Design has its origins

Tapio Anttila

In May, The Association for Finnish Work had an apt campaign bearing the name of the title, which emphasized the origin of the design. That slogan was a great insight and contained the basic idea of all creative work. Unfortunately, there are also products coming to the market whose beginnings come from someone else's footsteps. Figuratively, this could be called tailgating, which has always been and always will be. 


The designer's job is to create something new from scratch that doesn't exist yet. It is a risky job, because the salary for the work will come sometime in the future. Often, the development of something new is slow, it takes time and money, which also results in expenses. If the sale doesn't happen, you won't get the earnings from the work done either. If it happens so happily that the product becomes a hit, it also has its own risks. This can be compared to competitive skiing performed in unbroken snow. The original one who set out on the journey has hit the uphills and dead ends, opening his own track to the unknown, sweaty, with lactic acid, blueberry soup on his chest and snot on his cheek. The back skier gently skis the prepared track and glides down the final straight without getting out of breath. In the distribution of prizes, the creator of the track is not taken into account, but everyone gets a prize.

When the product does not originally have an original origin, it is often recognized by more than a noticeable visual resemblance to the original. The most common feature is that it does not have a designer. The information often mentions brand X's "Design Studio" or "Design Team" as the designer. Actually, there is no such thing. Another sure sign is that the product is cheaper than the original. And as a third feature, the story of the product always shines through its absence. The reason for that is clear - it simply doesn't exist.


"The story is the soul of the product
and it cannot be invented by inventing"


The product and the design can therefore have an origin. It can also be with a concept or collection, even with a brand. Owning the origin of these yourself is actually easier than the products. There are more ways to protect the origin of products, while there are less for the previous ones. The story is also the best friend of those larger entities. An interesting and distinctive story is transmitted through all the brand's activities and every cell, both between the lines and on the lines. It is a good protection from the fact that you cannot borrow or duplicate someone else's story. When there is no story, one may resort to safe and well-known phrases, such as "High-quality and responsible furniture is made by hand here and there".

So what is the origin that is often mentioned here? And can someone own someone's origin? In my opinion, Alvar Aalto has written beautifully on the subject in 1921: "Nothing old is reborn, but it doesn't completely disappear either. And what was once will always come again in a new form." As a designer, I understand it to mean that when the previous generation has developed something, the following generations improve the innovations of the previous ones. When talking about the origin of the design, the essential question is how much of the final result is its own. When can it be said that, for example, it and its product have their origin in Finnish peasant culture or the design language of the 70s, from which the designer has received inspiration. And yet it is a unique work of the designer in question. Then I think we can truly talk about the origin.

The origin is therefore a slightly broader question. It has a clear connection to the story. Without it, there's no origin, right?

- Tapio



The Design from Finland label tells about Finnish design.
More on the subject in STL's web site (May 10, 2022)