Which is more common on Earth - soft or hard?

Tapio Anttila

What is the difference between knowledge and opinion? Why does someone else's scream sound loud, but one's own doesn't? What time is? Why do adults stress about climate change but do nothing about it? What is the purpose of people? Is anything certain if it hasn't happened yet? Can birds have a fear of flying? Why do people want to be famous? Can a cat have ADHD? Why is dark black?

These are children's questions and very relevant ones. Why have I picked them here?
Read more and I'll tell you.

Children's science questions on Friday's Helsingin Sanomat are the highlight of the week for me. Professors and scientists try their best to answer the most pressing questions of kindergarten and primary school children - emphasis on the word "try". Often it is only stated: Yes, why do we act like this? What is attractive about the questions is the completely different and fresh perspective on things without the disturbing influence of experience and environment. My favorite question is: If you could prove a religion, what would it be called? This is the best example of this difference between a child's and an adult's perspective.

I have sometimes lectured primary school students about design in an art class. Those moments have been more challenging than lectures for professionals even in big halls. Kids don't compartmentalize anything and they don't judge you based on anything you've done in the past. It is difficult to tell that sharp target group anything that one thinks is wise when the metrics are different.


"Children's questions are often so confusing, disarming and get to the heart of things."


Children's questions appeal to me precisely because they remind me of the importance of an open mind. An open mind is full of possibilities, whereas a mind that has learned "what to do and what not to do" is full of limitations. Curiosity, questioning and openness to new things are the designer's most important aids. They are natural things for a child and as a designer I would like to keep that childlike open attitude in my work. It's not always easy, because designing is quite a "sensible" thing. I have got education and learned about manufacturing techniques, materials, ergonomics, functionality, etc. In addition, there is always the pressure of whether the products will sell and what consumers think of them in general. The above-mentioned issues should first be internalized, then "forgotten" and planned "naturally" without restrictions. This may have gotten a bit high-flown and difficult to explain, but I can't describe it any better.

To get into that state of mind, I thought I'd ask a 9-year-old boy to ask me questions about my design work. If that would guide me to look at things with fresh eyes. I know that boy well. On the way to school, he never took the straightest road and rather took the side of the road at the bottom of the ditch, because there was always something interesting to be found. Often there was a stick in the hand, which was sometimes a sword, sometimes something else. The thoughts were also always somewhere else. Let's name him here as a 9-year-old Tapio.

Here is the conversation written down:

9-year-old Tapio:  What there would be, if design didn't exist?

61-year-old Tapio:  (...dammit, let's get right to the point, what would I say to that so I don't screw myself up?) The world would at least look very different, because design is everywhere. Even the utensils of our ancestors are design, although they were not named with that word then and the whole concept did not even exist. Thinking more carefully, such a situation cannot exist. So whenever people make some physical objects, there is also design. Such a situation could be that there is only bad design and all objects are copies of each other. An interesting dystopia... there would only be similar cheap chairs in the world that would be bad to sit in, wouldn't hold up to anything and would also be ugly. And all furniture would be constantly on offer -70%. (Wait a minute, this doesn't sound so strange...)


9-year-old Tapio:  Well, how do you design a perfect chair?

61-year-old Tapio: (Well, no one can answer that... I'll try a detour...) Have you seen the movie Karate Kid?

9-year-old Tapio:  Er… no.

61-year-old Tapio:  Oh yeah. You're from the 70s and that movie didn't come out until the early 80s. Well, anyway, it's about a young Daniel who goes to learn karate. The teacher is an old Japanese master named Mr. Miyagi. To Daniel's disappointment, Mr. Miyagi doesn't teach karate at all at first, instead he makes Daniel wash cars and trim bonsai trees. Horticulturalist things don't quite work out and Daniel asks the master what he should do? Mr. Miyagi advises him to imagine a perfect bonsai tree in his mind and then just cut a similar one. Daniel next asks how he knows that the tree he sees is the perfect one. The master looks at Daniel and puts his hand on his chest over his heart and says in a low chest voice: "You can feel it here". You should watch that movie when you get to the 80s. Did you understand?


9-year-old Tapio:  I won't. Well, I hear you've won a lot of awards. Is it so bad that there are so many of them?

61-year-old Tapio:  (Well... I have to make this interesting to get away with it...) Here I am quoting a great thinker named Marx. Not Karl but Groucho. Do you know who Groucho Marx is?

9-year-old Tapio:  Of course! The Marx brothers' films are the best!

61-year-old Tapio:  (Oh yeah, they were in the 70s...) Ok, good. There are many clever ideas from Groucho Marx. One of them is something like this: "I couldn't join any association that would accept me as a member, because then it must be so bad that I couldn't join it." Did you get this airhook-goal-like metaphor?

9-year-old Tapio:  What are airhook goal and metaphor?

61-year-old Tapio: Never mind...


9-year-old Tapio: Can designing make you rich - earn at least a million times more than others?

61-year-old Tapio: (I've been asked all kinds of things in interviews, but never this... and it's still quite natural for children...) In Finland, at least, it's difficult, because the market is quite small - especially for design furniture. A furniture designer often receives his salary as a royalty, i.e., a certain percentage of the realized sales. If there are no sales, there will be no salary either. Developing furniture takes time, and if there is a sale, the benefit always comes with quite a delay. Sometimes designing leads nowhere, but there are still expenses. At least you won't get rich with a couple of chairs - instead there must be quite a lot of products for sale, and then small streams might become some kind of stream - emphasis on the words "might become".

9-year-old Tapio: Well... it sounds pretty difficult, I don't think I'll go for that career at least...


I think I did an even worse job of answering this than the experts in the story series of Helsingin Sanomat. Children's questions are often so confusing, disarming and get to the heart of things. At what point do we become adults? We start compartmentalizing things, believing and making rules, worrying about the past and the future. It happens so little by little that you don't notice it.

- Tapio


My own bonsai tree is still waiting for the image of a perfect bonsai tree in my mind



Author's comment: Artificial intelligence was not used to write this story - instead more flexible natural intelligence was being used.