Become a game changer – Designing minds

What happens when a group of Aalto University art and design students come together to work long hours in the sun and rain? Three Visual Communication Design students discuss the importance of patience, community and sense of humour as they learn to grow as a team.

One of Europe’s coolest music festivals in the heart of the summery city with a star-studded international line-up and over 75,000 visitors. No wonder students Armi Teva, Miila Westin and Robert Lönnqvist were excited about the prospect of creating the main mural for the annual Flow Festival in Helsinki’s bustling Kallio neighbourhood. 

“Our school had arranged the technical side, and there was a huge blank canvas, a 100-metre wall waiting for us”, says Armi. “None of us knew exactly how much work it would be. We just sat down and tried to make sense of it all.” 

It was not easy or obvious, as the students worked between classes to try and get organized: deciding on what colours to use, who would design what and even something as basic as the concept itself. 

The students eventually found themes for their murals from songs of the artists performing at the festival. The final piece would be called Jukeboksi or Jukebox, allowing each of the students to decide which tracks to use as a source of inspiration. “This way each of us could work on a section of the mural while still being part of the larger theme or idea”, describes Armi. 

In upper secondary school, all three were undecided on what to study later on, but they shared a passion for art. Robert explains: “I’ve always been drawing and created graffiti as a teenager, so I wanted to find out how to keep on doing it. I knew I was drawn to it, but wasn’t sure how to take the next step. I found that Aalto had this programme that would let me continue to do this type of project-based work.” 

Armi was originally studying to become a ceramic artist at Aalto’s Department of Design, but went on to pursue studies in Visual Communication Design. “We have lots of support around us to try new things. In our department, nobody says this is the path you must take.” 

Since then, all three students have carried out major projects for the City of Helsinki and Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. They have created illustrations for magazines, public spaces, walls and posters. “It’s important to have the freedom to try and explore different projects. To get your hands on something”, Robert says. 

Although projects are varied and interesting, sometimes inspiration is hard to find. You have to find your own way. “I usually get the best ideas when I’m very sleepy. So, I wait until I’m really, really tired at 4 am or so”, Miila laughs. 

According to Armi, there’s a fine line between feeling you don’t have any ideas or can’t do anything at all – and actually doing it. “In the end, you just need to give time and make room for ideas to come. Pick up a pen and try and do something – maybe hate it – and then happen to do something you like. Trust yourself.”

Support from others has proven invaluable during the course of studies and work projects. “You don’t even realize how much support you need from others until you get it! Luckily, we get it a lot. From professors, classmates and everybody”, Miila praises. 

By the end of the mural project, each of the students had a newfound appreciation for each other and their own process. The wall got soaked by the rain many times, spilling the paint, which would dry on the concrete around. But in the end, the students pulled it all off, and the mural attracted plenty of praise, thousands of visitors and hundreds of selfies. 

The three students laugh about it in hindsight. “I guess we could have done some things differently, but that’s what’s so great about this kind of work, you can challenge yourself to solve a problem. To do something daunting. To learn from it and then move on to the next challenge”, Robert says.

Become a game changer. Find your own programme and apply to Aalto University 15 December 2017 – 24 January 2018.