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February 2019

Design export and the country image

Nordic simplicity, clear shapes, naturalness. Lots of wood, often combined with cutting-edge technologies. Functional solutions originating from some practical need. This is the world of objects where lives the world's happiest nation!

The idea about the country image and design as a part of it arose when we at Design Forum Finland were asked to give a presentation about the status of Finnish design and current projects to the members of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. We would have loved to tell more than what we did! British Simon Anholt recently made a visit to Finland – he has participated in the Finnish country image teams and was now introducing the Good Country Index which he has developed. Finland came first in this comparison. We are said to be on top in design, too. But what makes Finland a design nation in the 2020's?

Actually, design became part of Finland's country image as early as in 1900 at the Paris World Fair. Then, the Grand Duchy profiled itself with a pavilion where the ornamentation originated in nature and mythology – Finnish quirkyness. Since then, this successful concept has never really been abandoned. In the 1940's and 50's the Grands Prix at Milan Triennials were also gained with themes from nature, original idiom and reduced exhibition architecture (sometimes born from the lack of resources). In the 2010's the fashion design students of the Aalto University have received great international renown utilizing this quirkyness and even weirdness.

Originality and creative ideas bring, of course, distinguishabllity and one has to stand out, whether you are selling furniture, fashion or a country image. But quirkyness doesn't necessarily boost the export numbers. Where to find the ability to market Finnish quirkyness – salty liquorice and heavy metal? Or should we nevertheless focus on something... more useful?

Finnish design export initiatives are scarce. Individual designers can have a fair stand in Stockholm or Milan, design schools display showy but rather conceptual exhibitions and Finnish fashion may get a stroke of luck or two. The scarcity of design export projects is partly due to the fact that these kinds of projects are rarely supported by some organization. Naturally, there are business opportunity trips, sparring programs and development projects but an individual design company or designer feels a little lost and quite lonely.

Finnish Promotion Board names five attributes as Finland's values and identities in its country image strategy (2017). We are reliable, inclusive, equal, problem-solving and quirky. These words aptly describe today's Finnish design, too! Naturally, its image needs updating at least in the eyes of the international media; instead of tangible objects we'd rather talk about successful solutions and the better everyday life this produces. In this, we have at least as long an experience as in quirkyness.

We do have much to promote and export. But design expertise could be part of this more powerfully – now it is more like a tourist attraction than a spearhead of export projects. Who would be interested in promoting export and/or country image based on design?

Photo: Rolf Ekroth's collection, styling: Tuomas Laitinen,
photo by Chris Vidal Tenomaa



Graphic Designer of the Year: Lotta Nieminen

Grafia, the Association of Visual Communication Designers recently selected Lotta Nieminen as the Graphic Designer of the Year. Nieminen, better known abroad than in Finland, is an illustrator, AD and graphic designer whose clients include some of the world's top brands. As a graphic designer Nieminen's style is austere and elegant, as an illustrator she does colourful works playing with details. Lotta Nieminen's works will be on show at an exhibition at the Design Museum in March.

Photo: Grafia






What's the news, ecodesign?

Our EcoDesign Circle project, concerning design and the circular economy, will end in March. The closing conference of this joint project of the Baltic Sea countries was held in January in Vilnius, Lithuania. The opening speech was given by Marius Vaščega, Deputy Head of the European Commission Representation in Lithuania, and the seven participating design organizations each presented their achievements within the Circle. Project Manager Aino Vepsäläinen from Design Forum Finland told about the EcoDesign Sprint tool we have developed and experiences of the pilot companies.

Presentations of EcoDesign Sprint continued in Vilnius in February, as Lietuvos dizaino forumas invited local companies and design professionals to a mini workshop combining design and the circular economy. During the day, the participants had an opportunity to test the main processes of the Sprint, discuss the tool and reflect on the methods of design and the circular economy in regard to the operations of their own company. Aino Vepsäläinen from Design Forum Finland told about the development of the tool and the event was facilitated by the circular economy expert Anne Raudaskoski from Ethica Oy.

Photo: EcoDesign Circle partner meeting, photo by Jorigė Kuzmaitė