Finding One's Own Way in Design: Reflections on Narrative Professional Identity

Krista Kosonen

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The motivation for this study derives from my professional background as a designer. Identity questions began to intrigue me after my graduation, since I felt it was challenging to create my own way in my design work. This guided me to explore how designers and design students create their professional identities and find their own ways in design. Design students particularly encounter identity questions close to their graduation. This identity work emerges both on the personal and the professional level as both influence the developing design identity. The current work environment requires students and young designers to define and communicate professional identities in a clear way, which requires self-awareness and concerning their own, distinct identity. Since design education consists of a variety of programmes from artistic, hands-on approaches to strategic and theoretical studies, designers gain different skills and expertise in design. These professional orientations may conflict with personal interests and cause an identity crisis in creative fields in which professional and personal identities are typically intertwined. Despite the necessity of identity work, it is not systematically supported in design education. The aim of this study is to illustrate the most significant experiences in designers’ lives and how design identity is formed through narratives. This aim is approached from a socio-constructionist perspective that builds on narrative psychology. The participants consist of design entrepreneurs, who have studied Applied Arts and Design (such as furniture and other material-based design), and design students, who have studied Applied Arts and Design and Industrial Design. The data consists of visual and spoken narratives that the participants have produced in the Visual Narrative workshop and creative process reports that the students generated in a course in Aalto ARTS. That is to say, the collected personal stories and creative process reports are treated as narratives that represent their makers’ professional identity. The narratives were analysed through a Narrative Design Identity framework that was constructed in parallel to the workshops. The most significant experiences show the importance of feedback, acknowledgement and the courage to do things in one’s ‘own way’. The narrative tone, linguistic expressions and visual organization influence the presentation and interpretation of one’s own identity. Previous experience and future wishes shape designers’ orientation in design. This can be seen specifically in the design processes, which are navigated by different strategies, such as envisioning, visualization, discussion, and documentation. The narratives also reveal the significant role of individual beliefs, which form the most enduring concept of identity. The findings strongly suggest that design identity is explorative, intrinsically motivated and agentic. Furthermore, emotions and making are significant aspects in the creation of a design identity and one’s own way in design.
Translated title of the contributionFinding one's own way in design
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Mäkelä, Maarit, Supervising Professor
  • Whalen, Jack, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-7945-5
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-7946-2
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • professional identity
  • visualization
  • narrative
  • significant experiences
  • design education

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