Apply New Thinking rather than Optimising the Old

Dr. Kathrina Dankl is the founder and managing director of the co-creation consultancy Studio Dankl. Through her professorship at Design School Kolding in Denmark, the studio, which specialises in innovation projects, is optimally connected to university research and thus to current knowledge.

Kathrina Dankl studied industrial design and did her doctorate in design anthropology. Her doctoral thesis “Very Experienced People: An Ethnography of Design, Aging and Style” (2011) deals with the role of objects in the course of life. Kathrina Dankl worked as an assistant professor at Design School Kolding from 2014 to 2017 and is now employed there as an associate professor at the Lab for Social Design. Her research areas include design for health, design diversity, and participatory design.

Kathrina Dankl has published numerous papers in peer-reviewed design journals, for conferences, and anthologies such as Design Studies, CoDesign, The Design Journal and Design Issues. Prior to co-founding the design office danklhampel, she worked for Theo Williams and Defne Koz in Milan. In 2012, she started her own Studio Dankl and since then has been developing products and services in the areas of health, food, mobility, family, living, and demography. Many of her projects have won prizes such as the Moving Emotion Award from Magna Steyr (2003), the Award for Innovation and Marketability (2005), and the Viktualia Award (2014) and are part of the permanent collections of design museums. Kathrina Dankl has curated a number of exhibitions such as “Design Diversity” for the museum Wagner:Werk in Vienna (2014) and “Familienmacher” for the Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art (2012). Her work has been exhibited at Salone del Mobile (IT), Mart Rovereto (IT), and 100% Design Tokyo (JP), among others. Each of the projects is characterized by careful research into the social context of a new product or service and tries to reconcile economic, ecological, and social aspects. Knowledge generated in design practice supports scientific work – and vice versa.

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Making is thinking.

A conversation with Kathrina Dankl about the power of polyphony and the search for what really moves people.

In a nutshell: What is Studio Dankl about?

A particular focus of the co-creation consultancy is on the question of how innovation can be anchored in society and companies. By means of co-creation, Studio Dankl integrates employees, customers, and their network of experts into product development.

“Change is a team sport!” What exactly does this motto promise?

Companies and public institutions are part of developments in society as a whole. They are therefore required to design their proposal in such a way that it is relevant for people. Stakeholders offer the largest pool of knowledge and experience for addressing organizational development, new services, or products. The co-creation method integrates this knowledge into the development process of new solutions – with some decisive advantages: The product or service is the result of an actual need and requirement expressed by people. The more involved a subsequent user is in the development, the more likely it is that a feeling of co-ownership develops, thus promoting loyalty and long-term use.

„Stakeholders offer the largest pool of knowledge and experience for addressing organizational development, new services, or products. The co-creation method integrates this knowledge into the development process of new solutions.“

Kathrina Dankl at the Press Safari, opening of Vienna Design Week 2021. Credits: (c)VIENNA DESIGN WEEK/Kollektiv Fischka/Philipp Podesser

„There is an increasingly better understanding of what design can achieve in very different organizational, social, or political areas. Design is inherent in everyday processes.“

How has the design landscape changed in recent years?

There is an increasingly better understanding of what design can achieve in very different organizational, social, or political areas. Design is inherent in everyday processes: For example, submitting a tax return can be an easy process, design is also used here. Thinking differently about administration or social systems is particularly exciting. Design is a locally anchored, strategic practice in which objects, form, and materiality play a decisive role. The contemporary design process is carried out by professional designers, but, importantly, multiple players are involved.

At Studio Dankl, design meets research excellence. How do the two work together?

For me, research and practice are inextricably linked. Design research classifies questions in an overall context, develops a strategic orientation, provides an overview of processes and methods, and combines those that make sense for the corresponding project. On a formal level, research excellence at Studio Dankl is expressed in publications in peer-reviewed journals or through participation in international research projects such as Horizon 2020. I am part of the editorial team of journals such as Artifact: Journal of Design Practice and am involved in the organization of design conferences such as Nordes2021. Thus, I am continuously connected to new knowledge.

In the MAK Future Lab, students and senior citizens developed scenarios for New Work in co-creation workshops. Credits: © Mona Heiß/MAK

„Ethnographic design research in particular is about learning what moves people, what the meaning behind a product or object is, what works and what doesn’t.“

Studio Dankl sees itself as a micro-agency and focusses on you as a person. What do customers appreciate about it?

I am the customers’ first point of contact: I bring my experience to bear directly and personally. As the project progresses, it becomes clear what will be selected from the various concepts and pursued further. Accordingly, I am expanding my team and adding skills from our hub, for example communication designers, illustrators, artists, technicians, and software developers.

Do customers always have a precise idea of what they want? How do projects come about?

