Marimekko, Iittala, Artek—many are familiar with these classic design brands, but a surprising number of people are unaware they are from Finland. Yet companies such as Nokia and Fiskars and products such as Angry Birds are known around the world, and the scope of young entrepreneurship in Finland is without parallel.
The raw, Nordic climate has always challenged the Finns to come up with extraordinary products and has left its imprint on the country’s culture of handicraft. It is a well-known fact that Finns are among the best-educated people in the world. For some time now Finnish school children have scored at or near the top of the worldwide PISA rankings in mathematics and natural sciences conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). And one only has to think of group sauna sessions and other collective rituals to be reminded of Finland’s proverbial sense of community.
Yet despite all that, or perhaps because of it, the Finns have invented some of the most bizarre competitions and cultural achievements known to man, including wife carrying races and championships in air guitar and mobile phone throwing. The country has also spawned grandmothers who drive top fuel dragsters, world-class snowboarders, and a string of world champion rally drivers.
With their role-model qualities paired with inventiveness and craziness, Finns can be trusted to tackle almost anything, and they will come up with stuff that you wouldn’t have thought possible. It is precisely these character traits that form the wellspring of Finnish design and corporate culture. In no other country is there so much official backing for enterprise yet so much free rein to be wacky.
With Out of the Blue Nokia has produced a book that goes beyond Alvar Aalto, Artek, and Marimekko to present modern Finnish design and frame it in the context of a national self-awareness. Edited by Marko Ahtisaari, Nokia’s long-serving head of design, the book is a window on Finnish design and product culture and a lesson in how Nokia mirrors the typical Finnish characteristics of inventiveness, community spirit, love of liberty, and ongoing transformation.
Born in 1969, Marko Ahtisaari is the son of former Finnish President and Nobel laureate Martti Ahtisaari. An entrepreneur, designer, and investor, he is currently a director's fellow at the MIT Media Lab. Between 2002 and 2013 he worked in a number of capacities for Nokia, most recently as vice president of design and as a member of the leadership team. Marko Ahtisaari has an in-depth knowledge of Finland, and his contacts within the international design scene are second to none. Few people are better qualified to identify how Finnish design differs from other cultures and where its special potential lies today.
Laura Houseley is a design consultant to a number of key international magazines, manufacturers, and creative agencies. A former senior editor at Wallpaper*magazine, she contributes to a broad range of publications, including the Financial Times, Arena Homme, Numéro, and Tank.