A Demola Team's Journey: The Capital of Darkness

Demola Team Authentic Regions

A Demola Team's Journey: The Capital of Darkness

How to concretize authentic brands? Let the Demola team Authentic Regions show you by sharing their innovation journey in Demola.

Many cities around the world claim to be special but struggle to brand themselves in an authentic way—and thus, fail to attract people. Mikkeli, a city in the South Savo region of Finland, is no exception. Losing population, income, and attractiveness, Mikkeli has recently started to turn off streetlights. In Finland, this is usually seen as a sign of a city gasping for its last breaths—there is a saying, "the last one to leave turns off the lights".

The Demola team Authentic Regions was built for the Demola program that run in collaboration with South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (XAMK) in autumn 2023. The team consisted of three students: Auli Lämsä, Emi Cowlishaw (both Environmental Engineering students) and Topi Sievänen (Software Engineering student). The team of three took up a challenge to envision a positive future for Mikkeli: what strengths does Mikkeli have that other regions do not, and how can we utilize them to build an authentic brand that breathes life into the city?

From exploration to creating concepts

The team started off by identifying positive points of Mikkeli. Mikkeli has a lot of natural resources, such as clean freshwater, but what part of Finland doesn’t? The team quickly realized all places focus on the same things, so they started to think outside the box—what if Mikkeli would boldly bring out something that others see as a negative? After all, authenticity is about genuinely being oneself and trying to make the best out of it. 

This change in thinking—trying to change the negative into positive—quickly led to an array of other "what if...?" questions, such as:

▪️  What if darkness became the new normal and Mikkeli weaned off from artificial light altogether?
▪️  What if Mikkeli would be the testing site for all lightning industry in the world?
▪️  What if darkness was turned into a product?

These bold future speculations enabled the team to see a novel brand identity for Mikkeli as the capital city of darkness:

Mikkeli becomes the capital city of darkness, leading the way in fighting light pollution—for both the environment and human wellbeing. Mikkeli's new identity as the capital city of darkness covers aspects of tourism, urban design, industry, research, and everyday life, changing the way of living to its very core.

After the first bold speculations about the future and coming up with a rough idea for the new brand, the team defined all relevant stakeholders, setting the foundation for building a tangible concept with visualizations. The process worked also as a sandbox for playing with tools such as ChatGPT and Miro. One of the key skills the team worked on was pitching their idea by using keywords and concepts to various local and international stakeholders.

Building creative confidence

When asked about the development of creative confidence during the project, Auli Lämsä says, “You can’t really avoid developing creative confidence during the project. It’s like a self-feeding prophecy; the more you do, the more you see that ‘I can do this, I can develop things’. Even if you see negative things, you learn to see ways around it or push it aside if it’s not necessary for the development. In the Demola environment, nothing is limiting you, no one is telling you ‘you can’t do this’, ‘we don’t have money’, ‘it’s not gonna work out’. It’s like anything’s possible.”

"You can't really avoid developing creative confidence during the project. It's like a self-feeding prophecy; the more you do, the more you see that 'I can do this, I can develop things.'"

Changing mindsets

One of the aims of Demola projects is to change how we see the future. By envisioning positive futures, we are empowered to be part of them, actively searching for ways to make them come true. Auli sums up, “Given that people are so interested in the idea, it looks like they have not still ditched the thought that Mikkeli could change.” Emi Cowlishaw adds, “We realized that without trying to change things, they do not change, but if you keep trying, they will change eventually. Every place can evolve.”

Future project development

For Authentic Regions, finishing the project was not the end goal. Some members are continuing to work on the topic in their thesis, and the whole team is currently developing the idea with stakeholders, including the City of Mikkeli, with whom the team connected during the program’s events. As Topi Sievänen says, “Our motivation is to make people involved in our idea and make it a project everyone in Mikkeli can be passionate about.”

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Netta Hongisto

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