It varies substantially. Here are two examples: For The Ideal Eating Experience – an exhibition on sustainable production and consumption –, a client I had worked with previously approached me. Already in the first conversation we agreed that this project should be about an experience rather than a classically prepared exhibition. So, you first set out a few basic points and can start from there. For I Love Brot – a collaboration with a Viennese bakery chain –, I was interested in working on the subject of food waste and I approached possible cooperation partners directly. Overall, the initiation phase is important because knowledge about design and methods is passed on. I therefore also offer keynotes and workshops so that interested parties can sound out whether the co-creation tool fits their organization at all and which areas are of particular interest.

What are the aspects that you find particularly exciting about your work?

Sometimes, this is actually the first phase: How is the project defined? What is the background? Why do it at all? Ethnographic design research in particular is about learning what moves people, what the meaning behind a product or object is, what works and what doesn’t. The stories behind it embed a product in a whole life and special context. To learn from how people deal with objects, how they find strategies to use them sensibly – that is a large reservoir, a pool of inspiration for design that is very exciting.

Do you have a favorite among your projects?

A topic that has occupied me for a long time relates to the phases of life and aging. What are the pivotal points in life, those points where decisive things happen, where maybe even an entire existence changes? This is exactly where design can make a contribution by suggesting alternatives, be it in the health care system when you fall ill or in your native company when you retire. I am particularly interested in the meeting of the public and the private spheres, everyday life, and the world of products or services. This topic runs like a red thread throughout my work.

Design meets research excellence

Teaching positions

Since 2014 Design School Kolding Denmark, Lab for Social Design, Teaching on BA and MA Level
SS 2016 Caritas Magdas Design: Participatory Design for Social Businesses, New Design University, St. Pölten
SS 2014 The Health Distributors 2051 with Prof. Fiona Raby, Collaboration with Vienna Biennale. Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien, Institut für Design
WS 2014 Reload my Pharmacy with Prof. Fiona Raby, Collaboration with L’Oreal. Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien, Institut für Design
SS 2014 How Things Don’t Work. Design and Ethnography in Practice. Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien, Institut für Design
SS 2014 Designtheorie. Technische Universität Wien, Institut für Kunst und Gestaltung
SS 2013 Designtheorie. Technische Universität Wien, Institut für Kunst und Gestaltung
SS 2010 Designtheorie. Technische Universität Wien, Institut für Kunst und Gestaltung


Dankl, K., Akoglu, C., & Bro Egelund, K. (2022). A contemporary framework for probing in social design: on continuous dialogues and community building. CoDesign, 1-22.
Dankl, K., & Akoglu, C. (2021). Tangible Care: Design as a Vehicle for Materializing Shifting Relationships between Clinicians and Patients. Design Issues, 37(2), 5-15.
Knutz, E. & Dankl, K. (2021) SCALING EXPERIMENTS IN URBAN SPACE – AN EXPLORATORY FRAMEWORK. In: Brandt, E., Markussen, T., Berglund, E., Julier, G., & Linde, P. (2021). Proceedings of Nordes 2021: Matters of Scale. In Nordic Design Research Conference. DESIGNSKOLEN KOLDING.
Dankl, K. & Knutz, E. (eds). Exhibition Catalogue of Nordes 2021: Agency in the City of Kolding. August 2021, Kolding: Denmark
Martin, R. W., Brogård Andersen, S., O’Brien, M. A., Bravo, P., Hoffmann, T., Olling, K., Shepherd H., Dankl K., Stacey D., & Dahl Steffensen, K. (2021). Providing balanced information about options in patient decision aids: an update from the International Patient Decision Aid Standards. Medical Decision Making, 0272989X211021397.
Dankl, K. (2020). Shared Decision Making. In Zwischenmenschliches Design (pp. 47-68). Springer VS, Wiesbaden.
Dankl, K., Stögmann, E., König, T., Moritsch, S., & Hanke, S. (2020). Multidimensional Design Research for Dementia and its Methodological Opportunities for Cross-Disciplinary Consortia. Design Journal, 23(4), 597-619. 10.1080/14606925.2020.1768758
Akoglu, C., Dankl, K., & Dahl Steffensen, K. (2019). A design-led patient campaign development process for disseminating the concept of shared decision making. Design for Health, 305-323.
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Lectures, panel discussions, workshops

