Graphic designer and musician Tomi Leppänen created a series of playful outdoor rugs for the Finnish brand MUM’s. But why is the collection called Typewriter and what does Bauhaus master Anni Albers have to do with it? Read on to find out!
Hi Tomi! Could you first tell us a bit about your background – you’ve done a lot of different things!
“My career path has actually been pretty simple and intuitive: I’ve always worked in the creative industry with projects pertaining to music or design.
I’ve played the drums ever since I was little, and I always knew I was going to be a professional musician. But in addition to playing, I was interested in the idea of music as a culture or a concept – what does it sound like, what does it look like, what is it connected to and who publishes it?
A big part of this is graphic design, and I ended up doing it by chance when my band was about to publish its very first EP – that obviously needed a cover. It instantly felt like my thing, and I was able to implement my ideas in real projects.
And how did your career path shape after that?
“I studied graphic design at Kuopio Academy of Design and Aalto University, and little by little started finding my own style. Through my own agency, I’ve had the chance to work with a variety of clients on a variety of projects. I think of my work as a research lab that allows me to get to know different fields, people, materials, and ways of working.
In addition to traditional graphic design like logos and visual identities, I’m more and more drawn to textile and product design, and I’m really excited about having created the Typewriter rug collection for MUM’s. The entire process from concept to pattern design and from coming up with the names to art direction for the photography has been really inspiring.”
”I’m drawn to simple typographic elements because of their versatility, functionality, and anonymity: depending on the context or scale, a full stop can symbolize eyes like in an emoji or the sun like in the Japanese flag.”
How did you end up working with Mum’s?
“I used to share a workspace with the designer duo Saana ja Olli, and at the time they were working with MUM’s on the For the Whole Life rug. I loved it and it left me with a spark to one day design my very own rug.
After a few years, I started to come up with a few ideas for a rug, and I built up the courage to contact MUM’s through Instagram. Outi Puro of MUM’s liked my sketches and ideas and so we began collaborating. MUM’s felt like a natural companion for this, as it was their rug that first gave me the spark for creating my own rug design.”
Graphic design is clearly visible in the patterns of the Typewriter collection. How did you come up with the idea for them?
”I am endlessly interested in the history of art and design – at the moment I’ve immersed myself in conceptual art. When studying Bauhaus, I happened to come across the works of Anni Albers and became fascinated with her sketches created using a typewriter. This kind of conceptual approach where you use existing shapes to create something new is very close to my own thinking – maybe that’s why it resonated deeply with me.
I created the patterns by improvising different kinds of smileys, faces, and scenes using a typewriter. I’m drawn to simple typographic elements, like a full stop or a dash, because of their versatility, functionality, and anonymity: depending on the context or scale, a full stop can symbolize eyes like in an emoji or the sun like in the Japanese flag.”
What was the design process like? Was it difficult to leap over to textile design?
“Once I had the concept and technique in mind, the process was pretty easy. I instantly liked the randomness and the raw look of the typewriter’s characters compared to digital work.
The rug’s patterns are seemingly very simple but reproducing the shapes on a rug was surprisingly challenging, mostly due to the scale. I like the idea that each artisan’s own technique and handprint make every rug unique; it makes the end result a collaboration between the designer and the artisan. When I received the rug’s prototypes, I spread them out on the floor of my home and gazed and marveled at them for hours, incredulous and happy.”
“I like the idea that each artisan’s own technique and handprint make every rug unique; it makes the end result a collaboration between the designer and the artisan.”
Where do you generally find inspiration for your work?
“I’m inspired by the different eras of pop culture, design, art, fashion, music, ideologies, thinking, people… I’m intrigued by artists with long careers like Carmen Herrera, Tadaaki Kuwayama, or Shizuko Yoshikawa. One of the most fascinating and inspiring artists is conceptual artist On Kawara, whose works combine typography with extremely strict concepts.
I like finding designers or artists I haven’t heard of and delving deep into their thinking. It has the same kind of joy of discovery as in music when you accidentally stumble on a new, unknown but amazing artist on a small stage of a festival.
In my own work I don’t really try to create something entirely new and never-before-seen, but recycle influences, elements, and thoughts into a new combination that fits the context. In the Typewriter Collection, I combined emojis, Anni Albers, acid house music, and Indian handicraft traditions.”
The rug collection is now out – so what’s next?
“I’ll be spending the rest of the summer playing music; my music career activated again now that the world has opened up after Covid. This summer, I will be touring clubs and festivals in Finland and Europe with my band, from Primavera in Barcelona to Sideways in Helsinki and Roskilde in Denmark.
In my own design projects, I’m excited to continue exploring the possibilities of the typographic dashes and full stops, and doing experiments with different materials.”
Text: Emmi Ratilainen Images: Unto Rautio, Maija Fredrika