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Dr. Laura Hirvi und Lilli Hollein. © Finnland-Institut/Bild: Bernhard Ludewig

Finnish design in the focus of Vienna Design Week 2019

All the world’s a stage, as Shakespeare already phrased it. This September, the design world will turn its attention to Austria’s capital: Vienna Design Week will see designers come together from all around the world to present their creative work. This year’s guest country is going to be Finland. Laura Hirvi, director of the Finnish Institute in Germany, had a chat on this topic with Lilli Hollein, Director of Vienna Design Week.


Laura: Vienna Design Week takes place for the 13th time this year. How has the festival developed over the course of the years?

Lilli: Ever since I founded Vienna Design Week along with two colleagues of mine, it has been a non-profit organisation with conviction that aims at granting a platform to experimental design as well as such design that puts itself into the service of society. This has not changed. What has changed over the years is the size of the festival, meaning the number of events and visitors. The thematic focal points and festival centres are also growing constantly!


Laura: Vienna Design Week has an annually changing guest country and this year, Finland has taken the spot. What does the guest country format add to the festival and why was Finland your choice?

Lilli: The guest country format is very dear to me! Despite being of the opinion that an overly nationalized approach to design is not that easy or even sensible anymore, I do think of it as a way to shed some more light on particular scenes and tendencies in order to make them accessible to a broader audience. Our festival is not directed at experts only! A festival like ours that possesses this kind of spectrum in terms of design content can use the focalization on Finland to make the country’s various facets accessible. We think that Finland, additionally to its design history’s great names like Alvar Aalto, Arabia, Artek, Fiskars, Marimekko and others, also has a remarkable contemporary design scene that we would like to familiarise our audience with.


Laura: Finnish design seems to have left an indelible impact on you! What do you think is special about it?

Lilli: Finnish design has left a mark on generations of Europeans with its Nordic unsophisticatedness that is characterized by an always present rebellious yet gentle independency. This is still true and great about Finnish designers of these days. Industrial design with a special twist but also hand-crafted designs of great experimental nature can be found. Both will be displayed at Vienna Design Week!


Laura: The Finnish festival programme will most prominently feature young representatives of contemporary Finnish design. Are there any designers who have particularly impressed you?

Lilli: Absolutely, and of course the number of designer creators and studios exceeds the limits of what we can exhibit at this festival. I am most grateful to Kari Korkman, director of Helsinki Design Week, who has been opening my eyes more and more to Finnish design for some years now. Teemu Salonen and Ville Kokkonen, who have quite differing approaches to their work, also have to be named in this context, likewise Aamu Song and Johan Olin and certainly also Tero Kuitunen who is the curator of the guest country exhibition. I am also a long-time fan of Harri Koskinen.


Laura: Have you discovered similarities between Austrian and Finnish design? Is there even a point in talking about national differences in design in times that are shaped by mobility and digitalization?

Lilli: I believe designers in Europe and internationally all act in concert to make our society alert and ready for technological change and to develop a conscience for the worth of handicraft, resources and strategies of coexistence. We are facing a big challenge in the issue of “How do we want to live?”. Here, the design branch carries an important role: national borders do not matter anymore.


Laura: What is your advice for Vienna Design Week? What should the people definitely not miss?

Lilli: This is like having to pick a favourite child: impossible! I think the festival centre is a good starting point to get a general idea and a taste for the guest country programme by visiting the amazing Wild at Heart exhibition − and then to explore all the other venues of the festival as well! But also our focus on gaming is another way of whetting appetite for visiting the festival!


Vienna Design Week takes place 27 September – 6 October 2019. Finland’s guest country programme is organised in cooperation with Business Finland, Visit Finland and the Finnish Embassy in Vienna.

Read more about the programme


Text: Maija Toivonen, translated from German by Christoph Scheike

Maija Toivonen war vom 21.8.2017-13.7.2018 als Volontärin und ist seitdem als Projektmanagerin am Finnland-Institut tätig.

Maija Toivonen toimi Suomen Saksan-instituutissa harjoittelijana 21.8.2017-13.7.2018 ja sen jälkeen projektisuunnittelijana.

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