»For a better future of design: Ecodesign Talk«, Member of Panel Discussion with Lotte Kristoferitsch, Sebastian Leitinger und Vandasye, 28 September 2021
»Studio Dankl and Co-Creation«, Designer’s Circle Nürnberg, 3 May 2021
Comissioned Keynote
»Postprodukt«, Symposium‘s Co-Organization und Chairing, 7 March 2019
»Urban Food Strategies«, Member of Panel Discussion with Marije Vogelzang et al,
Vienna Design Week 2018
»Developing a General Decision Aid for Future Cancer Care: Getting Feedback from Users in Busy Hospital Environments«, ISDM International Conference for Shared Decision Making 2017, with Canan Akoglu and Karina Dahl Steffensen [Peer Reviewed], Lyon July 2017
»Peer feedback: Using disciplinary-specific teaching formats as „bridges“ to enable student enga¬gement«, DUN Conference 2017, with Tine.W. Jensen [Peer Reviewed], May 2017
»Writing in design education: The Magazine and the Studio as vehicles for writing development«, EATAW 2017, Royal Holloway, University of London, with Tine.W. Jensen [Peer Reviewed], London, June 2017
»Design for Future Consumption« Discussion Series on Sustainable Design, IDRV/Designforum Vienna 1 December 2016, Member of Panel Discussion
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»Re-Thinking Retirement/An Academy of Life«, 26th Biennial of Design Ljubljana, SI, 2019-2020
»Public Design Consultancy«, Vienna Biennale, AT, 2017
»Viribus Unitis«, Hofmobiliendepot, AT, 2016
»Design Discourse: Austria – South Africa«, Cape Town, ZAF, 2014
»Tomorrow is…«, MAK – Museum für angewandte Kunst Wien, AT, 2014
»INNENaußenINNEN nicht digitale, virtuelle Räume«, Kunstraum Niederösterreich, AT, 2013
»Progetto Cibo. La Forma del Gusto«, Mart Rovereto, IT, 2013
»Werkzeuge für die Designrevolution«, Designforum, Wien, AT 2012, designHalle, Designmai Graz, AT 2013
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Since 2014 Kunstmagazin Parnass 3/2021, Urban Food: Kunst, Klima, Zukunft?, AT
SS 2016 Schaufenster Die Presse, Nr. 29/24.9.2021

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Co-Creation Impuls


Be inspired to think transformation in a participatory way.

  • Keynote
  • 20-45 minutes
  • Q&A
  • possible in the organisation or online

The keynote communicates the added value of co-creation as a sustainable, strategic innovation tool for the public and private sector. Co-creation principles, cases and design process inspire decision makers and employees to think about transformation from a participatory perspective.

Focus content:
— Outlining the transformation of the design discipline from product design to strategic innovation tool
— Insight into co-creation principles, impact and design process
— Concrete, inspiring cases.

Target group: Employees, decision-makers and team, conference participants

Number of participants:

Co-Creation Kickoff


Learn to apply co-creation and start with a sound roadmap.

  • Workshop
  • 4 hours
  • in the organisation or at Impact Hub Vienna

The workshop is aimed at organisations that want to learn about co-creation and involve their team in decision-making processes on strategic innovations. With a focus on applied co-creation principles and methods, the workshop provides a deeper understanding of existing expertise, relevant stakeholders and first process/system/product/service prototypes as a roadmap for co-creation in your own organisation.

Focus content:
— Basic principles of co-creation
— Definition of relevant challenges from the participants' perspective
— Interactive prototyping for efficient validation of assumptions
— Start of a co-creation roadmap

Preparation for participants:
— Anecdote about challenge and success pattern
— Product, device or a production material from your field of work

Target group:
Decision-makers plus team from the public and private sector

Number of participants:
9-12 persons

Co-Creation Now


Start into the future with a Co-Creation process tailor-made for you.

  • Process design and support
  • Depending on the project, approx. 4 to 18 months

Co-creation is contextual and situational, so no two design processes are exactly alike. From a pool of proven methods and creative processes, we put together a customised and project-dependent process. This is divided into a preparation phase in which the goal, desire or opportunity is identified, an implementation phase that covers idea generation, prototyping and implementation up to evaluation, and a post-project phase in which adaptations are made and projects are further supported.

Focus content:
— Based on a free initial consultation, offer for a tailor-made project divided into preparation phase
— implementation phase
— post-project phase

Target group:
Organisations from the public and private sector

Number of participants:
To be determined jointly for co-creation activities.

Co-Creation Ideas Ping-Pong Over Lunch


If you have lunch with artist Timotheus Tomicek and designer Kathrina Dankl, you will be served new perspectives.

  • Sparring/Exchange
  • 60 minutes
  • Q&A
  • Three centrally located venues in Vienna to choose from.

The artist, filmmaker, and photographer Timotheus Tomicek and the designer Kathrina Dankl share a long-standing tradition of occasional lunch dates. An unstructured exchange of ideas often opens up new perspectives on one’s own work. We invite project partners, customers, and other interested parties to have lunch with us. Everything else – including new perspectives – arises situationally during the conversations.

Focus content:
— Eating together
— Guest shares current topic, challenge, project idea
— Questions, reactions, perspectives, input, ideas from Timotheus and Kathrina

Target group:
Decision-makers from public and private organisations

Number of participants: 1