Late last January, as snow blanketed Helsinki roared while landlords and the road commission scrambled to respond, Guy Julier took to Twitter to explain what he thought of earth movers pushing snow across a parking lot:
'While the planet burns, in Helsinki, Tonka toys pointlessly move snow from one place to another.'
Julier, it seems, is unafraid of taking a critical perspective. For over 30 years, his work has explored several less visible aspects of design since its phenomenal rise in the 1980s. He traces and uncovers how individals and groups 'design' their lives with material, spatial and visible objects, and how design interacts, creates and alters professions, economics, and consumption patterns.
Although the big story in economics in recent decades has been one of financialisation, deregulation and the new economy, Julier is confident that another, quieter development is underway in the economic realm. 'A great deal of variation has been unfolding,' he says. 'After the financial crisis in 2008, there has been the development of an alternative way of thinking on design and economics.'
Since taking up his post as Professor of Design Leadership at Aalto University in May 2018, Julier has been quite busy. Between teaching and completing a book project (Design Culture: Objects and Approaches, Bloomsbury 2019), he is holding the keynote address at this year's Design History conference this month and has been working on a project on social impact in design.
And on the side, he has also served as the commissioner of the Finnish pavilion at the XXII Triennale di Milano exhibition. Curated by Kaisu Savola and organised by the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, the exhibition is called Everyday Experiments and marks the first time Finland has shown in Milan in nearly 30 years.
It takes design understanding to find sustainability
From the 1940s to the 1960s, the Milan Triennale brought Finnish furniture design and glassware into the international spotlight. This year's exhibition had a very different theme, focusing attention on the environmental crisis and the visible toll it has taken around the world, along with attempts to deal with the damage.
Looking back at the exhibition that has run since 1 March in Milan, Julier has mixed feelings. He says he is very proud of the Finnish pavilion itself and pleased with the way it differed from the 22 other national sections. 'Firstly, because it was visually and technically different than practically every other participation. It is a quiet exhibition, and required visitors to stop and reflect.'
'As commissioner of Everyday Experiments, I have had the opportunity to work with some truly amazing people. The team within Aalto - from Kaisu Savola to the exhibition desigers, graphic designers to the architects - have done incredible work on the project.' He also mentions the quality of the projects themselves, many of which he said were personally inspiring.