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Mari Isopahkala and Iina Vuorivirta

Young Designers of the Year 2013

Who are you and how did you become a designer?
Mari: I’m freelance designer Mari Isopahkala, professionally active in Helsinki. I settled in Helsinki as a result of my studies at the University of Art and Design Helsinki. I wanted to be a furniture designer when I grew up, but I turned out to be a product designer.
Iina: I’m Iina Vuorivirta, aged 24. A designer in the field of applied art and design. I’m originally from Inkeroinen in the Kymenlaakso region of Southeast Finland. I began my studies at the Lahti Institute of Design, from where I went on to Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm. At present I am working on my master’s degree at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design (Konstfack) in Stockholm along with exhibition projects abroad.
Tell about your work!
Mari: I’m a freelancer, self-employed. I like to collaborate with different kinds of firms and companies. My work is mainly to create forms and design for various products. The product can be hard or soft, ranging in scale from jewellery to kitchen furniture or spatial design. I also participate regularly in international exhibitions and fairs where I display my new product prototypes to find manufacturers for them – in order to establish yet more contacts with companies on a world-wide basis. The international aspect is very important, even though my main partners in collaboration are Finnish companies.
I’m quite observant – like probably all people in the creative industries. A great deal of what I see and experience remains in my mind and memory. It’s from there, from the subconscious, that they find their way, in due time and in the right context, to sketchbooks and finally to three-dimensional products.
Design is the command of entities – and much more than just drawing and creating forms and shapes. You have to pull strings, and keep creativity fresh alongside it. I don’t like being rushed to the point of panic, but a deadline is nonetheless a blessing.
Iina: I have a wide professional range in my work, and the curiosity to seek new things is one of my predominant features. I would describe myself as a story-teller – an analytical craftsperson. I want to offer the users of my products minor moments of insight, tales that everyone can carry on in their own way, making them their own, thus creating a life-long bond between the object and the person using it.
Mari: And I do what I like and what inspires me. I also like to set challenges for myself. I don’t want to restrict myself and the things I do to any given scale or material. I feel that what I don’t yet know I’ll learn. I come across different opportunities every day. You just have to see them and take them on. Sometimes I’m simply guided by intuition, suddenly finding myself in different situations and projects. Taking part in a competition, for example, opened up the world of jewellery design for me. Glass design came from my exchange student period in the Czech Republic…
What inspires you?
Iina: I’m inspired by the banal. Simple everyday matters, phenomena and realizations. The beauty of the process/making/manufacturing. Raw materials! Emptiness and silence. Being occasionally alone and pausing.
What is hard in your work?
Mari: I’m my own worst critic. When I’m satisfied, most things are right. I also feel that I’ve succeeded if the client is satisfied. A real smile and reaction also tell that something may have gone well.
Iina: Decisions are the hard thing about my work. It’s great to have time to study materials, to seek inspiration from even the most unlikely places, to experiment and to devote time to even the smallest ideas, freely, without considering where it will all lead. But since the work must be completed, often according to schedules dictated by others, you often just have to choose, brutally crossing out lots of ideas and closing paths, even when you feel they might lead somewhere.
When do you feel you have succeeded in your work?
Mari: For me, a successful product is a thing of beauty and proportion, with form, material and properties of use in mutual balance. Functionality and consideration for the environment are self-evident for me as a product designer.
Iina: There are many moments of success. Things that may seem to be completely insignificant provide reassurance that something will yet come out of a project. Regardless of the time, I always end my working day by cleaning and organizing my work space. It’s also a good opportunity to go through the things that have succeeded and the ones to be taken a step further the next day. Whatever the day’s been like, after that little moment I always have great enthusiasm to go on.
What is important in a product?
Iina: Longevity is the important thing about a product. Timelessness, quality, the joy of everyday use.
What's your greatest dream in design?
Mari: My great dream in design is for quality to replace quantity and for beauty to be appreciated. I hope people would learn to think harder when buying products. Mass consumption is unethical and not my thing in design work.
Iina: My great dream in design is to carry on and to work hard in an international career. To learn and to be inspired, to exchange knowledge and skills with other designers around the world. After graduating I want to put together and be surrounded by a small team of inspiring people of the creative industries and to establish a working collective. Here in Finland!
What's it like to be young designer in the 2000s?
Mari: There are many opportunities in our present era. You can engage in a wide range of work if you only have the desire and perseverance to do so. There are, however, many skilled people in this field and competition is stiff. I believe, however, that when you find the thing specific to you, it will function and bring you more work. Following trends and rapid changes of styles bother me. Present-day design work also takes place at a very fast pace. I don’t believe it will necessarily lead to good design in the long run. I hope that people can see tranquillity and carefully considered nuances in my work. Quality and individuality. There may also be influences from old working methods and ways of treating materials.
Iina: Deep respect for traditional skills of the hand is always present in my work.
Will the work of designers change in the future?
Mari: I would like the designer’s profession to be soulful and spiritual in the future. The kind of work in which a team involved in the product design process would increasingly offer time and energy, jointly and equally, to create the best product. Without hurrying and with understanding. Design always calls for a vision, perseverance, the breaking of boundaries and the courage to make an entity, a package, of the whole set. Only courage can lead design to new dimensions.
Iina: Problem solving is a major part of the designer’s work. I believe that designers of the future will have ever-greater problems to solve.
What inspires you right now?
Mari: I’m involved in many things at the same time and I’m inspired when I can change materials and scale. I’m particularly excited about my present work as an entity. It’s fine to be able to work right now!
Iina: I’m inspired by so many things right now. Spring and the beginning of the fishing season! The sequels to the successful project in Milan. An exhibition trip scheduled soon for New York, and of course the coming summer exhibition at Design Forum. Brass and copper are inspiring materials, as well as marble and jesmonite compound. Optical illusions, capillary action and weightlessness – and how to capture them in everyday matters and objects.
What next?
Mari: What next? Let’s wait and see what the subconscious puts on paper and who will next ask me for it. The path will be found, no doubt about it…
Iina: I am now mid-way in my master’s program at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, and after a pause this summer with ceramics I’ll return to Stockholm to my 24/7 routine of working. In the autumn I will participate in the London, Taiwan and Beijing design week events. Before that, however, I want to spend a moment back home, fishing at the summer cottage and wandering in the forests.
(AV 9 April 2013)