Helsinki Design Week’s Anni Korkman: “It’s time to bring new perspectives to the story”

Anni Korkman, the Program Director of Helsinki Design Week, sees the sustainability shift in the design industry as an opportunity to challenge our notions of beauty. She also hopes to create space for a more diverse group of creators. See what events Anni Korkman recommends from the 2023 program – and how Finnish Design Shop is involved!

A portrait of Anni Korkman of HDW
Anni Korkman works as the Program Director of Helsinki Design Week. Image: Heli Blåfield

Hello, Anni! What is your earliest memory of good design making a significant impact on your life?
“I’ve always been interested in my surroundings and approached them with curiosity. Scents, sounds, and spaces have had a profound influence on me since childhood. I vividly remember from my early childhood how light looked through the curtains in the children’s room or how a certain sweater felt softer on the skin than others.”

Helsinki Design Week 2023
Helsinki Design Week takes place 8-17 September 2023. The festival theme ‘Once upon a time’ will transfer us from annual to triennial thinking.

Helsinki Design Week takes place 8-17 September 2023. Could you tell us about this year’s theme, Once Upon a Time? What stories do you aim to tell through the event?
“With the theme ‘Once Upon a Time,’ we aim to spark a conversation about the importance of storytelling in explaining complex phenomena. And hopefully, also about the fact that Helsinki’s creative industries have a multitude of different voices and creators. ‘Finnish design’ as a concept has been a long-told tale, and now it’s time to hear new perspectives on it: How does the story continue? For example, a diverse group of creative professionals is working on material experiments, digital design, services, and experiences, and Helsinki Design Week tells their stories.”

Helsinki Design Week team of 2023
Designer and Editor-in-Chief of Asun magazine, Ulla Koskinen, has curated an exhibition contemplating the concept of good everyday life. From left to right: HDW Community Manager Iris Korkman, Founder and CEO Kari Korkman, Ulla Koskinen, Anni Korkman, and Executive Producer Helena Fernström. Image: Paavo Lehtonen
A black and white image of Merikortteli in Helsinki
The factory building completed during the years 1919-1934 has seen a variety of things throughout its history. Now, during Helsinki Design Week, the Merikortteli serves as a stage for the latest in design. Image: Eric Sundström / Helsinki City Museum.

Story and history are also present in Merikortteli, the venue for this year’s event. Why Merikortteli?
“We find it most interesting to organize events where things are already happening or, alternatively, to choose locations in the city that have remained hidden and need a bit of life. We’re not interested in building temporary structures that are dismantled and, in the worst case, discarded right after the exhibition.

For years, we’ve been producing elements and exhibition structures that are multi-year. Helsinki Design Week’s main venue is like a circus tent that sets up in unexpected places and is then stored away for the next autumn.”

The narrative theme of Helsinki Design Week 2023 paves the way for the next chapter in Finnish design: new voices, encounters, conversations, and experiments.

Helsinki Design Week is transitioning from a one-year approach to a three-year one. What does this mean in practice?
“I’m concerned about the typical rush and haste in the design industry. The cycle of constantly producing something new and evolving just for the sake of development feels quite overwhelming. Helsinki Design Week will continue to share the most interesting news and current phenomena, but with a three-year perspective, we aim to engage in deeper conversations and take our time to delve into things.

I hope that the connections, discussions, and ideas that start at our events will continue among festival participants and lead to concrete actions and experiments. For visitors, hopefully, the change will be evident as Helsinki Design Week finds its place in their calendars for next year already.

‘Trilogy thinking’ is also part of our journey towards the 20th anniversary of Helsinki Design Week in 2025.”

Merikortteli, Helsinki Design Week 2023 main venue
On the top floor, in addition to the main exhibition, you can experience diverse discussion events aimed at professionals and the public. Image: Anna Pirkola and Katri Kapanen

During Helsinki Design Week 2023, Finnish Design Shop is launching the Product Sustainability Framework, a sustainability tool designed to assist consumers in making more responsible purchasing decisions. What other examples do you see of the sustainability transformation in the design industry?
“The Product Sustainability Framework is a great initiative, and I hope that visualizing such complex issues encourages action.

In my opinion, furniture manufacturers now have an interesting moment to challenge our notions of beauty. For example, the natural patterns of wood in furniture can be allowed to show, and new materials developed from consumer waste, such as plastic and composite mixtures, can incorporate colors that are not perfectly uniform.

