Doctoral candidate in Design research

Updated: 4 months ago

Open position for a doctoral candidate in DoD Design research

Aalto University is a community of bold thinkers where science and art meet technology and business. We are committed to identifying and solving grand societal challenges and building an innovative future. Aalto has six schools with nearly 11 000 students and a staff of more than 4000, of which 400 are professors. Our main campus is located in Espoo, Finland. Diversity is part of who we are, and we actively work to ensure our community’s diversity and inclusiveness. This is why we warmly encourage qualified candidates from all backgrounds to join our community. 

Department of Design (DoD) is an academic community of approximately 850 students, 70 doctoral students and 70 faculty members. The department conducts research and provides education in bachelor, master and doctoral programmes across a broad range of subjects and themes. The Department of Design is part of School of Arts, Design and Architecture (Aalto ARTS).

Department of Design invites applications for

Doctoral Candidate position funded by a donation from Kalevala Koru cultural foundation

The position is fixed-term and will be filled for the time period of 1.9.2021-30.5.2025. The contract will be done in two stages (one + 3 years). The position is for conducting full time doctoral studies and it is placed in Fashion/Textile Futures (lead by Prof. Kirsi Niinimäki) or Empirica research group (lead by Prof. Maarit Mäkelä) in the Design department.

Established in 1994 the purpose of the Kalevala Koru Cultural Foundation is to support and promote Finnish culture. The foundation, which is a joint project of the Kalevala Women’s Association and Kalevala Koru Oy, awards annual grants for preserving, developing, and researching Finnish cultural heritage.

Job description and requirements

Approach for the inquiry

The aim of this study is to build new understandings of the futures of design and materialities in the context of sustainability. Building on cultural histories, connections to the land and environment, traditions and values, craft methods, materials and their use, colours, styles and aesthetics in Finnish heritage, the investigation is contextualised by historical knowledge and how we may learn from it. The inquiry should seek to interpret these learnings through design, practice, artifacts, material explorations, futures concepts, design interpretations and reflections, as well as through academic argumentation. The researcher is expected to explore relevant local and cultural histories to bring this knowledge and related insights into the context of contemporary design, and to construct a new understanding of the role of this knowledge as part of a sustainable life. The central idea is to explore the dialogue between cultural heritage and local materialities through creative practices. The inquiry is expected to follow a research-through-design approach and it can be conducted in a mode of practice-led, practice-based or constructive design research. The research can be approached through one of the following proposed pathways, but is not limited to these.

  • material or colour explorations and alternative materials or colours in the context of sustainability
  • material ethics
  • speculative design and alternative futures
  • revisiting/interpreting old craft skills and local materials
  • design interpretations in the context of fashion, textiles, bio-materials or ceramics

Theoretical background 

The research can be grounded in one of the following theoretical fields: sustainability, futures studies in combination with speculative design, biodesign or craft studies. 

Sustainability can be approached holistically or through a more narrow view into alternative materials or methods, sustainable design aesthetics (Niinimäki, 2014) or through the aspect of care (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017), or environmental justice and ethics (Mohai, et al. 2009; Niinimäki, 2015).

Biodesign is to be understood as an expanding field ranging from design concepts, processes and outcomes inspired by nature to the emerging field of collaborating with living organisms and materials, as well as incorporating them into a wide range of disciplines (Myers, 2012).

Speculative Design is a field of design speculating about potential futures, developing scenarios and creating language, objects, services and systems to operate in these futures, as well as reflecting on how these may help us address big problems of the present day and near future. (Dunne & Raby, 2013)

Critical Design is a field of design, as well as approaches, design tools and processes that challenge existing behaviours, practices and orthodoxies and instead are interrogative, discursive and experimental. (Malpass, 2017).

Craft studies is understood here as a means for logically thinking through making and the senses. Knowledge of a creative practice lies in and can be acquired from within the practice itself. Thus, thinking and knowing are inseparable from making in any craft or designerly practices (Nimkulrat, 2012; Mäkelä & Latva-Somppi, 2011).

