Prof. Kalevi Ekman


José Vasconcelos World Award of Education 2016
Field of Research: Learning, teaching, research and industry
Date: 14 October 2016
Place of Ceremony: Ziedonis Hall, National Library of Latvia
Host Institution: Riga Technical University
Country: Riga, Latvia

The JOSE VASCONCELOS World Award of Education 2016 has been awarded to Professor Kalevi Ekman, Professor of Machine Design, School of Engineering, Aalto University, Finland. This prize recognizes his international and productive humanistic approach to education and his visionary and inspiring ideas on the Design Factory Concept as outstanding educational methodology.

The prize further acknowledges Professor Ekman’s relentless efforts as a mentor and teacher and his passion for fostering learning, multidisciplinarity and cross-cultural cooperation.


Kalevi Ekman, Professor of the Machine Design, School of Engineering at Aalto University, is the visionary, founder and driving force behind the Global Design Factory Network, which currently links ten design factories on five continents. For 20 years “Eetu”, as he is known, has pioneered methods designed to engage students in the education process, foster multi-disciplinarily, spark entrepreneurship, promote teamwork and enhance multi-culturalism.

The roots of the Design Factory concept date back to 1997 when Professor Ekman began exploring ways of bringing industrial design students together with machine design students to solve real-life challenges provided by industrial partners. Collaborative work continued and Aalto Design Factory was eventually founded on October 2008.

The actors involved in the Design Factory Network represent diverse fields, ranging from science, engineering, business and design, through to the arts and humanities.

For students, the Design Factory provides a holistic experience characterized by real-life challenges in a relaxed but enthusiastic atmosphere, with genuine teamwork and daily international collaboration. For the business community, the factory is an innovative environment for finding, incubating and implementing new ideas. Meanwhile, for researchers, the Design Factory offers unique opportunities to carry out open-ended research initiatives challenging the industrial status quo.

The success of the Design Factory can be partially measured by the fact that the methods and spaces have been duplicated on five continents, in countries as diverse as China, Australia, Chile, Switzerland, Korea, Portugal, the Netherlands and the USA.

Aalto Design Factory is both interdisciplinary and multicultural. It is dynamic, warm and surprising. It brings together a mixture of people who have dreams and want to be part of the community. Individuals with different backgrounds and experience work together to create an original and comprehensive outcome. The Design Factory is open 24/7 and is specially laid out to foster human interaction. A kitchen, a coffee area and even a hugging point encourage dialogue. A live web video link continuously connects the Design Factory in Finland to its global network partners.

Each year about 40 courses involving 1200 students include projects at Aalto Design Factory. More than 10000 guests including hundreds of educators and numerous heads of state visit it each year to see the activities. Numerous scientific publications and MS and doctoral theses are written every year on the pedagogical methods used there.

In short, the work of ”Eetu” Ekman has inspired hundreds of university educators and thousands of students around the world and is starting to change the face of higher education by motivating and empowering individuals, highlighting soft skills and human values.