Preserving the Past, Shaping the Future through Graphic Design

Ilkka Karkkainen, a graphic designer blending analog techniques

Ilkka Karkkainen, graphic designer, the jury chairman for the Paimio Sanatorium 90 poster competition, aims to engage with an open mind and address persistent issues. He has been influenced by Aino and Alvar Aalto and offers suggestions for submitting posters for the competition. Karkkainen works in a former factory in Helsinki, where various professions collaborate to create various works. He believes that using analog techniques and preserving cultural items can have a positive impact on society. He refers to his work as a leisurely printing approach, aiming for caution and sustainability.

The Paimio Sanatorium 90 poster competition’s jury chairman, Ilkka Karkkainen, aspires to engage with an open mind in issues that persist. In this interview with The Return of Design, he talks about how Aino and Alvar Aalto have influenced his work as a graphic designer and gives suggestions to people who are submitting posters for the competition.

Ilkka Karkkainen, a GRAPHIC DESIGNER, worked for years in an advertising firm before starting a new phase of slower, more thoughtful work a few years ago. He invested in vintage hardware and learned about the history of letterpress printing. Currently, he works with both commercial and artistic designs. Karkkainen is the competition’s creative partner and serves as the competition’s jury chairman for the Paimio Sanatorium 90 – Human Perspective poster contest.

In Vallila, Helsinki, Ilkka Karkkainen works in a former factory that now houses a sizable number of artists. A variety of professions work together in the 200 square meter open workplace as individuals write letters, plan places, make pictures, and make papier-mâché sculptures.

The numerous antique chests of drawers loaded with type and the proof presses at one end of the room are interesting to even the uninformed since they date to a time when the saying “Easy does it” was widely used. In addition to preserving a significant cultural item, Karkkainen is also reviving it.

Your studio does not have an open-office design! You have access to massive, even 100-year-old, gadgets. How come?I knew right away when I quit my thirty-year profession in advertising that I wanted to work more gradually and using analog techniques. The work of musicians and photographers, for example, shows how this has other effects on society. We yearn for material things. The death of books and even magazines has been predicted for a very long time, but I don’t think it will happen.

I refer to my present work as a leisurely printing approach, despite the fact that you can never escape life’s frenetic pace. However, I try to approach things with greater caution and sustainability.

“It’s great to bring people together from various fields and see how we can pick up new and motivating skills from how others approach their work.”

You thus have experience in the advertising sector and are now employed in the fields of art graphics and commercial graphic design. It has such a creative and adaptable sound!The area between art and business and how they interact fascinates me. Over the years, I have studied both cultures and made an effort to understand the wide gap between them. If there are any channels that combine the two, I’ve pondered.

Based on these concepts, the artist Veera Kulju and I co-founded the so_helsinki collective. We work on a project-by-project basis, are familiar with many of the leading experts in the field, and always put together a team for every project. It’s amazing to bring together people from different disciplines to see how we can all get fresh insights and inspiration from one another’s methods of working.

The openings have been kind of left wide open. Working for an advertising firm seemed to need a great degree of discretion in my prior job, with staff members working behind closed doors so as to keep information confidential. We wanted to share things, have an open mind, and welcome others around. I’ve learnt more in the last two years than I have in the preceding 10, and it feels amazing.

You created a logo for the Paimio Sanatorium that represents something crucial in an uncomplicated way by forming the letter P with a gently curved form. Who are you as a designer, and what type of final product do you hope to produce?

“As a designer, I tend to favor the traditional, and as I get older, my work gets more simple. I don’t want to include anything that is unneeded, therefore I start by getting rid of all extraneous forms and effects. This has always been a part of the way I operate. Minimalism is not thought to be a practical business strategy. I’ve occasionally had to tell them straight up that leaving things out rather than adding extra decorations requires a lot of courage.

I thought about how I would approach the commission for the Paimio Sanatorium, which was a big honor for me. I came to the conclusion that I had to hire help since I couldn’t just add a few details to what the Aaltos had created. As a result, I sketched a form that Alvar Aalto had previously created. I’m really happy that Alvar, not me, came up with the solution.

This is my first priority. My job and goal is to create things that don’t necessary seem like they were made by me but instead offer the best answer for any given situation.

I’m astounded by how much ahead of their time the Aaltos were—even futuristic.

What part of the Aaltos’ work has affected you the most?

“When I studied Alvar’s ideas, I was astounded by how far ahead of their time—even futuristic—the Aaltos were. The idea that someone might make something that would last for a century or more is astounding. The Aaltos will continue to be as charming for future generations as it was when it was first built. In the context of today, the things they created and the solutions they painstakingly created are just as modern.

Ilkka Karkkainen graphic designer's work on a new flagship store

You are the chairperson of the jury for the Paimio Sanatorium and Grafia’s 90th anniversary poster competition. Could you please tell us the poster’s format?

“Posters were perhaps the most common type of media a century ago. It served as a means of communication. Posters might be hung on designated walls, pillars, and other places across the city. Every reputable theater, for instance, employed a graphic designer to make play posters with regard. Nearly everything has changed nowadays. Commissions for graphic designers are still given, although they have changed throughout time.

It’s important to recognize their skillfulness rather than insisting that everything be done exactly as it always has been. The poster, in my opinion, is a sort of basic format. This is how we want to restore the poster to its rightful place in society given how popular digital environments have become.

Can you think of a specific poster that you felt was really powerful?

Perhaps the most well-known anti-war poster campaign was that of Yoko Ono and John Lennon in the 1960s. The stark statement read: “The war is over!” It was printed in black characters on a white backdrop. if you so choose. The poster that Ono and Lennon purchased was shown in commercials all over the world.

Is the presence of a message on a poster required?

“A poster that displays a strong viewpoint or attitude is a propaganda poster. Although not the sole strategy, that is one. Additionally, there are posters that employ visuals to build a company’s brand. Another type is a typographic poster with a message. The idea underlying the Lennon and Ono poster campaign was its most powerful component, and I like its clarity. I believe it’s amazing that there weren’t any frills because the subject at hand is so powerful and important.

According to conventional thinking, a poster is successful and worthwhile if it functions just as well on the side of a matchbox.

I think there are several definitions of what elements a poster has to include in order to be deemed outstanding. Is this accurate? What makes a poster effective?

“Experts believe that a poster is wonderful and effective if it can also be put on the outside of a matchbox. I’ve also heard of a lot of additional rules. I participated in the Cannes Lions Festival’s Outdoor category jury in 2006. We looked over almost 5,000 applications all week. We are all aware that there are different definitions for composition, colors, contrasts, symbolism, etc.

When we were done, we learned that all of the winning submissions went against the rules we thought were in place. Maybe this exemplifies the usefulness of the idea. A powerful concept makes the method of implementation unimportant.

We’ll soon give Ilkka access to his printing supplies again. Please address those who plan to enter posters in the competition, though.

“I want to motivate you. Keep in mind that any approach is permitted, including typographic posters and graphics, photography, oil painting, or a mix of these.

Though it may be hard to picture, the competition’s topic, Human Perspective, is an abstract idea that is intimately tied to the Aaltos design ethos. I advise you to study as much as you can about the Paimio Sanatorium, the Aaltos’ designs, and early Aalto exhibition posters. Best wishes!”

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