The practice is putting all these disciplines to work at the moment. Having completed an annual report for the Estonian Credit and Export Guarantee Fund, KredEx, it is now putting its mind to the TV graphics for a pan-Baltic reality show called Jungle Stars for production company Ruut, and new packaging and branding for the Tallinn Ceramic Factory, which is due for launch before Christmas.
Although Karu sees himself as Velvet’s voice for packaging and corporate branding, some of his previous experience will stand him in good stead for Jungle Stars. No stranger to broadcasting, Karu’s claim to fame is as the creator of the print material for the 2002 Eurovision Song Contest, which was hosted by Tallinn. And he’s recently picked up the Estonian Music Award for best pop video, Tere Kertu by Estonian band Chupacabra.
While most of his work comes from local clients, there are also customers from the UK, Finland, Norway and the US (Estonia’s four major trading partners are Norway and Germany, along with neighbours Finland and Russia, whose last troops left the country in 1994). This is a good thing, given the size of the Estonian marketplace. This diminutive Baltic state has a population of less than 1.5 million, with a GDP per capita of not much more than $12 000 (£6400), compared with the UK figure of nearly $28 000 (£15 000). Hence Velvet’s interest, in the future, in working on international projects.
While Karu doesn’t make a distinction between local and overseas clients, he has defined two types of approach. ‘There are clients that have a problem and clients that want something to be done. The first one appreciates you as a professional and the second one uses you as a tool. What I have learned is that the most fertile projects are not the ones with the best budgets or timetable, but the ones where the client respects you,’ he says.
It is not only Estonia’s design industry which is at its early stages, but design education as well. Without proper training in commercial design, the community will be peopled by artists playing at business, Karu believes. ‘Real life needs more problem-solvers,’ he says, and that’s true wherever you’re based.