Disrespectful thoughts about design: Social, political and environmental values in Finnish design, 1960–1980

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Doctoral thesis (monograph)
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Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL THESES, 23/2023
In the field of design history, there is a shared understanding that the design profession was born alongside the capitalist ideology of maximising profit, and with the purpose of fulfilling industry’s needs to produce desirable products effectively. This doctoral dissertation explores a generation of design students and design professionals in Finland, in the 1960s and 1970s, as they became aware of the two contradictory faces of design: one that is complicit in overproduction, overconsumption and social inequality, and the other capable of examining and addressing the very same issues it has co-created.This awareness prompted the development of design education and professional design practice not dictated by the values and expectations of industry or commerce, but shaped by feelings of social responsibility, environmental concerns and politically leftist motivations. Based on extensive and original archival research, this dissertation provides a fragmentary yet meticulous account of how change is put into motion. The first chapter explores the emergence of social and environmental values among Finnish design students. These novel ideals led to initiatives such as seminars and publications that demanded a renewal ofthe conservative values of the previous generation and a more academic, research-based design field able to address urgent societal issues. The second chapter investigates how the youthful protests of the 1960s were harnessed for political purposes as a nation-wide Marxist-Leninist youth organisation connected to the Finnish Communist Party gained a considerable following among design students. This spurred the creation of design curriculum reflecting leftist values. The third and final chapter examines whether the social, environmental and political values so prominent in design education gained any foothold in the professional and promotional field of Finnish design. This dissertation fills a gap in the history of Finnish design by giving a detailed account of not only a specific set of values developing within the field, but also of the initial steps of becoming the academic profession it is today.The purpose has been to widen the understanding of what kind of design is worthy of the historian’s attention in the first place. This research therefore moves beyond the commonly seen selection of industrially produced or handcrafted,highly aestheticised objects that have become synonymous with Finnish design. Instead, it investigates and analyses anonymous student work, rural craft traditions, temporary installations, medical instruments, seminar posters, dairy distribution systems, industrial machinery, development projects and workplace ergonomics, to name a few. In an international context, the dissertation provides a geographically, politically and culturally specific account of social and environmental responsibility that swept over the global design field during the 1960s and 1970s. It also argues that, at this moment in time, there is an equally urgent need to see design as a profession able to reconsider and realign its goals and values.
Supervising professor
Julier, Guy, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Design, Finland
Thesis advisor
Korvenmaa, Pekka, Prof. Emeritus, Aalto University, Finland
design education, history, values, social values, environmental values, politics, Finnish design
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