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Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research

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Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research
Department of Education
P.O. Box 26 (Teollisuuskatu 23)
FIN-00014 University of Helsinki
Finland

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Ulla-Maaria Mutanen, PhD Student

Tel.: +358 9 191 44169
Fax: +358 9 191 4844

Postal address:
Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research
P.O. Box 26 (Teollisuuskatu 23)
FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland

Current Activities

My purpose is to study an evolutionary process during which a global paper machine company Metso Corporation takes actions to integrate industrial design into its organization and build a new multidisciplinary design capability for developing industrial machines.

Research problem 1: How has product development and industrial design activity developed in Metso historically?

The first question focuses on the transformation of product development and industrial design activity in Metso and its predecessors Valmet and Wärtsilä. A key task in historical analysis is periodization; dividing the stream of historical events into larger patterns with meaningful characteristics of their own. In the activity-theoretical approach, periodization is based on identifying changes in the studied activity; principally in its object and instruments (Engeström 1987, 325-327), but also its subjects, community, rules, and division of labor (Engeström, 2002; Engeström, Haavisto, & Pihlaja, 1992). By conducting a historical analysis of the transformation of product development and design work, I seek answers to the following questions:

a) How has the activity of paper machine development changed between 1983-2002?
b) What kinds of concepts of design activity have emerged as a result of this transformation?
c) How have the work tasks of industrial designers changed?


Research problem 2: How are new collective forms of design activity produced in practice?

The second research question focuses on studying collective design work in a project where Metso collaborates with four supplier companies in order to develop a radically new kind of technological device —a fabric stretcher— for a paper making line. The empirical data is based on a sixteen-month period of participant observation, during which a team of eleven people met in full-day design workshops on a monthly basis. Drawing from the works of Fujimura (1987), Strauss (1987) and Spinoza et al. (1997), I will analyze aspects of articulation work in the efforts of the designers and engineers to formulate the object of the development activity. I will focus not only on interaction between people but also on the tools, techniques and technologies that make the collective design work possible.

Complementary questions:
a) How is the activity of the stretcher team organized in the course of the development project?
b) What aspects of articulation work can be identified in the development of a new stretcher model?
b) How do material artifacts such as a marker pen mediate the articulation of a shared object in the team?

Research problem 3: How are the locally developed forms of collective design work realigned into a corporate-wide design capability?

Drawing from the works of Fujimoto (2000), Fujimura (1987), Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995), and Spinosa et al. (1997), the third research question focuses on analyzing the efforts of Metso’s technology management for transforming the locally developed forms of collective design work into a corporate-wide capability. Based on empirical data from participating in the work of the design strategy team between 2002-2004, I will analyze how the development of design was conceptualized and aligned in the meetings between technology managers, directors, and designers.

Complementary questions:
a) How is the cooperation of industrial design and mechanical engineering conceptualized in the course of the design strategy work?
b) What kinds of concepts are formed to describe the desired organizational design capability?
c) How are these concepts aligned with other concepts of strategic management and technology development?

The empirical data for this research has been collected as part of Proactive Design, a joint research project between the University of Helsinki, the University of Art and Design Helsinki, and four Finnish technology companies: Metso, Kone, Ruukki, and Raute. During the first two years of research I followed two activities at Metso: 1) the development of a new technological innovation in the felt guide system, which corporate management regarded as a case of state-of-the-art collaboration between mechanical engineering and industrial design; and 2) the efforts of an executive-level team to prepare a general design strategy for the organization. In addition, I followed seminars and events that were organized for the purpose of promoting the application of industrial design in various development projects across the organization.

My work draws from four fields of research: cultural-historical activity theory, symbolic interactionism, organization studies, and studies of innovation and design management.

Short Biography

Before starting doctorate studies, I directed the Institute for Design Research, a nonprofit consultancy that specializes in promoting user-oriented design practices in small and medium sized companies. Prior to that I worked as a lecturer on design management at the Faculty of Business Studies at Lahti Polytechnic.

I received my Master's degree in Economics and Business Adminstration from the Turku School of Economics and Business Administration in 1999. I also studied business management, product development and industrial engineering in the multidisciplinary International Design Business Management program at the Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration, the Helsinki University of Technology, and the University of Art and Design in Helsinki.

 

Publications


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