Celebrating design


Helsinki is World Design Capital 2012, but what does this mean – a storm in a pretty teacup? For the Finnish capital, it’s about seeing design as a verb rather than a noun.

Few would deny Finland’s iconic status in the annals of design history. Every self-respecting design aficionado is on a first-name basis with the likes of Alvar Aalto, Kaj Franck and Eero Aarnio.

And naturally most people know Marimekko. Renowned for its playful prints and inimitable colour palette, the design powerhouse is now making a bold international foray with new stores recently opened in New York, Oslo and Stockholm, as well as a pop-up opened last week at Selfridge’s department store in London.

There’s Nokia, of course, one of the pioneering companies to harness industrial design as a strategic driver of its product development. The mobile giant is now bouncing back in the smartphone segment with its new Lumia 800, the first Windows Phone to seamlessly integrate gorgeous looks with intuitive functionality.

For a success story in the rising field of eco-design, click on our article about Globe Hope, the award-winning Finnish fashion house that re-crafts discarded materials into edgy ethical fashion.
Whilst taking pride in these and other headline-making achievements, Helsinki’s World Design Capital year is not just about celebrating cool chairs and nice coffee cups – it’s about exploring design as a process that drives change in all areas of life.

Engineering happiness

The World Design Capital 2012 programme features a number of projects you might not instantly associate with the word ‘design’, yet all of them use creative insight in never-before-seen ways to improve quality of life.

One visionary example is 365 Wellbeing, the Aalto University’s spearhead project for the design capital year. Design students will tackle 12 real-life challenges, such as how to reconnect seniors with society and how to humanise psychiatric care. Users will be recast as designers in co-design workshops – after all, they are the best experts on what they need.

The same democratic thinking was put to work when youngsters aged 10-15 were invited to co-design a kids’ book café to open in the Annantalo Arts Centre in downtown Helsinki. Creating lampshades, tableware and hand-stencilled cushion covers, the young designers transformed the café into a colourful playground of the imagination. Kids are naturally creative, so why shouldn’t they take part in the design process?

You can design an appealing café, but can you design a happier workplace? The Redesigning 925 project says ‘yes’ by using a design methodology to re-engineer the workday and release us from the digital shackles that enslave us. Its mission is to put more fun, freedom and flexibility into the workday – and make us more productive rather than just plain busy.

Less concrete, more jungle

The Fifth Dimension is a project looking at how green roofs can create healthier cities. The eco-benefits of rooftop gardens are uncontested, but they also have vast unexplored social potential – as ‘dementia gardens’, for example. By fusing design and urban ecology, Finnish researchers hope to green the city in ways never seen before.

Get in Form is another pilot project offering innovative services to city-dwellers. New-generation exercise stations will be placed around Helsinki’s Töölönlahti Bay, where passers-by can enjoy their daily exercise for free. The project aims to show that gruelling workouts at the gym aren’t the only way to stay fit – with clever urban design, you can get into shape with painless spontaneity.

These and all other pilot concepts being tested as part of the World Design Capital year will be further developed based on user feedback.

Read the expanded article in Blue Wings (pp. 34-45)

To find out more about these and other WDC projects, visit WDC2012´s home page.

In the news

Helsinki has received wide international media coverage in the lead-up to the World Design Capital year. British style magazine Monocle named Helsinki the most liveable city in the world “for its fundamental courage to rethink its urban ambitions… and the guts to pull it off”. The New York Times ranks Helsinki second on its shortlist of 45 top places to visit in 2012. The Guardian describes Helsinki as a “design lover’s paradise” and The Financial Times looks at how design is as integral to the Finnish national identity as salted fish and the Moomins.

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Text by Silja Kudel

Published January 13, 2012

Category: Local features