Finnish Design: Discover Modern Nordic Design In Helsinki
From the colorful prints of Marimekko to Ittala glassware and the functional Artek furniture, Finland is not short of leading names in the world of design.
The Nordic nation is a major destination for anyone interested in art and design, and there’s no better place to discover the details than the Finnish capital and UNESCO city of design, Helsinki.
A European city of design
While the city of Helsinki itself is quite compact, almost half of Finland’s 5.5 million residents live in and around the capital region.
In 2014, Helsinki became the first Nordic city to be designated a UNESCO Design City. Part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, the Design City designation recognizes Helsinki’s design-focused cultural landscape, design schools and design-driven creative industries.
A visit to Helsinki isn’t just about design museums and shopping opportunities. The city itself is a constantly evolving example of integrated design thinking. Baking user perspective into the design process applies to the design of objects but also public services, public spaces and visual identities across the city.
Contemporary architecture is also a feature of any city break in Helsinki, whether you deliberately visit the buildings or simply admire them as you wander past on your way elsewhere.
The striking wooden facade of Oodi Library and the fascinating Temppeliaukio—better known as the rock church—are particular highlights.
Top Finnish design brands to watch out for
Design is an integral part of Finnish culture. Many of the fundamentals of Finnish and Nordic design involve simplicity and our connection to nature.
“Our nature is quite clean, pure and simple and that maybe effects the design and our desire for how the design should be. So it’s functionality but still beauty with simplicity.” said Design Store’s Johanna Kettula in a video interview with DW.
Top Finnish brands to watch out for while in Helsinki include the bold Marimekko prints, classic Artek furniture and tinted Ittala glassware.
Marimekko: If you’re walking past a ship window and vibrant, bold patterns catch your eye, chances are it’s Marimekko.
The brand’s iconic poppy print is splashed on everything from textiles to mugs, while other large-scale floral and abstract shapes evoke a similar sense of joy.
Artek: Best known for its timeless furniture, Artek pieces showcase clean lines, organic forms and natural materials, especially wood.
Co-founded by legendary architect and designer Alvar Aalto, Artek is a master at blending form with function. Iconic pieces such as the Stool 60 and the Savoy Vase can be found in many Finnish homes, offices and hotels.
Iittala: Known for elegant shapes, fluid lines and a delightful use of color, Iittala glassware is one of the best souvenirs to buy for anyone interested in Nordic design. While not cheap, the timeless design and high-quality finish mean Iittala products will take pride of place in any home.
Of course, Finland’s vibrant design scene goes well beyond Marimekko, Ittala and Artek. There are many other noteworthy brands and emerging designers to be discovered in and around Helsinki.
Fashion brand Samuji focuses on timeless, functional, and sustainable designs that combine Nordic roots with global influences. Secto Design’s lamps are crafted using sustainable Finnish birch and boast a distinct, minimalist style.
Many other emerging names have already collaborated with major Finnish brands, such as talented textile and surface pattern designer Aino-Maija Metsola who has produced several works for Marimekko.
A design tour of Helsinki, Finland
Make Helsinki Design Museum your first stop to get context for your later adventures in the city’s bustling design district. Through thousands of objects and images, the museum gives a comprehensive and engaging introduction to Finland’s rich history of design and its impact on Nordic culture.
Design District: The city’s lively design district is the place to go for shopping but it offers so much more. It has become a creative hub, home to independent designer studios, galleries, creative agencies and architecture firms. Numerous cafes, restaurants and bars add to the area’s appeal.
Oodi Library: This striking example of contemporary Nordic architecture is also the best example of Finland’s commitment to design thinking in public spaces. The flowing form clad in spruce timber makes for an attractive addition to the Helsinki skyline.
Opened in 2018 to commemorate 100 years of Finnish independence, the library features an internal public square on the ground floor, transforming the traditional library concept into a modern public space featuring a cafe, exhibition area and event venue.
Facilities such as recording and editing studios, and a makerspace with 3D printers, laser cutters, and sewing machines expand the concept of what a library can be in the 21st century.
Rock Church: Known as the rock church in English, the fascinating Temppeliaukio church was carved into solid rock, creating a striking appearance and wonderful acoustics.
A true landmark for the city, the rock church is a sought-after location for concerts and other events beyond church services. It’s yet another example of how Finnish design seeks to connect with nature wherever possible.