Design is about making the future tangible

Design is about transforming sparks of ideas fueled by opportunities, challenges or needs into concrete solutions. ‘Enter and Encounter’ is about showing what the new present and the probable future are about, writes Design Consultant Paula Bello.

This year Finland hosts a centennial celebration in many ways. The year 1917 not only saw the independence of Finland, but also the start of a conscious, resourceful and strategic effort to build a renewed identity for the new nation. For the first half of that century, design, art, architecture and music played a central role to conceive a distinctiveness characterized by strength, authenticity and purity. Individual stars such as Alvar Aalto, Jean Sibelius, Tove Jansson, Tapio Wirkkala, Timo Sarpaneva, Kaj Franck, or Armi Ratia put a face to a movement, to a golden age of creativity and productivity.

Nonetheless, there were many anonymous faces enabling those superstars to shine: educational institutions, guild associations, governmental programs, industrialists. Even if those were very tough times surrounded by wars, disease and poverty, Finland rose above them with great dignity and success. Finland became internationally known as a design nation. Finland became a symbol of hope and power.

Today design is facing an unprecedented transformation

Fast forward to 2017, and here we are today. The tone of the public debate today is grim. We are overwhelmed by political chaos, the consequences of economic and social inequality, and environmental challenges. Unfortunately, there is a fraction of the population enhancing the differences and demeriting our society, rather than highlighting what unites us, what makes us strong and the potential the we have. The positive side of that turmoil is that it generates counter-forces that DO NOT accept the status quo and are creating new ways.

At the same time, the last century has seen more technological developments that we have ever seen before. Innovations multiplied and were adapted exponentially faster than earlier. As a result of those developments, the standard of living rose considerably for a high percentage of the population, and alongside it demands for better products and services.

If we put things in perspective within the frame of the last 100 years, the immense challenges that we face today come along with new resources to face and solve those challenges.

One of those resources is – once more – design.

As we are today facing a new definition of what it means to be a citizen in a rapidly changing world, design is also facing an unprecedented transformation. Perhaps the essence of design is not changing: the capacity of humans to transform nature and society. However, the material from which it works and the methods that are used are being shaken to their core.

Design is about making the future tangible

Design is about transforming sparks of ideas fueled by opportunities, challenges or needs into concrete solutions. ‘Enter and Encounter’ is about showing what the new present and the probable future are about.

The exhibition presents some of the most outstanding examples of Finnish Design today: to show what already is, and to shed light of what it can be tomorrow.

In other words, examples that challenge the present and will shape the future.

The transformation of design is not a Finnish phenomenon, simply because the biggest challenges and prospects are global: the transformation is happening everywhere and examples like those here today can be found in many places. What is unique is the set of resources that Finland has today: a highly educated population, a solid democracy, industry transforming itself, a pioneering technological platform, and a first-class world reputation. The combination of these gives us a rather unique position in the world, even if the current public discussion seems to steer to what is lacking. And if we compare today with the situation Finland had in 1917, and how even in those conditions it thrived to become a world example, one cannot deny that the assets and capabilities are much greater today than they were then. It leads one to think that along with them comes them responsibility not to take for granted what we have and to make proper use of those resources.

The existing global leadership in education, sustainability, technology, communications and health comes with the duty to share and spread them into wider, more accessible solutions. The walls of Design Museum today host examples of doing exactly that. Their range shows a diversity of outstanding approaches. Above all, they share a starting point: they all proceeded from a brilliant idea, but most importantly, from an individual or a small group of people passionate and driven to make it happen.

Finnish Design can no longer be understood as it has been in the past

A new golden era may be unfolding. But it is of a different sort:

If in 1917 design was about finding out what it meant to be a Finn, today it is about conceiving what a global Finn is.

If in 1917 design was about building pride, today it is about activism and humility.

If in 1917 design was about differentiating from neighbors, now it is about becoming a role model for sustainability, education, health and communications.

If in 1917 design was about building a national industry, today it is about becoming a leading node in the global sphere.

If in 1917 design was crafted by superstars, today it is democratized and in the power of every citizen.

If in 1917 design was made out of wood, glass, ceramics and steel, today it is also created from ideas, data, health, education, communication, services and stories.

If in 1917 design was about giving form to function, today is about creating content and experiences from current phenomena.

For those of us who are Finns by choice rather than chance, those of us who have come to Finland out of admiration, and perhaps come from more vulnerable contexts, I can’t help but feel optimistic of the future here and now. At the end of the day, yes, there are overwhelming challenges but there are even more opportunities to make a better world. Enter and encounter what that better world may be.