For a number of years now at VBAT, here in Amsterdam, we have been trying to broaden our intern-talent pool and discover what is going on in art schools and academies outside of our usual places. Somewhere we have been particularly interested in is the Scandinavian and Nordic countries, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland however when we looked for design events (specifically graphic design) similar to What Design Can Do (Amsterdam) and D&AD Festival (London) in cities such as Stockholm and Copenhagen a lot of these events focused specifically on digital design or product design.
This was until in the Autumn of 2018 we stumbled upon the annual Arctic Design Week, held in the Finnish city of Rovaniemi and after emailing their organisers about what kind of workshop we could do there and how we could interact with students and potential new interns, we found ourselves on a trip to the Arctic Circle.
The workshop which we chose to run was our thought-provoking, ideas generating “(Re)framing the Anthropocene”; a workshop we have done a number of times now at What Design Can Do (May 2018), D&AD New Blood Academy (July 2018), Leeds Beckett University (January 2019) and again at our own WPP Amsteldok Festival of Creativity (April 2019). This workshop is all about how to create inspiration to fuel new ideas and provide creative optimism and centres around the idea of the Anthropocene*. It is a workshop we put together in collaboration with Parsons School of Design and the executive dean of the school Joel Towers. This video from What Design Can Do 2018 explains more about the workshop.
*the Anthropocene is the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
Our trip to Rovaniemi and our workshop endeavour began with the three of us—myself Craig Berry: Junior Designer at VBAT, Stefan Pangratz: Senior Design Director at VBAT and Connie Fluhme: PR Manager at VBAT—meeting at Schiphol to fly to the Finnish capital of Helsinki via Finnair. Even at the very start of our journey we were introduced first-hand to Finnish design from the interior of the aircraft, the in-flight brochures and the flight-attendant’s uniform: all together it was very stylish and minimal. It was also my first time seeing (and hearing) the Finnish language… It’s fair to say that I won’t be learning that anytime soon as it looks IMPOSSIBLE. We landed in Helsinki for our less than one hour lay-over, just enough time for a quick lunch before our short flight to Rovaniemi and into the Arctic Circle.
Landing at the very small Rovaniemi airport it was clear that we were in a pretty remote place; from the plane window we could see miles upon miles of crisp snow and coniferous tree and it looked beautiful. This was the first time I’d been this far north and seen such a picturesque, winter landscape. We had a flurry of snow here in Amsterdam back in January but that was nothing like what was here although we came prepared for it (well, kind of).
We walked out of the airport towards the taxi rank and then immediately turned back inside to put some more layers on as soon as we realised just how cold it was; this was our first taste of the Arctic air. Fully layered up and now sweating, we hopped into a taxi and journeyed onwards to our hotel in Rovaniemi city centre: Hostel Café Koti (‘Koti’ means ‘home’ in Finnish, I think).
During our taxi ride we asked our driver if there was anything we could do that evening; it was our only free evening and we wanted to explore the local culture; he said there was something we could do and said he would pick us up later that evening at 10pm once it’s dark… However, before then we got acquainted with our hotel rooms (no sauna trip sadly), randomly met up with the Design Week producer Anna Filppa and wandered around the ‘city-centre’ which consisted of some convenience stores, Irish bars, a night-club, a shopping mall and a number of restaurants where we decided to try the (highly-recommended) Asian restaurant but not before making a reservation for the next day at the Lapland restaurant across the road (also highly-recommended).
After several Lapin’s (local craft beer) and reindeer ramen (sorry Rudolph) it was 10pm and we met our taxi-driver from earlier (now with a friend) who drove us about 20km to the frozen Olkkajärvi lake; on the way telling us about the indigenous Sami people of Lapland and playing some of their music under the very bright light of the moon; it was a perfectly clear night without a single cloud in the sky. Our journey to the Olkkajärvi lake was an adventure hunting the natural light spectacle: the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights.
Thanks to our perfectly clear sky, our local taxi-driver and a special blessing from the Asian restaurant chefs (we were promised free sushi and sashimi if we did not see the lights; that’s how confident they were) after about 20 minutes waiting and playing in the 50cm deep snow the sky was lit with green flashes, the Northern Lights had come out to play. At times there was subtle and soft strips of green and other times great, vertical lines; it was beautiful to watch and a special experience which we’ll never forget. After some local delicacies in a wooden hut (with a roaring fire to defrost our fingers and toes) we made our way back to the hotel as we had our workshop the next day.
