This article is the third in a series I wrote for “KulaItzuv” Magazine, the online magazine of the design faculty at HIT, Israel. The series is based on my experiences as an Interior Design exchange student in Finland. I’ve had the opportunity to take a particularly interesting course with the renowned Finnish designer Milla Johansson.Carmel Shragai Hoffman, Interior Design, HIT
Hello Milla! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work, in the academy and in “real life”.
I teach at the Faculty of Art and Design at University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland. I teach BA and MA students at the Industrial Design Department and I also teach exchange students such as yourself.
My area of specialization is user-centered design and my main interests are in product design. I am specially interested in the established and future classics of Finnish design, and my research interests are in Arctic Design and culture-related design preferences.
For the past ten years I have supervised student participation in main furniture and interior design events in Finland and abroad, such as New York and Milan Design Week. I am fascinated with design trends and what young designers have to offer for a more sustainable future!
In my everyday life, living in Rovaniemi, I am glad to experience Alvar Aalto´s architecture. He has designed the key buildings and the city plan for Rovaniemi, which resembles reindeers’ antlers. My kids, 8 and 5 years old, are getting quite familiar with Aalto’s design, however, they are more interested in natural elements such as gardens and forests surrounding the architecture
This past semester I participated in your furniture design course. Could you share with us the essence of the course?
One of the courses that I teach is Furniture Design Models, where Finnish furniture design classics are introduced and analyzed. Students create new furniture designs based on their findings and personal interests. The aim is also to introduce model making at our workshops. Sometimes students have different skills to start with, so the goal is to get acquainted with the tools, machinery and safety requirements of our workshops. The course ends with an exhibition of the finished scale models. The exhibition is held every year, with new students adding to the collection. You can find some of the furniture designs on our Instagram @wedesign_yourproducts.
Do you see differences – in learning or working – between local and foreign students?
The course is offered to local industrial design students as well as exchange students coming from all over the world.
Exchange students are typically super motivated when they come to study at our University. They have often made a life changing decision when they decided to come here, to the Arctic Circle. I think it shows in the enthusiasm and excitement during the course.
Local students might have lived their whole life in the Arctic, and are very familiar with our way of going about the design process. Sometimes the familiarity shows in the way they work. Overall, I think it is a great opportunity for the students to learn from each other. This course brings together students with different talents and I enjoy that a lot. I try to encourage students to find their best potential during the teaching.
In my previous article, I explored cultural differences between Finnish and Israeli designers. It looks like your different approach to design derives from a slower rhythm, combined with climate and environment. Could you share your perspective regarding design and local culture?
It is true that often in Finnish design there is a close relationship with thesurrounding nature. We tend to be quite aware of the impacts design could have on nature and local culture, and that can be shown in the way we work. I believe that designers in Arctic areas often integrate Arctic values naturally into their design work.
The arctic nature and local culture are an integral part of our design context. Respect for the fragile nature is at the core of Arctic Design. The Arctic environment works as an extraordinary source of inspiration. Traditionally, Finnish designers have sought inspiration from Lapland. It is visible in both the materials we use and in the simple and pure forms of our designs. Sustainability is reflected in the use of natural materials and aiming to design long-lasting and functional products. Wood, reindeer leather, snow and ice are materials with both traditional and contemporary applications.
However, Arctic Design does not only build on tradition, but combines it with future visions. I have written about this topic in Relate North publication in 2018. (Arctic Design for a Sustainable, Technological Future. (2018) Häkkilä, Johansson. Relate North, Art & Design for Education and Sustainability. Jokela, Coutts edt.)
The Arctic environment with its dark winters, cold temperatures and masses of snow and ice brings particular challenges to design, but is also an enabler. For example, frozen lakes can be used as ice roads, and ice-hole swimming is a common cultural activity. I guess that's something you can not do in Israel…
Last question: I’ve read you have a “relationship” with a special type of glass – tell us about it!
My favorite topic at the moment! In recent years, I have developed the teaching of Arctic Glass Design at our University. I’m interested in possibilities of glass material – I think combining creative technologies with traditional glass blowing techniques can enable inspiring visions!
Co-operation between educational institutions and professionals is key to the development of glass design education. Unfortunately, glass blowing is not possible at Rovaniemi. Therefore, our glass design courses have been enabled through collaboration with the historical Nuutajärvi Glass Village´s glass blowers and students. Our students learn to design glass products, but not make them themselves.
Last year the course focused on designing products with a strong message, a protest. We explored how glass products would allow passive resistance. How can a meaningful message and statement on current issues be incorporated into glass? It was so interesting!
This year we concentrated especially on the Arctic issues, which were reflected in the glass objects. The results can be seen on Instagram, at @arcticglassdesign.I hope to continue developing arctic glass design products and artwork in the future
During my time in Finland, I've had the privilege of learning so much about Finnish culture and design. I happily adopted some principles, such as social and academic collaboration, simplicity, respect for nature and respect for tradition along with innovative thinking.
Many thanks to Milla Johansson for the collaboration and for the wonderful glimpse into her world.
Link to the full Hebrew text: