Design Delegate: “Finnish design is unique because of our nature”

Four changing seasons with extreme conditions, rich nature with snowy hilltops and the archipelago, thousands of lakes, and busy urban cities… It’s no wonder Finland and its nature keep inspiring Finnish designers. But how is Finnish design distinctive from, say, Scandinavian design, and what role does nature play in its history?

Finnish design has developed under two very distinctive influences. On the one hand, ever since the 1950s, Finland has been developing the so called Scandinavian Design brand alongside Sweden and Denmark. Partly due to this, people might still associate Finnish design with the general Scandinavian style family. On the other hand, Slavic culture with its bright colors, stark contrasts, floral patterns and ornaments has left its distinctive mark on Finnish design. How then, has a design language that is distinctly ours developed? One cause is our unique nature and the way it has affected the life of Finns throughout history.

According to Design Delegate Jorma Lehtonen from the Finnish Design Foundation, Finnish design is permeated by the influence of nature. “Finnish nature and its forms can be easily spotted for example in textile designs, ceramics, and glass objects,” Lehtonen claims.

Beautifully simplistic

The roots of modern Finnish design grew in times when everyday objects had to last long and withstand rough conditions. Finnish nature calls for durability and no doubt this idea still affects Finnish design today. It seems that even today Finns prefer buying one quality item that will last over buying ten cheap alternatives.

According to Lehtonen, Finnish design shows its functionality and durability even in the most mundane objects. “If you examine items like Fiskars’ gardening tools, the Finnish design philosophy is evident – they’re meant to be used by actual people, they’re beautifully designed, they’re recognizable, and their quality and durability is second to none.”

Allowing materials to shine

Finnish design is like nature, always changing. But some aspects, such as being inspired by Finnish materials have persevered through time. For example, Juuripuu’s or Punkalive’s furniture lines seem to take center stage by letting wood show its texture and shapes, even if the form is quite modern.

Finnish nature is visible not only in the materials used, but also as an inspiration for patterns. Summer flowers and Finnish nights, be it wintery aurora borealis or twilight in the summer, inspire designers to produce interesting patterns and ornaments. Finnish design these days is both modest and natural, but also colorful and surprising. The Finnish designer couple Saana ja Olli, who were awarded in 2016 with Design from Finland mark, are living proof of this dualism being strongly rooted in contemporary Finnish design.

But which Finnish designers is design delegate Jorma Lehtonen himself inspired by?  “For me, the Finnish designer Harri Koskinen has been a constant source of admiration – there’s something very Finnish yet international about his works. At the moment I’m also following Valmet’s power plant designs with great interest. It’s fantastic to see how a machine the size of an apartment building can still be functional, safe-to-use, aesthetic, and user-friendly.”