In the morning we chose not to get a taxi to the location of the workshop, the University of Lapland/Lapin Yliopisto, but rather to walk through and then out of the city, admiring the beautifully serene landscape (beautiful despite being slapped constantly by the cold winds). Our workshop was originally meant to take place in the library space of the university but it seemed a little too informal and we didn’t need that much space so we relocated next-door to what will now be referred to as ‘The Lab’: a creative and adaptable space filled with moveable tables, vertical projectors, adjustable seating and an abundance of smart-technology pouring from the cabinets and shelves. The Lab was the perfect space for our workshop; we could easily separate tables and create groups with plenty of work-space. Also being a techy design-space we were able to find a HDMI lead to connect our laptop to the TV: pretty important.
Before (and also after) our workshop started we checked out the University’s student exhibition, put on by art and design students which involved several Nordic branding projects, local design solutions and some fashion and photography pieces. We also met with several professors and later the Dean of the University which was interesting as it allowed us to explain who we were, what we were about and why we were there and also for the professors to talk to us about their students and how they could benefit from working together with us.
A healthy looking group of students turned up for our workshop, many of them from various courses; not just graphic design but industrial design, service design, product design as well as a few business management students. It was nice to see this mix of people and it really made the workshop interesting; how the groups played to each of the member’s skills and knowledge. Each group had to answer the same brief which was to essentially save the world using creativity.
Part of the workshop however is that the participants have to react to sudden changes at random intervals; much like how we work in the professional design industry. When we think we have cracked the brief often the client throws something else in and we have to adapt to suit this new information. In this case once an idea has been thought of by each group, they are then given a random, special interest magazine such as gardeners weekly or farmers monthly for example, and have to re-work their idea to suit this audience. Later, just before presenting their ideas, each group is given a random card which explains how they have to present said idea. The presentation styles are quite out there and include the likes of “present in the style of Donald Trump”, “present using members of the audience” or “present using props”, this generally ends up with a humorous result.
For our workshop specifically the groups thought of ways of reducing the impact on the climate from the fashion industry for fans of railways by creating a ‘swap-shop’ on-board trains where people could exchange their un-wanted clothes for new clothes left by other passengers. Another group tackled how influencers can help educate people through the power of music by creating an advertising system where influencers are given a style of music, a charity/cause and a method of explaining how and what they do. The final group tackled how mobile phone users can be more courteous to other mobile phone users and saw the magazine less for its content but more the physical, printed medium and showed how we can share what we are interested in through these magazines, something we can’t do naturally through our phones. Three totally unique ideas which all answered the same brief.
Following the workshop we chatted to several students and looked through some of their portfolios. We explained how we were interested in taking new interns from the university at VBAT which they seemed very interested about.
After some more chatting with professors, tidying up our stuff and resetting ‘The Lab’ to how we found it, we headed back to our hotel; walking through the snow again admiring the natural beauty. After a wander around the city centre again, a few drinks and some food at our pre-booked Lapland restaurant (more reindeer, sorry Rudolph… again) we called it a night.
The next morning we travelled from the city centre to the very small airport where we boarded our flight (Norwegian this time, slightly less stylish than Finnair) to Helsinki and onwards to Amsterdam where we then headed straight for VBAT.
Overall it was a promising trip and it was pretty successful; we managed to get our name out in the country through the Design Week and the university and hopefully we can create a strong relationship with many talented interns coming to us in Amsterdam. Only time will tell what will happen. On a personal level it was a really great trip; it was super nice to be asked to travel abroad and to partake in the workshop representing VBAT and later explaining what we do and how great our work is, to potential new interns; hopefully more of these experiences will come up and there will be more opportunities to represent VBAT again.
This short video is made from my Instagram story during our trip as well as some additional footage from Stefan and Connie. It gives a visual insight into what we got up to.
Are you a design student from Scandinavia, and specialised in corporate, packaging or retail design, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.