Monday, September 17, 2007

The myth of Finnish design

According to international studies, Finnish industry today is among the front rank for competitiveness: state-of-the-art information technology and high levels of innovation, combined with excellent research and education, create a strong competitive edge and a basis for industrial success now and in the future. In the 21st century, an increasingly important part of this overall competitiveness has been played by industrial design and the added value it confers: it is frequently what makes a product the first choice.

Finland became known as a leading country of design in the mid-20th century largely thanks to glass blowers' innovative approach to design. In the middle years of this century, Scandinavian design became celebrated for its reachable approach to modernism, and the warmth and humanity of its products mesmerized an international market.

The myth of Finnish design began with Eliel Saarinen’s national-style interiors and Aalto’s functionalist furniture, progressing towards Wirkkala’s somewhat more romantic style and the sculptural forms of Sarpaneva. The legend of a small, northern country’s struggle against the forces of nature and the pressures of history provided a basis for marketing design with mythical elements: snow, ice, forests, lakes, the summer of light and sisu (perseverance) were an inspiration to designers.

In the 50s and 60s, the Finnish national identity was internationally built up largely through design, architecture and music. The images arising from this made Finland stand out between East and West and created a unique identity for it. Distinctive industrial arts became an export also in an imaginative sense. The myth of Finnish design was complete.

by Anne Stenros

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