In recent years, we have already learned to appreciate patina and the traces of life. It’s heartening to see companies not only offering spare parts for their products but also providing maintenance instructions. I hope that caring for, restoring, and reselling items will become even more mainstream in the future.”

“The joy of Helsinki Design Week lies in finding a balance between the familiar and the new.”

In 2025, Helsinki Design Week will celebrate its 20th anniversary. How has the festival evolved, and what does it look like 20 years from now?
“The joy of Helsinki Design Week lies in finding a balance between the familiar and the new. Our program’s anticipated events are essential and enable room for surprises and wild experiments.

In recent years, we’ve held film screenings in the cargo elevator of the Cable Factory and offered dinners on the rooftop of Alvar Aalto’s Sugar Cube in the heart of Helsinki. These years have also included an international main exhibition at the Olympic Stadium and numerous seminars and launches by design professionals.

Helsinki Design Week will always showcase the latest and most exciting in design, and in the future, more intangible design as well. I hope that in twenty years, new generations will have discovered the festival and made it their own. And that we’ll still have reasons to celebrate!”

Helsinki Design week main venue 2023
In addition to the main exhibition, a Let Me Wine & HDW pop-up wine bar will be set up on the sixth floor of the Merikortteli. Image: Antilooppi
Juslin Maunula products
The exhibition also features an installation by Juslin Maunula and Artek. Image: Ville Varumo

Please tell us the highlights from Helsinki Design Week – what to see, hear, and experience this year?
“The main exhibition curated by Ulla Koskinen, Editor-in-Chief of Asun magazine, on the top floor of Merikortteli features a fantastic array of designers and brands, including Artek, Juslin Maunula, Secto Design, Nikari, Woodnotes, Johanna Gullichsen, and many more. The exhibition architect, Lauri Johansson, ensures that visitors will likely enjoy and immerse themselves in the exhibition.

On the ground floor of Merikortteli, there is a diverse exhibition featuring Aalto University students' master's theses, prototypes, experiments, and spatial installations.

You don't want to miss the stunning Let Me Wine & HDW pop-up wine bar. Be sure to explore their colorful wine selection!

The venue will host Weekly Talks where you can engage in meaningful conversations with experts in the field. A new addition to Saturday night's program, Helsinki Design Night, is produced in collaboration with 417 World and highlights the importance of the night in urban planning.

Even after the festival exhibition ends, the discussions and exchange of ideas continue through Helsinki Design Weekly's channels. Our bilingual newsletter, Helsinki Design Weekly, has been running for five years and is also a current affairs program on Radio Helsinki. Additionally, there's also a podcast and a year-round series of discussion events.”

You mentioned your earliest memory related to good design at the beginning. So, to conclude: what is your most recent experience when something in the field of design has evoked strong emotions?
“By Hinders’ beautifully flowing linen-cotton suit currently brings me great joy. The most exceptional outfits, in my opinion, are timeless, gender-neutral, and sustainably made. I studied alongside the brand’s founder and head designer, Jonathan Ingberg, in London at university. Even then, I recognized what a talent he was. What luck that he returned to Finland from abroad! Jonathan is also part of Helsinki Design Week’s Design Diplomacy discussion on Friday, September 8.”

Helsinki Design Week, 8-17 September 2023. Explore the events >

Product Sustainability Framework
The Product Sustainability Framework is a sustainability criteria specifically tailored for design products, unlike anything seen before in the design industry.

Finnish Design Shop participates Helsinki Design Week

  • During Helsinki Design Week, Finnish Design Shop is launching a new sustainability tool called the Product Sustainability Framework (PSF).
  • The PSF will be visible on Finnish Design Shop’s website for each product as a sustainability rating. In the future, making more responsible purchases will be easier for both consumers and interior design professionals.
  • On Thursday, September 14, a panel discussion will be held on the topic of sustainability criteria from the consumer’s perspective. The panel will feature award-winning Swedish designer Fredrik Paulsen, Johanna Vuorio, CEO of Nikari and Woodnotes, Hanna Neuvo, CEO and founding member of Design Agency Fyra, and Reetta Noukka, Chief Operating Officer of Finnish Design Shop. The discussion will be moderated by Anu Ubaud, former Editor-in-Chief of Helsingin Sanomat and co-founder of the creative company United Imaginations.
  • Finnish Design Shop’s installation is part of the exhibition on the sixth floor of Merikortteli and will be on display during 13-17 September.

See also:

The Product Sustainability Framework >
Weekly Talks with Finnish Design Shop >
New arrivals at Finnish Design Shop >

Text: Jenna Kiuru

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