I have been following the results of the Fennia Prize design competition since 1998. At the time, I was writing from the perspective of a journalist, and award updates were regularly released in the Form Function Finland magazine published by Design Forum Finland. Even the name of the prize, Pro Finnish Design, was different. The competition was dubbed Fennia Prize in 2003.
The perspective changed as I transitioned from a design journalist to an information officer and then to writing texts about the award recipients. This has required keeping an eye on the competition panel’s efforts and learning about how design is used in each company. It has been interesting to see how the ways of utilising design expertise have changed over the past two decades and change.
Initially, the prize was always awarded to a well-designed product. There were devices designed based on user needs, innovations developed into products and use of new materials. There were product lines that strengthened brands and identities, especially from established companies. Awards went to tableware sets, textiles, furniture and technical devices from mobile phones to paper machines. In particular, blending high-level engineering expertise with user-oriented design was a winning combination.
The Fennia Prize competition is Design Forum Finland’s platform for highlighting concrete examples of the benefits of design.
Gradually, new areas of design were added into the mix. In 2012, the first prize went to a transmission line tower; it turned out even something like that could be an object of design. In addition to its impressive visual appearance, the tower provided structural and land use related benefits. Later, honourable mentions have been granted to a tourism concept, a paint retailer’s outlet concept and a large construction company’s customer service concept. People have become more aware of the possibilities granted by design to develop operations in companies. Last time, in the 2020 Fennia Prize competition, the first prize went to a business and service concept for the first time.
The Fennia Prize competition is Design Forum Finland’s platform for highlighting concrete examples of the benefits of design. We can point out the multitude of ways that design expertise can be utilised in different fields, areas and companies as well as the public sector. This has resulted in many benefits from participatory citizenship and more accessible services to increasingly responsible products and a more in-depth understanding of customer needs. As the competition’s slogan states: Design for the future.
The Fennia Prize competition has always awarded companies and organisations for their use of design, instead of products or designers for exceptional design. The choices have strived to encourage organisations towards even more in-depth utilisation of design, pushing them higher on the Design Ladder. (Design Ladder is a diagram originally used by Danish Design Centre, which describes how the use of designs in a company climbs a metaphorical ladder all the way to the strategic level.)
The challenge has been reflected by the evaluation criteria and the award panel’s efforts: award recipients are being required to utilise design in a more strategic way. It is also clear that as the ranges and levels of using design have expanded, this development has been mirrored by an increase in the maturity of design among companies. A clever and innovative new product alone is no longer enough to win the prize.
If you are granted an award, you are most likely utilising design at a very high strategic level. Many studies have shown this to be a sign of a successful company or organisation.
The Fennia Prize competition has also served as a way to test the level and quality of using design: if you are granted an award, you are most likely utilising design at a very high strategic level. Many studies have shown this to be a sign of a successful company or organisation.
The Fennia Prize 22 competition will begin in the autumn. Once again, the aim is to find companies and organisations that use design in a strategic way, and to celebrate innovative and customer-oriented high-level design. A new key evaluation criterion is responsibility, whether it be economic, ecological or social. Design expertise has again spread to new areas where the tools and processes involved are useful. Welcome aboard – is your company the next success story of strategic design?
Design Forum Finland
The Fennia Prize 22 design competition, aimed at companies and organizations, is arranged by Design Forum Finland and Fennia in co-operation with the Finnish Patent and Registration Office and Elo.