always be the acquisition and utilization of in-depth human understanding. This means going to people, listening openly, and genuinely involving them. The developed solution must resonate with people on a functional, emotional, and social level.”
In essence, there is nothing new in this. Ergonomics and participatory design were discussed decades ago. Later came user-centered design, service design, and design thinking. The isms of the past and future make Hyvönen and Pyörre smile.
“Ultimately, design has always been about understanding people and creating the best possible, holistic solution for them,” say Hyvönen and Pyörre. “We were among the first to adopt rapid prototypes used in user testing and globally seamless remote facilitation in user workshops. Now our focus is on artificial intelligence. Emphases, perspectives, and methods evolve, but human-centeredness remains.”
Puzzled about the Future
Alongside human-centeredness, another of Edea’s guidelines is aiming for the future. After all, people’s needs and goals can be met sustainably only when it is understood at the beginning of product design where the world is heading.
“Looking at competitors and competing solutions is human, even useful,” says Pyörre. “At the same time, there is a danger. Focusing on the present produces solutions that are already obsolete by the time they have gone through the product development pipeline. Therefore, it is wiser to firmly focus on the future already in the ideation phase, at least 3-5 years ahead and beyond.”
This is not new either. Edea has always operated this way. For example, in the 1980s and 1990s, they conceptualized the future of consumer electronics.
“We envisioned touch-screen mobile devices and cloud services for consumers years before their breakthrough,” says Hyvönen. “Unfortunately, our client did not have the courage to implement the vision. Later it did come true, albeit not by our client.”
Today, Edea utilizes selected future reports picked from around the world. These reports outline developments such as sustainable development, the breakthrough of artificial intelligence, and changes in consumer behavior, and ignoring them is fatal. On the other hand, paying attention to and leveraging them opens up new innovation opportunities.
The best solutions are found where future developments and people’s core goals intersect. Edea uses a process and toolbox developed in-house to find these intersections. The method, called Design Puzzle, was first introduced in 2005 and continues to evolve. The latest developments are related to future understanding, and tools related to it have been developed in collaboration with the Finland Futures Research Center.
“Design Puzzle is, as the name suggests, a design puzzle where the pieces that are suitable for each customer project can be selected,” says Pyörre. “With their help, we develop concrete product and service solutions and related business models that also serve people in the future. The whole process works in close interaction with customers and users. Human engagement and reaching a common understanding are crucial.”
The Design Puzzle is an integral part of every Edea project. It has been instrumental in generating solutions from Molok’s block collection systems to Fingrid’s grid control room interfaces.
The DNA of Sustainable Solutions
Albert Einstein is said to have stated that the best theory is usually as simple as possible, but not simpler.
“The same principle should be applied to all product development,” says Hyvönen. “The best solution is usually as simple as possible and only as complex as absolutely necessary.”
Edea is known especially as a design studio focused on investment goods and durable consumer goods. Important qualities in these products are durability, disassemblability, and repairability – all aspects that naturally lead to Hyvönen’s principle of simplicity. Likewise, the same aspects lead to platform thinking, which involves the expandability of the original product with various add-ons and variations.
“However, human-centeredness is the most important of all,” says Pyörre. “When a product is one that people bond with, one that they trust, they also want it to last and are willing to repair it. That’s when the principles of sustainable development come into play.”
On fields all around the world, you can see Valtra tractors that are decades old. They are repaired and updated, supplemented with accessories, cherished, and trusted.
That’s what design is ultimately all about.