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Varkaus: UX as the embodiment of a whole region

Varkaus is an environmentally conscious, international industrial city founded in 1929. Varkaus is located in North Savo in eastern Finland, with the third-largest population in the province. At present, Varkaus has 21,000 inhabitants.

The challenge

The City of Varkaus has ambitious strategy and growth targets. The city’s aim is to become an important economic center in its region. International companies such as Stora Enso, Sumitomo and Andritz operate in Varkaus, and connections to the outside world via water, land and air are good. The challenge Varkaus faces is one common to many smaller cities right now: how to boost growth when people tend to move to larger urban areas and capital cities? One initiative to make the city more attractive to both locals and travelers is a center for innovation, experiences, and business.

We worked with the clients to design a physical experience for the center that serves local needs, attracts investors and has a sustainable business model. The concept needed to create excitement locally but also help to start building a business ecosystem and, later on, work as a pragmatic design brief for the architect and builders. What the City of Varkaus didn’t want was a new shopping mall.

Finding something new was our task.

Outcomes and impact

  • Co-created concept vision engaging with over 2000 stakeholders in workshopping, interviewing, prototyping, benchmarking and visioning in tight three months period.

  • Team of 12 experts with a diverse background in urban planning, food, science experience, business modeling, concept design, digital, futures foresight and design.

  • The innovative, modular & digitally embedded experience center is visionary but also pragmatic and financially feasible.

What we did

The concept we co-created with entrepreneurs, the third sector, artists, citizens, and travelers utilizes the region’s strengths and is based on the real needs of its businesses and people. The core is a modular science center, event venue, and food production & restaurant court. The key idea is to promote learning through seeing, experiencing, creating and playing. The experience combines the physical with the digital and depending on the visitor profile, unfolds in different ways. Shopping opportunities for the visitor are embedded in the main functions.

To inspire dialogue and challenge our own thinking as well as that of others, we performed a broad scan of trends covering a variety of themes such as food, travel, play and digital. Futures foresight was utilized to ensure the concept is fresh and relevant not only today but for the coming years as well.

The business and operating model for the center is low-risk and financially feasible. Its close connection to the local market means the center will have a beneficial impact on the local economy through exhibitions, events, tourism, and food production. The science center will encourage the youth in the area to consider careers in science and engineering.

The core team consisted of 12 members. In addition to consultants from Futurice, the team included food expertise from Papua Suklaa and science center expertise from Heureka Overseas Production and much more.

The team achieved challenging objectives for the work and was able to create a sense of excitement in our town. This public and positive feedback both from the participants, decision-makers, citizens, and media is priceless, as there are so many interests to combine in urban development. Futurice, as a partner, is credible, and they were able also to encourage local actors to trust in their strengths. Excellent job!
Satu Reisko
City architect & Project manager, City of Varkaus

Why it matters

The project created the desired buzz and excitement within its first three months. Feedback from both local people and the media was extremely positive. Work by the core team continues. The city has secured the interest of an investor, and there are ongoing discussions with local entrepreneurs to base businesses at the center.

The concept has roots in the traditions, strengths and history of the City of Varkaus, but it also looks into the future and far beyond the borders of the city or province. The Varkaus Experience Center is for all of us.

Futurice was selected due to its diverse expertise in digital and concept design. They have a set of powerful methodologies that help achieve a lot in a short period of time. Working with the team in sprints was smooth, and our communication was effortless. The deliverable is visually compelling and helps communicate the concept. Co-creation is crucial for success in a project like this. The team experts were able to engage the key stakeholders in the work. I'm very pleased.
Tuula Kokkonen
Business Advisory, Navitas

About City of Varkaus

Varkaus is a Middle-Savonian industrial town and municipality of Finland. It is located in the province of Eastern Finland and is part of the Northern Savonia region, between city of Kuopio and town of Savonlinna.

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