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The Conscience of Finnish Design

Markku Salo has just been named as the 2015 recipient of the Kaj Franck Design Prize (KFDP) in Finland. Since 1992, the annual prize has been awarded to a Finnish-based designer, or design team, whose work embodies the iconic designer Kaj Franck’s legacy of ‘innovative functionalism’. The award is made by a panel of judges on behalf of the Finnish Design Forum, and carries a cash prize of 10,000 euros, a medal designed by Finnish sculptor Tapio Junno, and a prize-winner’s exhibition.

Known as the ‘Conscience of Finnish Design’, Kaj Franck (1911-1989) believed that good design is not simply defined by being easy on the eye. He was adamant that an object also has to be durable, easy to clean, functional, do justice to the materials it was made from, and simply be indispensable.

Decoration and flourish were not part of his ethos and his minimalist approach to product design has had a lasting impact on Scandinavian design. In the 1940s Franck was recruited to Helsinki’s seminal Arabia (now Iitalla), ceramics factory, to introduce utilitarian pieces to its existing range.

He made his first significant mark on Finnish design in 1948 with his ‘Smash the Services’ campaign, whereby he introduced mix and match tableware as an alternative to the outdated and often inefficient china sets that were the standard of the time. Mix and match sets could be bought in pieces to fit your needs, taking up less space, and they could be easily replaced. His ‘Kilta’ range, with its simple lines, pared-down construction and range of solid colours to mix-and-match soon became ubiquitous in Finnish homes.

Franck began every design by focusing on the idea or underlying concept, not the shape; striving to achieve what he called the ‘optimal object’. He reduced forms to their most basic iterations in the interest of enhanced function, affordability, and anonymity. This emphasis on the functional aspect of design was also carried through his work as a teacher, and later artistic director, at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, where he influenced generations of designers.

Franck’s ‘Conscience’ reputation came about because he was one of the first advocates of recycling and believed in removing all excess, and whilst he was interested in mass production, he shunned materialism. His ethos has impacted Finnish design for the last 75 years, and is evident in the work of the designers who have received his eponymous award over the last 24 years.

Recent winners include:

Markku Salo - 2015

The Prize jury stated that Markku Salo’s skills and achievements came to the fore when glass manufacturing at Nuutajärvi Glass Village was threatened in the early 2000s. Together with other artists and glassblowers, Salo founded a new glasshouse, which has preserved the heritage of glassmaking in the area and allowed professional glassmakers to flourish in their chosen field.

Apart from his career as a glass artist and designer, Salo has also served as an influential and inspiring teacher. He has created design projects for Salora, Nuutajärvi Glassworks, Arabia, Aarikka, Lundia, and Iittala. Since 1987 he has held around forty solo exhibitions in Finland, Europe and South Korea. His works can be found in several museums both in Finland and abroad.

Harri Koskinen – 2014

Head of the ‘Friends of Industry Design Studio’, Helsinki, Harri Koskinen was chosen by KFDP’s panel, for his ‘clear and minimalist language of form [which] continues the traditions of Finnish design, at the same time renewing them.’

Koskinen’s career got off to a stellar start, with his university coursework project ‘Block’ light, being taken into production by Design House Stockholm and subsequently being included in the New York Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.

Björn Weckström – 2013

Björn Weckström has revolutionised Finnish jewellery art, with his unique style arousing both national and international attention since the 1960s. Weckstrom was among the first designers to combine modern materials such as acrylic with traditional precious metals. He created jewellery for the renowned Space Silver collection, which was both miniature sculpture and miniature landscapes.

In addition to his extensive output, mostly for the Lapponia Jewelry company, Weckström has also created impressive works in sculpture, many of them inspired by ancient mythology. However, just in case all of that doesn’t make him cool enough, he also designed the Planetary Valleys necklace worn by Princess Leia in Star Wars.

Kaj Franck ceramics image: The Skandium Blog
Kaj Franck stamps image: The Skandium Blog
Kaj Franck image: Iittala
Markku Salo image: Markku Salo
Harri Koskinen image: Design Forum Finland
Lapponia and Star Wars image: Lucasfilm Ltd
Björn Weckström jewellery image: Lapponia Jewelry