Research design

This research connects design practice and theory and will therefore involve a mixed-methods approach. Design is understood here in a broad sense including creative practices from the field of arts and crafts. To be able to collect the information related to the personal design process and insights, the research can rely for example on auto-ethnographic methods. In addition, the study should be informed by cultural history and therefore it might rely on other methods such as for example field visits, interviews, archival studies  or site specific case studies.This inquiry is expected to strongly include a research-through-design approach and it can be done in the mode of practice-led (Mäkelä & Nimkulrat, 2018), practice-based or constructive design approach (Koskinen et al,. 2011). The research can also be an amalgamation of different research methods.

Expected outcomes

The research should contribute to new design practices in the context of sustainability, material knowledge, concept of care or philosophical inquiries such as environmental justice or environmental ethics and more than human centered design. The research can also suggest new materialities or how to revisit old craft knowledge to be able to make a transition towards sustainable life that is in dialogue with the local environment (Yunkaporta, 2020).

Timeline for the research

The funding is for 4 years full time research work and the applicant is expected to construct the research plan accordingly.

Applicant’s expected competencies

Following competences are needed to execute a clear research plan:

  • excellent design skills and MA / MSC degree in a relevant field of design
  • conceptual skills in proposing a compelling and innovative programme of enquiry
  • academic learning and writing skills
  • ability to self organise and complete the study in 4 years

Research proposal

Research plan needs to include following parts

  • Introduction
  • Theoretical and conceptual background
  • Hypothesis and/or research questions and/or aims and objectives
  • Research method(s) with rationale for these
  • Expected outcomes
  • Plan for 4 years timeline
  • References

Research plan should be 5-8 pages.


Salary will be determined following the salary system of Finnish universities.

How to apply

The applications for the doctoral candidate position are to be submitted through the eRecruitment system (link 'Apply for this job' below) no later than on June 6th, 2021.

The application for the position should contain (in pdf format):

  • Cover letter stating the motivation for the work
  • CV
  • Portfolio of artistic and/or professional achievements
  • Doctoral research plan

All material should be submitted in English. The application materials will not be returned.

The evaluation is based on the total assessment of the candidate in respect to the fit for the call. Short listed candidates will be invited for an interview.

Aalto University reserves the right to leave the position open, to extend the application period and to consider candidates who have not submitted applications during the application period.

For additional information, please contact Prof. Kirsi Niinimäki or Prof. Maarit Mäkelä or Julia Lohmann email:


Dunne, A., Raby, F. (2013) Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: The MIT Press

Koskinen, I. & Zimmerman, J. & Binder, T. & Redström, J. & Wensveen, S. (2011). Design research through practice: From the lab, field, and showroom. London: Elsevier.

Mohai, P., Pellow, D. & Roberts, T. (2009).  Environmental justice. Annual Review of Environment and Resources,Vol. 34, pp 405-430.

Mäkelä, M. & Latva-Somppi, R. (2011). Crafting narratives: Using historical context as a reflective tool. Craft Research Vol. 2, pp 37-59.

Mäkelä, M. & Nimkulrat, N. (2018). Documentation as a practice-led research tool for reflection on experiential knowledge, FormAkademisk, 11(2).

Malpass, M. (2017). Critical Design in Context: History, Theory and Practice. London: Bloomsbury.

Myers, W. (2012). Bio design: nature, science, creativity. New York: Museum of Modern Art

Niinimäki, K. (2014). Green Aesthetics in Clothing: Normative Beauty in Commodities. Artifact, 3(3), pp 3.1-3.13.

Niinimäki, K. (2015). Ethical Foundations in Sustainable Fashion. Textile and Clothing Sustainability. 1(1).

Nimkulrat, N. (2012). Hands-on intellect: Integrating craft practice into design research, International Journal of Design, 6(3).

Puig de la Bellacasa, M. (2017). Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds. University of Minneapolis.

Yunkaporta, T.  (2020). Sand Talk: How Indigenous thinking can save the world. The Text Publishing Company.

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