The main characteristics of a designer

Tapio Anttila

"Unknowingly, I have already adopted many qualities important to a designer as a child. Here are a few of them and a little more in the form of stories."

I turned 60 in June. The human operating system is programmed in such a way that the defragmentation of the disk starts, which filters the accumulated data over the years. That's exactly what happened to me. I didn't know at the time that I would become me - that is, a designer. Looking back, many things and events have been involved in building this identity. Unknowingly, I have already adopted many qualities important to a designer as a child. Here are a few of them and a little more in the form of stories.



Already at a very young age, I didn't want to do like everyone else. I was terrified of all authority figures. Therefore, going to kindergarten felt like the worst loss of freedom. It was my first encounter with the institutions of society, and it didn't go very well. On the first day, my mouth was washed with soap because of swearing. I got so angry about this that I refused all cooperation. Aunties tried for a couple of days to convince me to play, but I remained steadfast in my decision. For the rest of the time in kindergarten, I stood wearing a cardboard Christmas tree hat, pretending to be a tree, while the other children happily played around me.


I guess school didn't go much better. I kind of waded through it without any motivation or enthusiasm. I knew almost nothing about design until I moved to Helsinki and decided to apply to the School of Arts, Design and Architecture. I thought it would be good to practice something before the entrance exams. So I went around architecture offices in Helsinki asking for work. I didn't know anything and offered to do anything from making coffee to sharpening pencils.

After a few days, Saara Juola Architects hired me. In the interview, Saara asked if I could draw with the architect's tools and I replied confidently yes. On the first day, I wondered about the string ruler used at the time. I learned quite quickly and my table neighbor, the architect Pekka Oksman, helped me with that - thank you Pekka! You could probably say that I took my fumbling first steps as a designer at that time.


The School of Arts, Design and Architecture opened up a world for me that I didn't even know existed before. Enthusiastic about this, I studied for real - for the first time in my life. That's when I realized that many of the things I had done as a child had prepared me for this. I had always drawn a lot and did everything with my hands in a versatile way, from construction to whittling, all of which was useful in the entrance exams. Work experience in the architectural firm also helped. I got into the interior architecture and furniture design program by first trying.

I had the honor of being Ilmari Tapiovaara's student in my first year, from whom I learned a lot. I also remember the meeting with Risto-Matti Ratia. We were waiting for him in the class at the beginning of the studies. We hadn't seen him yet, but of course everyone knew who this famous designer was. There was perhaps a little tension in the air until he burst in, shouting loudly: “I know you all want to be Tapio Wirkkalai! You can admit that," he raved.


I sat in the front row and Risto-Matti pointed his finger at me and roared: "You want to be Tapio Wirkkala too!" I spluttered voice quivered: "Nooo, I want to be Tapio Anttila".



Overcome difficult situations by talking

I managed to design my first series-produced chair already during my studies. At that time, Avarte had a stable of young designers called Aksi. Even then, I was solving practical problems by means of design, making a prototype of a new kind of chair. Stackable chairs are used in public spaces. My own chair was queued, so it took up a smaller space than stackable, because you can't make the stacks very high.

I had shown the chair in Helsinki's Jugend hall, where storage space was limited. They were interested in my chair and a possible sale would of course have helped the future of the chair at Aksi. I proudly presented the functionality of my prototype on site to the city buyer and interior architect Marja-Liisa Parko. They seemed to get excited, but at the same time pondered that the space is also frequented by a lot of old people, so how does the comfort of the chair seat work. At the same time, an older lady walked through the door and they immediately asked her to take the test seat. The story of my first chair didn't start perfectly, because the seat part of the chair collapsed and grandma fell to the floor - fortunately without any damage. However, with my limited experience, I was able to explain that the chair is a prototype and that this would not happen in a mass-produced piece. Surprisingly, grandma also agreed on how good the chair had been to sit before it collapsed. She must have felt sorry for the young designer.

Name is an omen

With my colleague and friend Jonas Hakaniemi, I have designed quite a variety of things for several Chinese brands, from pet products to an entire brand and collection. We have traveled all over China together and found ourselves in the strangest situations. Fortunately, we both have a pretty similar sense of humor - that is, a bad one. Without it, we wouldn't have managed at all.

Naming a child is important for the Chinese, as they believe it determines the direction of their life. We have often been asked what our names mean. "King of the forest" usually gets people talking because it proves that belief correct in their opinion. Well, I have fulfilled this destiny determined by my name with my tree design.

A funny coincidence is my logo designed by graphic artist Lauri Toika in 2015. It had been in use for a few years, when a Japanese person admired the fact that I had taken a Japanese character, which means "tree" in my logo. The story is good - but unfortunately completely coincidental. In China, I shouldn't present my logo too enthusiastically - there it means the word "no".

Long tempered

I confess that in my career I have thought only once about whether I have definitely made the right choices. I had designed several products for many smaller manufacturers. We decided that it would be easier to operate if they were all brought under the same brand. So, together with my wife Arja, we founded the Tapio Anttila Collection brand, where we put together a collection of a few older and newer products.

The beginning was challenging, because we had quite a lot to do in getting the whole thing started. We decided to launch the brand and the collection at Habitare in 2015. Since we didn't have the opportunity to hire a lot of help at the beginning, we did almost everything ourselves. For the trade fair stand, it meant carrying and driving goods, cleaning and, of course, building the stand. We were quite tired on the evening of the last day of construction, knowing that there was still a heavy presentation week ahead of us.

The last job was installing the skirting boards for the parquet floor. I was crawling along the edges of the floor of the department, exhausted, when my eyes lifted up into two of my familiar colleagues by chance. They literally sailed in their costumes to the ready-made section of my former school, which was next door to ours. I watched with envy as they clinked glasses with the students. At that time, the doubt disappeared in my mind for a moment, whether I had made the right choices and that I could do easier things in life. That flicker soon faded from my mind when the fair started, because our brand received a great welcome. The highlight was that our stand was selected as the best fair stand of Habitare.

More recently, my conviction has been strengthened about my choices, and I haven't had to rewind the course of my career.

- Tapio