The roots of Finnish design – the design of decorative and everyday items, furniture, clothing, textiles, graphics and jewellery – go back more than a century. Along with visual arts and architecture, design was harnessed to support the new nation state that was looking for a national identity. The first national school for designers was also established.
Design first turned to the long tradition of handicrafts and natural ornamentation for inspiration. This style is usually referred to as Finnish jugend, or the national romantic period. In the period between the First and the Second World War, many designers were influenced by the new, modern way of life, and the functionalist school gained more foothold in Finnish design in the 1930s.
The ideals of functionalism included emphasis on light, function and purity of form. Straight, geometric lines and angles and Finnish materials were preferred. Functionalism manifested itself in Finland especially in the shapes of furniture and lamps used in public spaces.
The 1950s were the golden years of Finnish design. Artists from different fields were successful in international design competitions, and designers enjoyed increasing acclaim at home. A key factor behind the success was the versatile training of the artists and their deep understanding of the materials they used. Since the late 1930s, their artistic experiments had also received strong support from companies and factories. The material poverty of the post-war years produced the plain, almost minimalistic Nordic style, which nevertheless concealed certain richness, rhythmic power and unique details.
Towards the late 1960s Finnish design took a more commercial and industrial turn. Plastic was used as the material of colourful design products, and large print patterns were popular in textiles. Pop art and the space race inspired the designers, and appliances and machines increasingly became objects of design. The designer was regarded as part of the product development process, and the designer's responsibility was mentioned more and more frequently. As a consequence of the 1970s energy crisis the development of design slowed down for a while, but recovered again during the next decade. New techniques and materials, such as laser cutting and carbon fibre, were introduced. Especially textile and furniture design were transformed by the application and combination of new materials.
In the past few decades, new technology has played an important role in the shaping of Finnish design. The development of the electronics industry, for example, has required designers to reinvent themselves continuously. User-oriented design has become an important part of the design process, and environmental problems and overconsumption have inspired the designers to turn to ecological questions. More and more designers choose recycled or domestic materials as the raw material of their products. Clear-cut lines and high quality of the products have once again become key features of Finnish design.