One of the key activities of the Creative Edge project coordinated by Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences (KTUAS) was the Creative Steps initiative. Creative Steps brought young, creative talents from Finland, Sweden, Ireland and Northern Ireland together to work on assignments from international businesses and organisations.

Creative Steps manual 

This publication explains how the international Creative Steps workshop was organised through the cooperation of the four partner countries and by making use of networks. It also works as  road map for the arranging of similar international cooperative projects. Download here


Creative Steps

Creative Steps

Overview of Creative Steps

The Creative Steps concept works on the basis of cooperation between new creative talents and established businesses. In the world of business, new ideas are vital to innovation, which come from human creativity. Creative Steps matches emerging creative talent with existing business needs and helps creative talents gain much needed experience in the business world. In addition to this, it helps businesses to connect with, and harness the expertise of students and new graduates. The initiative is designed to encourage innovation, where businesses present a problem for students to solve, providing new challenges, but also opportunities for creativity to flourish and grow.

Enrolment in Creative Steps took place from October to November 2012 and the pilot Creative Steps programme was launched on 22nd January 2013 in Kemi-Torino, Finland. Most of the communication and work occurred through the virtual environment, but also included two face to face workshops, each of a week in duration, in Finland and Northern Ireland.

A project was chosen from each of countries that the Creative Edge partners are located. Two week long workshops took place, one in Finland, and one in Northern Ireland. The workshops combined lectures, brainstorming, interactive sessions and field trips. The remaining work occurred through the virtual environment. Participants worked on their projects in teams, and were also in direct contact with the business or organisation that initiated the idea for the project.

Creative Steps

Creative Steps group in Northern Ireland

The workshops

Timo Puukko and Anitra Arkko-Saukkonen from KTUAS led the Creative Steps initiative, coordinated the workshops and provided support and guidance to students throughout the month-long Creative Steps process.

To get the work started, a workshop took place in Kemi-Tornio, Finland. It was here that participants were divided into four international multi-skilled teams. Teams were named ‘Team Ireland, ‘Team Northern Ireland’, ‘Team Finland’ and ‘Team Sweden’ and each assigned a project, with an outline of the goals and objectives to be reached. But before specific teams were assigned their projects, a brainstorming session including all participants gave each team ideas to work with when they began focusing on their assigned projects. Also, as each team progressed with their work, they pitched the ideas developed to the other team members, to get their insights and feedback.


Taking Creative Steps in Northern Ireland

The workshops also focused on helping participants to shape their projects to a correct fit for business. KTUAS experts gave presentations on creative thinking and business thinking. Marika Saranne talked about business thinking, market communications, future market trends and consumer trends. Anitra Arkko-Saukkonen presented on creative thinking and different methods to generate creative ideas.

The projects

The participants of the Creative Edge pilot programme had a wide range of talents, and included students and graduates of screen-writing, film production, journalism, graphic design, art, digital media and visual arts. They applied their skills to business projects. Projects focused on areas such as improved product design, new product design and communication of concepts through visual mediums. Two examples of the projects are outlined below: developing an interactive children’s book app, and working with a tyre bale recycling company to develop creative ways to conceal tyre bales and ideas for their use as a creative material.

The businesses that assigned the projects for Creative Steps were a very important part of the Creative Steps process. Spinfy, a Finnish company that develops interactive children’s storybook apps, was one such company. These types of children’s storybooks are an exciting reading experience where children can interact with a story and guide it by making it personalised with their own touch.

Creative Steps team at work

Creative Steps team at work

Spinfy’s project for the Creative Steps participants was to design a new interactive children’s book. This included developing the idea for the story, while also creating and designing the primary characters and background designs. The children’s book was to be both educational and fun.Team Finland was assigned to this project. From the experience of the team, it was felt that a key part of beginning the creative process in this case was to think in a child’s frame of mind. Team Finland developed characters that a children’s story could be based around. They also produced illustrations. Spinfy’s reaction to the outcome of Team Finland’s project work was positive. Spinfy also said it would continue to cooperate with the team members if it decided to develop the concepts into storybook apps.

The Creative Steps initiative highlights the role of creative sector knowledge and skills in wider business sectors. The example of R4 Limited, a tyre recycling company, and the project that Creative Steps participants worked on for this company, demonstrates this.
R4 Limited has been producing tyre bales for several years. Their tyre bales have been used in a number of construction projects throughout Europe and the USA. R4 Limited distributes tyre bales uncovered. The look and bulky nature of tyre bales is a drawback of the product. The main challenge for Creative Steps participants was to make tyre bales look better, helping the company attract new customers. Devising a method of wrapping or disguising the tyre material could make the bales more marketable. In addition to this, this project focused on developing ideas around new places where tyre bales could be utilised, helping R4 Limited to further capitalise on their product.

