Maksalaatikko, the heart and liver of design

We mangled a classic Finnish dish, liver casserole, through a set of modern design methods. Because we can.

Maksalaatikko the heart and liver of design

Finnish liver casserole with frozen lingonberries. (Photo: Juho Kokkola / MLK)

Liver casserole – maksalaatikko in Finnish – is more than a prepared microwave meal up for grabs at your local grocery store. It’s a culinaristic statement created in the post-war Finland of the 1950s. With an attitude that is both sweet and no-nonsense at the same time, maksalaatikko is something you just need to experience.

While not exactly part of the fine dine scene – yet – good old maksis isn’t going anywhere. In a respectable age of 70 years, it’s still kicking butt. You can find the famous aluminium foil covered boxes at any given Finnish grocery store or kiosk for less than three euros. Maksalaatikko is a regular star at the world-famous Finnish school cafeterias too.

Boxes of maksalaatikko sold in our lovely Finland each year: 9,000,000.

As a meal, maksalaatikko splits opinions. You love it or hate it. This goes for school children and adults alike. There was even a national survey, which proved liver casserole being a true partisan issue in Finnish kitchens.

Maksalaatikko is a strange little thing. See, it doesn’t quite taste like liver. Or like anything else for that matter. And no wonder. The basis of maksalaatikko is rice porridge, which is prepared and thrown into the mix to meet the actual ground liver.

When it comes to ingredients, it’s hard to say who the real hero is. The name has liver (maksa) in it. But there’s more than that to our hero. Like raisins. Yes, raisins. Oh, those sweet little raisins. Skip these when putting a good ol’ maksis together and get prepared for a storm of furious feedback. As far as condiments go, #1 here is lingonberry jam.

According to the Finnish food industry company Saarioinen, the average amount of raisins per a box of maksalaatikko is 21. They manufacture 9,000,000 boxes every ear. So, they ship 189,000,000 raisins inside liver casserole boxes each year.

Other ingredients include butter, syrup, eggs and onion. As a whole, maksalaatikko is strangely sweet.

But let’s not waste any more time by talking about maksalaatikko’s odyssey. I’m sure there are books written about her – and probably an indie movie or two.

perfect hey should we add some raisins

What were they thinking? – Designing maksalaatikko

The story of maksalaatikko is one of beauty and one of design. This is why I came up with an idea to retrospectively break its essence into pieces.

For this, I picked up a few design methods – all courtesy of (Interested in my study or not, you would be smart to check them out. They are great.)

So let’s go crazy. What kind of a world was maksalaatikko born into? What were the big shots thinking – and talking – about?

why raisins

Method 1: Let’s talk

Inspiration: Conversation starter
“‘Conversation Starters’ are all about getting a reaction and sparking dialogue.”

Okay. So maybe maksalaatikko isn’t the result of intense workshopping and robust market research. Yet it’s fair to assume that a certain amount of creative discussion preceded its conception.

A quantum leap to the 1950s. Let’s imagine we have a design team. There is a group of people too. Consisting of a relevant sample of maksalaatikko users of the future. But there’s no maksalaatikko. It hasn’t been invented yet. We need to get an idea and bring light to this dark maksalaatikkoless world of the past.

Conversation starters work as sparks to get a fertile, relevant discussion going. A foundation for further brainstorming and design work.

With maksalaatikko, these talking points could have been something like this.

What is the best thing about ready-made dishes?
What annoys you the most in cooking?
What would be your ideal meal?
What is the most important quality in a convenience food meal?
What do you dislike the most about eating supermarket food?

the design needs raisins

Method 2: Maksalaatikko to the rescue

Ideation: How might we?
“A properly framed ‘How Might We’ doesn’t suggest a particular solution, but gives you the perfect frame for innovative thinking.”

Hopefully, the conversation starters brought up good points and challenges. Now it’s time to start cracking them.

For science, let me cheat a bit. Let’s say that one topic which popped up during our conversation starters earlier was time issues. During the era, family mothers were rapidly entering the Finnish job market. Great! However, this meant less time to cook for the kids and hubby. (Hey, it’s the 1950s after all.)

So there’s one. How might we bring something quick and delicious to the tables of Finnish families?

Something quick, cheap and somewhat familiar. The final maksalaatikko recipe also consisted of ingredients that Saarioinen, a Finnish business company, had easy access to right away and at minimal costs. Also, let’s remember that at that time competition in the Finnish convenience food market was moderate to say the least.

With maksalaatikko, the answer to our “How might we?” is obvious. But everything is once you know the answer.

See? We’re getting closer.

well we've got extra raisins and they are cheap so let's add them

Method 3: It’s the journey, not the destination

Implementation: Rapid Prototyping
“Because prototypes are meant only to convey an idea – not to be perfect – you can quickly move through a variety of iterations.”

In a perfect world we could see and taste the very first iterations of maksalaatikko. To start testing, Team Maksalaatikko first needed to decide what to prototype.

What did the team test and play around with? The taste? Size? Packaging?

Rapid prototyping means testing different solutions for your challenge… well, rapidly. With a quick iteration, it’s easier to get back to the drawing board as new ideas and feedback emerge.

And what kind of prototypes could the maksalaatikkoists have rapidly produced?

Something besides liver?
Served cold or warm?
Whose idea was it to add rice porridge in it?

One without raisins?
Why raisins?
Was is an act of courageous creativity? “The design really needs raisins!”
Or a dish designed out of necessity? “We’ve got extra raisins. Raisins are cheap. Let’s add raisins.”

The list goes on.

As Design Kit puts it.

“(…)this process is about learning, not getting it right the first time. Better to test a miserable failure and learn from it, rather than take ages making a beautiful, highly refined prototype.”

“Highly refined” or not, maksalaatikko’s design has fundamentally stayed the same for decades. If there was a prototyping process, we only get to see the final version of testing.

And the “miserable failures”? Maksalaatikko without raisins? Unfortunately, we can only guess.


Getting ready for maksalaatikko in Töölö, Helsinki. (Photo: Juho Kokkola / MLK)


So that was fun. While 99 percent hypothetical, putting something as mundane (at least for us Finns) as maksalaatikko through design methods works as an exercise of its own. By looking at a design project retrospectively, one can play around with a set of perspectives to an end product.

How did it come to be? What were the challenges the team faced before the idea? Was it all random? Maksalaatikko. Why would they design that?

In this post, we only took a shallow glimpse at three methods from a set of dozens. So you might want to take a closer look to the material at Design Kit. Even better, test them out as a part of your next project.

At the very least, you’ve got some brand new maksalaatikko trivia to impress and confuse people with.