Location: National Museum of Finland
We left the hostel at 10:30 to get to the National museum at 11:00, where we received entry stickers and a small tour of the building. The museum was created by the three Finish architects Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren and Eliel Saarinen from materials entirely found in Finland. When the museum was built, 104 years ago, it was built with the intention of becoming a museum, so, its design mimics the objects it contains in its architectural style. Finland became Independent one year after its construction, in 1917. Because Finland had been a colony of both Sweden and Russia, its mythology mimics both Norse, Slavic and Estonian. Legendary stories are depicted as great murals on the ceiling of the museums entrance. We had been shown a small hut, that was an actual farmhouse lived in 200 years ago that had been moved to the museum. We were then taught how to make a himmelj. A himmelj is a diamond shaped Christmas decorations that would bring luck when they would blow in the wind of the household. If they would stop swinging it would mean bad luck, so it would always be placed in the part of the house with a draft. A himmelj is made from reeds and hay connected with a string.
Location: Helsinki Design Museum
All 50 students were given a guided tour of Design Museum, divided into 2 groups. The tour guide spoke with a strong Finnish accent and a solemn tone of voice, clearly emotionally engaged with the exhibits dating from before the second world war to the current times. The magic happened once he opened a drawer to reveal a Nokia 3310. That was my first ever mobile phone! And then Angry Birds, Eero Aarnio's ball chair, Marimekko clothing, a machine gun used in the war for independence, a mosaic exhibited in Milan in 1906, Ittala glasses, Alvar Aalto's vases and chairs, a set for babies that the government provides to all Finnish families for each newborn. Icons, pieces of art and mass production. The pride of a small and big nation, speaking of poverty and simplicity, of Identity and Community.
Reaktor is a multidisciplinary studio that began with a focus on technology and software engineering that is incorporated within their design. They were much more than appeared and expected; although they are so large, you could still feel a sense of community and socialisation in the studio. They take the space of 3 floors above a University facility in the heart of Helsinki city and is the roots of 6 international locations that the studio has expanded to. They take pride in their use of a flat structure that creates equality and levelness across their employees. The size of their company allows their limits to extend much further than a regular design studio, having the capability to do more experimental projects with larger clients. They have even introduced their own satellite that currently has no purpose (yet). Their ethos appeared to introduce the idea of pushing boundaries that in in turn encourages their clients to follow the same direction with the intensive hours they spend collectively on projects. The talk was led by Art Director Matti Tuominen and one colleague. Within their presentation they tried to refrain from flicking through Reaktor’s portfolio of work, and instead spoke of their ideologies, processes and inclusive attitude. One of the projects they displayed was the partnering with Lego. Their idea stemmed from the need to encourage a younger age group to gain knowledge and skills in coding and software development. A lot of their projects intend to work towards growth, technology and the future with a high quality design to complement it.
During our visit to Werklig, the maker of Helsinki city branding, we were quickly astounded by the work showcased by its co-founder, Anssi. Their journey behind the creation of Kyrö Distillery Company’s visual identity was particularly remarkable. More than just the work, but funny stories behind each visual element kept me engaged. Anssi was very nice too. He revealed that working in a studio sometimes we need to make compromises. Although as designers we want to create something meaningful in our work, the reality is that at times one simply has to make things look good for the client.
Location: Kobra Agency
Kobra’s work would have been seen on our first trip out in Helsinki at the design museum, being a partner with them, they created a sticker-like branding for the then current exhibit. We were invited into their small intimate studio space, greeted by a table filled with printed outcomes of their work. Printed design is something that Kobra appreciates, but understanding the current climate they are aware that a “digital language” is needed for designers. You could see an array of different styles throughout their printed works - something backed up by themselves as they informed us that they purposefully don’t have a “house style”. Kobra show an ability to be able to project character and personality through typography with their Gutsy Go project. Encouraging the youth to be part of their local community, Gutsy Go also had to represent the youth in a way that made them proud to participate and associate with Gutsy. The slightly awkward "off"" typography reflects this perfectly, the slightly odd, squished and misshaped letterforms capture adolescence perfectly. Though, presented in a dynamic, modern and exciting way through kinetic type and bold colours that the youth taking part of this wear Gutsy Go’s branding with pride. In a completely different style their packaging and branding for Botany create a unique experience for the user. Through use of simple symbols, Kobra creates a code to be discovered and understood by Botany’s users. Working with the theme of science and mixing natural elements, it gives the experience of mixing and creating something yourself whilst maintaining a connection to nature. This is underpinned by a stripped back black branding, giving the sense of mystique and almost magic that’s waiting to be understood. Kobra shows an extremely versatile set of skills and styles for such a small studio, with an incredibly fresh attitude to design.
