More on natural born designers

Nice to see someone has taken the trouble to pick up this dummy and hang it up somewhere it might be found again. Do you see the bit of brilliant Finnish design on the clip? Seriously, I wonder what Maija Isola (creator of the poppy graphic for Marimekko) made of the success of her motif (she only died in 2001 so would have witnessed its revival among people who weren’t even born when it was launched in 1964).

Granted that the design is probably not there for the benefit of the baby but is an investment made by the parent or other doting adult, and granted that babies are probably not interested in design, might this kind of early learning possibly still have benefits in terms of nurturing great future designers? (Can’t help noting here that image has trumped function. Surely the clip is there precicely to prevent the dummy from getting lost in the first place).

My personal view, as I argued a couple of posts ago, is that the built environment is probably more important to a child’s developing sense of beauty than a logo or a print or a graphic design.

So it’s nice to read that someone on the pages of the Helsinki 2012 World Design Capital website is daring to voice a critical view of the idea that Finns are “naturally” great designers. Miikka Leinonen (described as the creative director of some group I’d never heard of) writes that he’s among those who’ve always found it somewhat oppressive to operate in the long shadow of Alvar Aalto (a view that’s no longer that unusual). He adds, rather ambivalently I think, some observations about Finnish designers’ tendency towards simplicity and minimalism. It can add up, he notes, to reducing what is truly complex (even chaotic) to a clear and simple core. Implication: there might be a loss in celebrating such clarity as common sense (peasant wisdom = maalaisjärki) or as the pinnacle of functionalism.

Given the very consensus-based and, to be frank, often smug and populist tone of Finnish public debate, we here at JHJ began to wonder whether there is a link between this nostalgic minimalism in industrial design on the one hand and lack of nuanced self-criticism in politics on the other. (However, with the Centre Party continuing its farcical internal wranglings, we can report that criticism aimed at others, both in one’s own party and another, is alive and well).

Anyway, Leinonen goes on to make another important point. What designers need to understand are the very complicated needs and experiences of people. These might, indeed, be getting buried more and more under the imperative to “compete internationally”. Alas, this is the peg on which Leinonen ultimately hangs his otherwise delightful little column. Heck, it’s the new ideology, who could resist?


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