Brainstorming session

Brainstorming session

Team Northern Ireland worked on this assignment and their work generated many new ideas and solutions for how to make tyre bales look more appealing aesthetically. R4 Limited received a package of different kinds of ideas from Team Northern Ireland’s work and was pleased with the outcome. When the Creative Steps programme finished R4 Limited was discussing the continuation of the project.

The experience

Being part of Creative Steps was the first time participants had met each other. If participants were to work well together, it was important for participants to begin get to know each other before project work began. Some exercises, such as tin foil modelling, helped participants to cross this divide. One participant commented:  “When we were split into teams, the tin foil modeling project was great. I thought it was a great way to break to ice in the team and show how creative we could be. It was a great way to get the team working together instead of jumping straight into projects”.
Creating a relaxed learning environment was important for Creative Steps. Incorporating activities outside of project work was an important in achieving this. For example participants had a chance to experience the wider culture of Northern Ireland and Finland, such as visiting tourist attractions and while in Finland having a sauna experience.The overall atmosphere that was created can be summed up by the following participant’s comments: “It was very laid back and not too serious. Everyone chatted to each other as equals and didn’t see us as students or anything. It was a great way to make contacts and get to know people”.

This relaxed environment was not however to take away from the valuable learning experience that the Creative Steps pilot programme was intended to be. Feedback from participants shows that Creative Steps achieved the correct mix: “We had theory lessons. The amount was also in balance…These opened up our thinking, and gave us tools we used to work forward”.

Creative Steps in Tervola

Creative Steps combined face to face workshops with online interaction. The effectiveness of such an approach was another important aspect of Creative Steps to gain some feedback from participants on. When not working together in the workshops, teams stayed in touch with each other, and the businesses, via Skype, telephone and email. This was important to keep the momentum going, for example:  “The team needed a lot of driving in the early stages, towards the end everyone came into their own and contributed well to the final outcome”.

Some outcomes of Creative Steps

Creative Steps expands participants’ cultural experiences


Anitra Arkko-Saukkonen presenting at Creative Steps

Locating the workshops in two of the partner regions gave participants a chance to experience the broader local culture. While in Northern Ireland participants visited the Ulster Folk and Transport museum. In Finland, participants got a chance to try a Finnish sauna experience, visit the Snow Castle of Kemi and the polar house. These activities are also linked to the objectives of Creative Steps, allowing participants and creative sector businesses to engage. Visits to these cultural spaces allowed participants to observe cultural business in action. Also for example while in Northern Ireland, participants visited R4 Tyres, which assigned one of the projects worked on. In Finland, in Tervola, an evening was held where entrepreneurs from start-up and more established companies in the Lapland area got together. An inspirational panel of four entrepreneurs from different sectors told their stories about working in the creative sector.

Connecting disconnected creatives

Creative Steps participants were also distant from each other at times. This made online forums very important to facilitate Creative Steps. Students were also trained to use the iLinc learning environment and coaching sessions and presentations were given through the iLinc platform. In addition, each team created a Facebook group and held Skype meetings. After the workshops, students continued to work on their projects for a further two weeks and the final results were presented one month after the workshops. Creative Steps also has its own Facebook page.

Online communication in initiatives such as Creative Steps, that brings international teams together, is vital. However, this should not replace in person contact. For example, these comments help to illustrate: “I would definitely recommend the project to others but I do feel there is more to be gained from face to face working with people over online communication”. “In my opinion the face to face part was very important. Nothing can ever replace it”. “The online weeks were a good experience but were very hard. We had to work in our free time and work around everyone’s schedule.

Broadening skills and growing in confidence

Visual depiction of teamwork across teams

Students also took away additional skills applicable in the wider working world. For example: “Prezi training took place today which was useful and introduced a new tool so we would be able to present our presentations to our client online and in a new and innovative way. I feel Prezi is something I will use regularly now after this project is finished”.

One central part of Creative Steps was connecting businesses with young talents. Engaging with business was challenging, but a positive learning experience that helped participants to grow in confidence and skill: “…He also gave us very useful information on the company and also let us know some of our limitations…We found our business very approachable and luckily for us he was very open-minded and loved our creative ideas. He told us to break barriers and not to be afraid to be innovative and creative”.

Taking Creative Steps

To sum up, Creative Steps from the participants perspective was: “Fun, creative and very useful at the same time”.
The Creative Steps initiative was a great success with positive feedback received from the students, graduates and businesses who took part. The programme has the potential to be replicated internationally.

Further information

See the picture gallery

Creative Steps – watch video clips in the media gallery

Press release – 14/01/2013 Creative Steps encourages young people to network internationally

Poster - Call for Creative Steps participants

Creative Steps Facebook page