Photo by Chris Force
Photo by Harald Raebiger/City of Helsinki
Photo by Niko Soveri/Visit Helsinki
Photo by Niko Soveri/Visit Helsinki
A Decade of Helsinki Design Week: Part 1/4
Friday, July 25th, 2014
Text by Chris Force, Amanda Koellner, and Chloe Stachowiak
In the 1950s, the Scandinavian design movement surfaced and found Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland steadily demanding attention for their respective contributions to the global design dialogue. Marked by a new take on minimalism and a focus on functionality, the region would go on to gift the world with brands as ubiquitous as Ikea and H&M as well as design favorites such as Artek and Marimekko.
To celebrate all things Nordic and spread the gospel of design, Finnish designer Kari Korkman founded Helsinki Design Week 10 years ago. The annual city festival and celebration of the myriad ways that design appears in our lives spans industrial and product design as well as fashion, communication, music, and more—enveloping all facets of the design world under one large, party-filled umbrella. The program takes place in museums, markets, seminar halls, and secret shops—each year expanding the festival grounds so that visitors can fully explore Helsinki.
Last year’s event brought in 50,000 people and boasted more than 120 events and exhibitions, and this year’s festival, set for September 4–14, promises just as wide of an array of activities. The 10th annual edition centers on the theme “Taking the Leap,” and the main venues include the Slaughterhouse, the Old Student House in the city center, and the Cable Factory.
How do you prepare for Helsinki Designer Week?
We work throughout the whole year with the professionals to plan. We have to bring in fashion, architecture, and industrial design to the same platform. All the new ideas come from between all of these platforms.
How does the event benefit designers?
We have [some] architects and designers who are quite poor when it comes to communication. But then Design Week gives them a chance to communicate about their achievements, and it helps them. Our open studios are how we try to encourage them to open their doors and let people in.
It seems that Helsinki Design Week is a very democratic approach to high-end design. Is this intentional?
Yes, democratic in terms of how natural it always has been when we talk about design in Finland. I grew up in a family where we used the design icons’ work in our everyday use, and they weren’t more expensive. It’s definitely our intention to lower the threshold so it’s easy to access. We’ve succeeded in some parts and still have a lot of work to do in others. It’s a process, and it’s about creativity as a whole. Design itself is useless. You need to have initiatives from other fields in order to come out with new designs and new business.
There seems to be a movement to bring design to consumers, bring it outside of the trade, and make it more interdisciplinary. Because of that, design has become more global, which improves things but also makes them somewhat homogenous. Do you ever consider that when trying to support Finnish design? Are there things that are uniquely Finnish that this show represents?
I’m sure that individual designers carry their cultural backgrounds, but support- ing Finnish design shouldn’t mean that we become nationalists or that we try to have a label of Finnish design. I think that in the global system, individual designers should be supported, but to find manufacturers and markets outside Finland is hard. What is Finnish design? It’s a very vague thing nowadays, and we have more and more designers who come from somewhere else and start to design in Finland.
There’s also a large change in the markets—many manufacturers have left Finland and are disappearing to other countries. South America and Asia are emerging. It’s a challenging time, but it’s our hour of opportunities if we utilize it correctly.
There seems to be a unique situation with design in Finland. The history of design still is relatively new, and, for example, graphic design doesn’t have such a storied history. There’s a lot of freedom and flexibility to invent a new approach. Do you ever think of what your commitment needs to be to the design community for the future?
I should be thinking of that! There is too much happening, and we should really slow down a bit and take a few steps back and consider carefully where we put our energy. I think the nature of Finnish graphic design is that we have a distance from the main markets. So we have time to consider and think a bit. My role is that I can gather people around the topic and demonstrate with my team. And with this, we can have an influence and temporarily can turn it into something continuous. Our role for design week is to raise the question and make people think about what is necessary. Should we do things differently?