Location: Aalto University
It snowed the afternoon we visited the Alvar Aalto designed Art School building in Otaniemi. White tiled walls and curved wooden handrails, glossy brown tiled pillars and long windows. At Aalto University Finnish students pay nothing to study. Lunch is subsidised - 3 euro’s as much food and coffee as you want. In conversation we hear “we Finn’s are proud to pay our taxes so everyone can have space and time to study, can eat and not worry about money’
In the design studios we introduced ourselves as animals - slug, cockroach, horse, snail. Listened to how it works there and reciprocated. Looked at small books printed in Estonia, drew together, ate traditional rye scrambled egg tarts made by the students and left with a pocketful of red and white striped Marianne mint chocolates. Thanks to Penni Osipow, Arja Karhumaa and Ramia Maze. aalto.fi
Tsto is a graphic design agency who focuses on visual concepts and art direction. Two of the designers, Matti and Antti, shared the honest story of Tsto through a humorous presentation and gave us an insight to the thought-process behind their designs. Their approach to design begins by striping it back to its bare essential and then building it in a new way, bringing their ideas to life. When designing the visual identity for Finland's biggest summertime festival, Flow Festival, the first thing they asked themselves was 'what does a festival sound like?'. Given the amount projects they take on, you would never believe they're a studio of only 3 people!
Our visit to Merkitys was amazing and surprising. A range of beautiful publications were made by such a small, two-man studio. Safa, one of the design partners showed us a diverse portfolio showcase. Rather than showing slideshows of works, they instead displayed many publications on a table and treated it like a Q&A. Commercial or not, they unwrapped many nuances and decisions they made when creating every publication. Both partners were very nice indeed. We shared a lot of different thoughts together. They taught us about unique Finnish culture and their processes while creating their publications.
Location: The Peoples archive (Kansan arkistot)
Founded in 1945 by the Finnish communist party. For 14 years prior it had been illegal to set up a leftist political party. People stored their papers in attics, cupboard, under floors and in garages - buried them for later, preserving their own present for the future. We are told to always sign and date our posters and photographs incase one day they need to be catalogued in an archive. We were handed white gloves (that were too small) and brown boxes - in them; pictures of the left wing children’s movement ‘the pioneers of democracy’; documents from the 1785 journey men tanners (left-wing leather workers); hand painted drafts for communist movement logos; photographs of snowy marches and of hand drawn banners held high; articles about secret printing presses hidden in chimneys producing illegal newspapers during Soviet rule... The archive is 80% state funded.
Location: Tino Nyman Design Studio
Tino Nyman’s studio space (which he shared with two other of his friends and fellow freelance designers) was one that, as soon as you walked through the door you could tell there is an incredibly calming and relaxing work atmosphere. I believe that a work space can often say a lot about a person and with beautiful plants everywhere and nice bright open spaces, we could tell we were going to be greeted by a talented bunch of designers. We were all so impressed with the variety of projects that the three designers have taken on over their career so far, with Marina Veziko starting off the visit by showing us her creative directive work for Henua organics. It was not only finished to such a beautiful quality, but the unique approach she took with this project was visible across her whole body of work. The second designer, Tino Nyman went on to show us his very bold but successful self-initiated project that he took on after University. He decided to use his impressive editorial and typographic skills to the test by self-initiating his dream project: a porn magazine called Rivo, started in 2015. As he passed around one of the copies, none of us could believe that he had done this project when he was at a similar stage in his design career as us! Piia Emilia was the last designer to show her work and it was quite different to the other two designers, with most of her work being more focused on really well crafted art-directed pieces. She clearly has a natural talent for art-direction and she avoids second hand photoshop editing, creating structures and art forms with organic and natural materials, that not only look stunning but defy gravity as well. It was so fresh to hear honest opinions about ways of working and true feelings on projects, with them mentioning that, whilst they have done commercial work before, they now all usually prefer to work with smaller groups of people. All three designers worked in such different ways, and it inspired a lot of us to think more about working the hours that best suit us. Designers aren’t often cut out to work a normal 9 to 5. I definitely think it’s safe to say the three freelancers completely exceeded our expectations and everyone left feeling very grateful and inspired. It was a great start to our last day in Helsinki. tinonyman.com marinaveziko.com piiaemilia.com
Location: Suomenlinna Island
Finally, on a gorgeous day with a bright blue sky, we took the ferry (part of the public transport network) from the Market Square. After cruising for 10 minutes we landed on Suomenlinna island. Surprisingly, Juha Huuskonen, the director of HIAP, the Helsinki International Artist Programme, was traveling on the same ferry and came to greet us at the dock. Juha kindly took us on a guided tour on this fortified island, with wooden traditional houses, a church that works as lighthouse, grass, bridges, stones. After walking through a run down football field, we got to the rocky sea side. The view of the Baltic Sea was astonishing and so was to see tens of students jumping everywhere in the distance. Juha showed us the facilities of HIAP as well: a studio and living space and the large conference room. Here he held a real lecture for us introducing the mysterious and dark history of that place currently used as an Residency Programme for contemporary art. I wonder myself how it would feel to live on this beautiful island for an extended period of time and how that would affect my design work.