Finnish line

Scott Billings visits Finland during its Design Year to see if design still has a specifically Finnish flavour

Mikko has a background in architecture and Heikki is a carpenter. The two have combined their influences to produce clean, simple furniture designs with a wide appeal. One of the duo’s first products, the Compact bed, with its built-in drawers, has proven popular with trade and private customers.

While this side of the business is taking off, Mikko’s intention is to use Sjutton OksÃ¥ as an outlet for designs that are a bit more experimental and innovative. ‘We decided that opening our own store would allow us to develop more radical designs than pursuing a [retail] empire chain. We are mixing common, mainstream products with individual and experimental designs that reflect our ideas more directly,’ he says.

The brothers’ ideas route from different influences. Mikko’s inspiration goes back to 1950s Modernism, particularly in Finland, while Heikki is more interested in a retro style from the 1970s; a more colourful and personal touch.

‘These things are sitting quite well together. Heikki is getting into the groove of a style indigenous to Helsinki at the moment. It is an ecological design, a visual appearance that has developed into a form of language. He has a strong interest for doing something that has a personal touch to it. If it was just me, it would be less interesting,’ says Mikko modestly.

It has been an active year for Miisa Suvisaari, managing director of Tango, the multidisciplinary consultancy she opened in Helsinki in October 2004. Giving up her role as an account director at Design Bridge in London, Suvisaari returned to her native Finland to form a ‘world class’ consultancy and spent much of last year in planning.

Tango sits as a dedicated design division within the advertising agency TBWA/PHS Group, part of Omnicom. As Finnish clients have historically sought design solutions from their advertising agencies, housing Tango inside TBWA helps to smooth clients’ migration to a focused design consultancy, according to Suvisaari.

‘In Finland, ad agencies have been handling design, but this is all changing now. We wanted to spin off design operations from the TBWA agency,’ she explains.

Palpably ambitious, Suvisaari is not at all diffident when it comes to fighting talk. ‘[In Tango] we have the first truly strategic design consultancy in the country that is operating to international standards. I want to grow Tango to compete internationally, against London consultancies, as well as Swedish competitors.’

A primary task for Suvisaari and design director Henrik Hallberg – a Swede who speaks virtually no Finnish – is to educate clients on the benefits of a strategic design process. ‘Finnish clients often don’t understand brand strategy and thinking, or using design to express a brand. But they are beginning to and the market is expanding very rapidly,’ says Suvisaari.

Since its launch last autumn the number of employees at Tango has jumped from seven to 17. Major Finnish clients include oil company Neste Oil, gardening product company Kemira GrowHow and long-established national metal manufacturer Rautaruukki, now branded as Ruukki.

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