The (unexplored) roots of Finnish design

Habitare, the biggest furniture, design, and interior decoration event in Finland, is approaching. Habitare’s theme this year, Roots, highlights the origin and personality of design. The theme inspired Johanna Lahti from Design from Finland and Tero Lausala from the Association for Finnish Work to discuss Finnish design roots and whether there are still design stories left to be told.

Functionality is a force of nature

In our harsh Nordic surroundings, things have to work. “If Finns meet design that is not functional, there’s an instant counter-reaction,” Tero notes and Johanna continues: “The fact that Finnish people are so skeptical towards new things, is good – our pickiness is the best quality guarantee.”

Think about it, you wouldn’t want a flashlight that stops working in the middle of a dark forest when it’s – 30 °Celsius outside. Or scissors that go dull just when you’re about to fillet a freshly caught fish at your summer cottage.

Finnish design reflects what we experience around us, whether it’s our rocky archipelago or calm shimmering lakes. “Simply put, form follows nature,” Johanna states. “In addition to the functionality-first thinking, the impact of Finnish nature is visible in the materials, shapes, and forms of Finnish design.”

Never mind the global market, here are the niches

Compared to other Scandinavian countries, there’s still huge international growth potential for many Finnish design companies. The question is, where do we find the building blocks for, say, new Nokias.

One source can be using more elements from that famous “Finnishness” and translating them into global marketing and design stories. For example, how could the Finnish quietness people love about us serve as a source of inspiration for service design? “There is still quite a bit of work to do in recognizing our own potential and expertise and turning that into a story to share with the world,” Johanna ponders.

Giving birth to “Coca Cola-like-brands” is pretty unlikely these days. Johanna agrees: “Subgenres are becoming stronger and stronger and finding market niches is the key to success.” When target markets are becoming increasingly fragmented, it can seem daunting to think how one could develop the next big thing. However, an incoherent audience can also be a great resource.

“Consumers yearn for genuineness, humanness instead of massive corporations. The feeling of safety and homeliness instead of globalism and cold technology,” says Tero.

Authenticity comes from genuine brand stories. Think about it, how many countries actually have design that is genuinely theirs? Finnish people have always used Finnish design, like iconic Arabia dishes and Fiskars tools in their homes. Being so woven into the daily life, Finnish design can truly be called Finnish.

Technology meets innovative design

In the future, the Finnish design expertise will continue to grow in the field of technology and innovation. Traditional pieces of Finnish design can be enhanced with technology – Kalevala is a perfect example of a company that combines the traditional art of jewelry making with smart technology, thus providing new innovative solutions through technology. With their tracking devices, ReimaGO and Suunto are taking on the challenge of encouraging children to move and exercise more. Layette maternity app combines modern technology with the near-legendary Finnish maternity welfare clinic knowledge gathered over decades.

“Adding a technology layer to industrial design needs to provide something consumers actually need and improve usability, not complicate things just for the sake of using the latest technology,” Tero says.

Design from Finland’s virtual reality home, KOTI, demonstrates how design knowledge and long traditions turn into immaterial design. “VR and AR technologies provide value and easiness – soon we might be able to see whether we like a design object in our homes virtually before purchasing,” Tero describes.

VR KOTI, that can be tested at Habitare, is important way of showcasing Finnish design around the world.

“When high technological expertise and innovative design meet a genuine story, success is guaranteed. Finnish designers should explore their roots in depth and find their own unique stories to share with the world,” Tero concludes.

How many countries actually have design that is genuinely theirs?