Helsinki Named World Design Capital for 2012

The Finnish capital that’s become a global center of furniture, fashion and technology was plucked from a list of 46 cities vying for the distinction. Here’s our design primer.



Helsinki’s designers have always been central to its culture. But after
the collapse of the neighboring Soviet Union, with whom Finland shared
a special trade agreement, its economy faltered. Thanks to a new crop
of cutting-edge designers–plus the rise of bigger technology companies
like Nokia–the last few years have seen the city become a global
center for design–in part thanks to the design district which was created to corral
many of the rising fashion, furniture and graphic entrepreneurs. And today, the Scandinavian city beat out 46 other cities to be named as the World Design Capital for 2012, which is awarded every two years by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) World Design Congress in Singapore.

Here’s a look at the unique design world you’ll find on the shores of the Baltic.

Eero Saarinen


Natives like Eero Saarinen (and his father Eliel Saarinen) are among the many world-famous architects and designers whose legacies are firmly intertwined
with the city. Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future will be up at the Museum of the City of New York until the end of January.


The splashy, abstracted graphics of textile powerhouse Marimekko were made into a pop culture milestone when worn by the then-First Lady Jackie Kennedy and haven’t faded from national prominence since.


Glassware empire Iittala, with its distinctive hand-blown pieces and sturdy, modern tableware has become a staple on well-set dinner tables around the globe.



Mobile leader Nokia is no stranger to probably any cell phone user on the planet, but the company is also responsible for luring other technology and innovation companies to the city.


Fiskars–yes, those distinctive orange-handled scissors–is Helsinki’s oldest company, just celebrating its 360th birthday.

Alvar Aalto

Local architect Alvar Aalto’s furniture company
Artek has collaborated on its furnishings lines with designers like Tom Dixon and become a leader of sustainable manufacturing.

Harri Koskinen


A new generation of designers are carrying on the legacies of Helsinki’s design giants. Industrial designers like Harri Koskinen have helped carry on Aalto’s tradition with innovative furniture and materials.

Ivana Helsinki

Even Finnish fashion houses like Ivana Helsinki are making a splash at runway shows and with collections for retailers like Topshop.


And young interdisciplinary firms like Kokoro+Moi (who designed the World Design Capital site) blend graphics, street art, interaction and product design in a vibrant new way for the city.

The year-long celebration will be named Open Helsinki: Embedding Design in Life. In the meantime, you can swing by Seoul, which will be hosting the World Design Capital duties in 2010.


About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato