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[The Hieno! Suomi 100] Interview with Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo, the initiator of Design Finland 100.

Finnish Culture, Finnish People, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office
Kirsti Lindberg-Repo

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we have the huge privilege of featuring Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo. She is a visiting professor at the Singapore Management University and also the initiator of Design Finland 100 (DF100).

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo has been actively contributing to branding research for the past 15 years and has extensive experience in co-operation with academia and practitioners. She has also published two books on branding: “Titans of Service” and “Titans of Branding”. Today, she will be sharing with us more about Finland as a design nation and also the project DF100.

Enjoy the interview!

WW: Hello Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo, can you tell us more about yourself and what you are doing?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Hello Wan Wei.

Let’s start with a story:

I had a wonderful opportunity to work as a visiting professor in Singapore Management University in 2013. From my students I learned how unrecognisable a nation Finland is. There are no clear associations with the country brand of Finland.

The only things my students seemed to know of were:

1. Nightwish, a Finnish band;
2. The Finnish baby box; and
3. The best educational system in the world.

This was my calling. Having worked with brands and brand lecturing for the last 15 years in Swedish School of Economics and Aalto University in Helsinki, I felt that something should be done.

In summer 2015, my team and I came up with an idea to market Finland as a design nation in Southeast Asia.

Currently I am in charge of the Design Finland 100 in the Digital Age -project. Design Finland 100 is a two-year-long innovation project, organised for the very first time.

In March we will conduct Nordic Business and Design Case Competition, where students are given unique, real-life business problems to solve. We will ask them: “how to make strategic growth for Finnish companies in Asia?”

The connection between design and trade will be approached from various perspectives, such as fashion, health technology, digital services as well as service design. We are waiting to see innovative ideas, outside of the box -thinking and great team work, creativity, problem diagnosis, applying correct theories and good communications.

Two of the winning teams will be awarded an all inclusive (flight+accommodation) trip to Helsinki to Design Drives Business Seminar on August 30th, 2017.

WW: Wow, that is totally cool!

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Yes! You see, design from Finland is a great brand story.

We try to take the greatest design heritage of Finland forward, which Finland as a design nation is very famous for.

Designing a better customer experience is the strongest growth driver today. It forms a competitive advantage and ensures the consumers’ demand for a product or a service.

WW: You once mentioned that Finland is a “design nation”. Why is Finland a “design nation”?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Finland is a design-centred country.

Finland has received the highest number of design awards globally as compared to the size of the population. And for excellence in design, there is no other measurement for the time being, other than the awards and rewards accorded to the country.

For example, the Finnish company Planmeca has received so many awards and rewards for industrial, service, digital and product design. When we had our executive seminar “Design Drives Business” in Singapore on October 2016, the representative of Planmeca said, “I’d just show you the most recent design awards we have won. This is because we have received so many global awards and rewards for design that if we were to show them all, it would probably take all day.”

So you see, Planmeca is a true design company working in B2B, and has received great global recognition and acknowledgement for design. They produce for example big and colourful dental chairs. 98% of their production goes towards exports.

WW: Wow, that is a very high percentage.

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Yes, very, very high. And Planmeca’s production is 100% based in Finland. They have not outsourced production to any Chinese producers or manufacturers—they produce everything in Finland.

We can say that Finnish design really drives their business and they can be proud of it.

By “design”, we mean: Product design, service design, digital design and design as strategy. And design as strategy is one of the most used in the United States of America right now.

Take for instance, Pepsi’s CEO Indra Nooyi, who is one of top three most influential women CEOs in the world. Nooyi says that design has become so important for them in developing their current competitive advantage. Design is present in each and every decision that they are taking.

Designing a better customer experience is the strongest competitive advantage a company can have today.

WW: It is fascinating that “design is present in each and every decision they are taking”. How would you define the term “design”?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Well, Design is part of everyone’s life. I’m sure that there are many definitions to the term “design”.

Perhaps we could conceptualise a modern view on design as like this: Design is something that tries to reach a better user experience by implementing product design, service design, design as strategy and digital design as a channel to carry them all forward.

My background is actually very strongly grounded in the area of branding, so in our Design Finland 100 project, we are looking at the concept of design from the branding perspective. This means that design needs to bring differentiation for a product or service. It needs to have aspirational features and made desirable for the consumers, whether they are in the B2B or B2C industries.

Only this way, businesses can create a path to win their customers’ hearts and ensure that the experience for the end-customer is an improved one with design management.

Like the wagon in the train, you have a captain who is driving the train, and you have the wagon. And they are all part of the design.

WW: So, what do you think is the differentiating factor of Finnish design?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Well, first of all, its heritage value is huge.

We have had very, very, very good artists who were globally recognised early in Finland’s history, and that integrates design as part of our national identity.

For example, Alvar Aalto stands for the most recognised achievements in regard to Finnish design. One of his most famous consume designs enjoys high awareness, namely the Savoy or Aalto vase.

Sustainability is typically also one part of Finnish design. You don’t get rid of an Aalto Chair, for example, in one generation. An Aalto Chair can last for at least two to three generations without wearing out—it is so durable.

We can even think about Finnish design via the most iconic architectural design in Finland—the Villa Mairea. According to the Wall Street Journal dated 4 June 2015, there are five house designs in the world that are most worth seeing and visiting. On the third position they have chosen Finland’s Villa Mairea, which is designed by Alvar Aalto.

The typical characteristics of Finnish design are simplicity, authenticity and beauty. They have very clear forms and features. These characteristics give Finnish design a recognisable look. In general, Finnish design exudes harmony and form over function.

By form over function I mean that the design of the article does not have to be practical. Only service design needs to be practical. Therefore, we need to know whether we are talking about product design, or service design.

WW: It really seems like Finnish design is the bridge between generations! You’d mentioned that DF100 is targeted at Southeast Asians. Why Southeast Asia, though?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: We try to reach the very prestigious status of design, which Finland should have, but doesn’t enjoy for the time being, at least when we are looking at the issue from Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia is known as the new growth engine of the world economy and considered a significant market for Finnish companies.

Via DF100, we will build new relationships with academic institutions and business partners in the region, the home of 667 million people. In other words, we will crowdsource new ways to market Finland. Students gather together to create new approaches for Finnish companies in business case competition.

The three winning teams of the case competition will be invited to Finland to show their results in August 30th 2017. In this seminar ”Totally Design for Growth”, Finnish growth enthusiasts and Asian students will meet and network.

WW: What are some of the must-knows in Finnish design?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo:

  • Finnish design has a very rich heritage; its history goes back about 100 years!
  • Finnish design is highly acknowledged globally. And now we want to raise awareness for its excellence and prestige in Southeast Asia through our Design Finland 100 initiative!
  • Finnish design is almost like a religion in Finland. This in other words means that design is part of our national identity.

We take design so seriously. Like a religion, the development of the form is more important than commercial value for the Finnish design.

We need to move Finnish design forward such that we have greater commercial value and recognition. Design drives value and design has a clear role when reaching Asian consumers.

And in order to capitalise on Finnish design, we need to find new ways in order to increase its recognition and how it can be used as a tool to commercialise Finnish products and services.

Design Finland 100 project helps companies with this.

WW: Actually, if Finnish design is so good, why don’t Finns commercialise it already?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: You see, the demand for Finnish design is not generating more demand. This is because we want to keep the design for ourselves—we don’t really want to use it for the benefit of the customers.

WW: This is very strange to me. I think in Singapore, few people will be able to continue doing something that does not yield commercial value.

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: This is it. This is why Finland can consider engaging more with Singapore. This is because our design heritage needs to be commercialised.

And this is why the Suomi neito—the young Finnish lady—needs to “marry” the Singapore lion. Like the following Mentos Video!

WW: We have often heard that Finns are as “shy” as the Suomi Neito. The implication is that because of this “shyness”, Finns are not so good at marketing. What do you think about this?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: I think we are actually very good at marketing. However, at the C-level, it is usually the case that our marketing budgets are too small to reach global awareness.

I think Finnish marketing people are geniuses, because they are so creative with what they do on a very small budget.

Let me give you a context: In Sweden, the marketing budget allocated by the CEOs are 5 times bigger than Finland. You can do a lot more with a greater marketing budget.

So I think Finnish marketers have excellent marketing skills because they are able to do so much with so little.

Nowadays, there is more and more that kind of thinking that marketing and branding is made by every employee. I think it is…!

WW: Let’s go back to the truly inspirational Design Finland 100 project. What can Singaporeans/ Southeast Asians expect in the upcoming year?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Design Finland 100 is a platform to celebrate 100 years of Finnish design thinking. Its aim is to build bridges for Finnish and Southeast Asian companies.

I am sure there are Southeast Asians, who have never heard about Alvar Aalto, Marimekko, Fazer or the traditional sauna company Harvia. Each of these companies offer something that no one else can offer.

This year, Southeast Asians will hear and get to know all of these.

For the Asian university students, the business case competition will be an once in lifetime experience! During the competition they will definitely challenge themselves! They will get unique, real-life business problems to solve, they will learn how to work in a team while there is time pressure and they will learn to think in new ways with global perspective.

This experience they will remember for ever! The registration for the competition opens soon, so get ready!

WW: That is so exciting, I look forward to it! Finland celebrates its 100 years-old birthday this year. What is the one birthday wish you have for Finland?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Let’s raise a toast for Finland’s amazing future and for even better future of the design!

WW: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Finland should be recognised as a leading design nation. World class design knowledge is an increasingly crucial competitive factor in the global economy. Consumers prefer to buy brands with a strong design element and they are willing to pay a premium here.

Design gives a promise of a better customer experience. And that is what we all want for our customers, right?

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. We hope you have enjoyed reading this interview as much as we did!🙂 Feel free to check out the amazing Design Finland 100 Case Competition, like the Design Finland 100 Facebook Page, or follow Design Finland 100’s instagram @design_finland_100 .

About our Suomi 100 Book.

Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office

Have you ever wondered exactly how to preserve a glimpse of beauty in Finland 2016/2017?

Such that a glimpse of this beauty, authenticity and vulnerability:

  • becomes a legacy to be passed on from generation to generation;
  • can be presented as a sincere gift to a foreign friend who wants to understand and know Finnish culture better;
  • is revisited as and when necessary to warm hearts in cold winters.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Finnish life in 2016/2017 is preserved in a physical, tangible form?

Wouldn’t it be nice if…you can go back to these heartfelt interviews ten years later to see how the interviewees have changed?

-“Ah, so ten years on, this Carol Chen is now retired and travelling the world.

-“Ah, so ten years on, there are many immigrant-background leaders who, inspired by Husu, are helping the immigrant community do even greater works in Finland.”

-“Ah, so ten years on, this Emma lady is now back in Finland with kids.”

Wouldn’t you want this book? I know I would want it. 

So, there you have it.

We’re going to print our official “What is Finnish-ness” series into beautiful books.

It’s designed to last forever.


The Hieno! Suomi 100 series is part of the official programme endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office in Finland. This series revolves around the theme of “What is Finnish-ness?”, and we interview 35 people from various backgrounds who love Finland.

80% of our interviewees are nominated by the community. We are already two months into the project, and 12/35 through in terms of completed long-form interviews and anecdotes.

A couple of weeks ago, I bounced the idea of printing this series into beautiful books off Michaela, one of the best designers based in Helsinki. Mimi then got really excited and then told me about a similar concept done by The Great Discontent.

TGD’s print format looks like this:


SO stunning! 😀

Imagine various long-form interviews, quotes, and anecdotes printed in classy hardcover, on beautiful Finnish paper and elegantly designed/ spaced.

Imagine catching a whiff of the sweet, crisp scent of Finnish forests from the printed papers of the book.

Imagine YOU contributing a part to the history of the Finnish nation.

Imagine this Suomi 100 book designed and preserved to last forever.

Can you imagine our book together?

Yeah, we’re going to do the book. I don’t know how but we will get it.

And we’re going to do it together.



[The Hieno! Suomi 100 series–“What is Finnish-ness?”] Interview with Olli, a youth activist who wears many, many hats!

Finnish People, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series, we feature Olli Lukari. Olli shares with us his life in Finland, thoughts about what “Finnish-ness” is, concerns about social well-being, and some of the awesome things he is doing currently.

Enjoy the interview!~♡

TH: Hello Olli! Can you tell us more about yourself? 

Olli: Hi, sure! I’m a 26 year old student, born in Helsinki, now finishing my bachelor’s degree in special education. I’m the oldest of us kids in my family with a little brother and little sister.

Although I was born in Helsinki, my parents are actually from the countryside many hundred kilometres away from Helsinki. My mother works as a high school language teacher.

And my father, in spite of his engineer background, works as a journalist.

I’m a late boomer. I was a shy adolescent, awkward with girls, and all this has led me living an intense life as I’m trying to take up my “wasted years” of the youth.

I’ve lived many lives: through musician, sports guy, philosopher, writer and hippie phases. In the last year or two I’ve also dived into the world of organizations, entrepreneurship and event management.

I’m trying to craft my beloved hobby project from years ago, So Many Dreams, to a phenomena and enterprise that makes a global impact in the next few years. I volunteer and work at many festivals, events and compose and produce my own music.

TH: Wow you sure wear a lot of hats. Let’s say I have a friend who is visiting Finland, and asks if you could bring him to your favourite place in Finland. Where would that place be?  


Olli: Ouch, this is cliche but I’d say sauna.

It’s such a refreshing and vitalising place, a place for relaxation and solitude/companionship, depending if I’m there with friends or alone.

For a not so cliché answer I’d say any kind of descent movie theatre as I love watching films. I’ve been volunteering in many film festivals.

TH: Actually quite a few people told me sauna thus far in this Finland 100 series, HAHA! Okay now tell us, what is your happiest memory thus far in Finland?


Olli: There are many but I think I’d have to say it is the memory of giving a speech to young people in a youth camp I was volunteering in.

While giving the speech, I was in verge of tears and terrified! But I managed to talk from the heart: I talked about my own background of being a bully and being bullied, I talked about my own insecurities and growing above them.

I told that the young people: in spite of how they’ve been treated or how they had treated others, in spite of what they’ve done or thought, in spite of everything…they are worthy of unconditional love and care. This is something they should always remember.

A lot of people cried during that speech. After the speech many people started sharing painful experiences of being bullied et cetera.

It was such a beautiful moment.

TH: Showing one’s vulnerable side is always painful but endearing. And it sure takes a lot of courage and guts! So now tell us, what does being a Finn mean to you?

Olli: That’s a good question. I served a year in the military and I like many things about Finland. However, I still think that being a Finn is not that big part of my identity. I would like to say that I’m a world citizen.

But of course being a Finn means I’ve got a chance to enjoy some privileges of our society. For example:

  • free public school;
  • free/low price healthcare system (up to this point in my life at least it’s been cheap);
  • student loans;
  • student fees;
  • unemployment programs etc.

…Just to name a few!

TH: Wow that’s really cool! Actually, have you ever faced any challenges in or outside of Finland, when it comes to your identity as a Finn?

OllI: A tough question I have to say. I don’t if I can think of any challenges other than maybe that that not many people know (anything about) Finland!

If and when they do know Finland, Finland has quite a good reputation around the globe I think.

As a point of a traveller, coming from Finland, I think is in every way a privilege.

TH: What is the one thing that you appreciate most about Finland? 

Olli: I’d say it’s the free public school system.

It gives the same kind of basic education to all the people and for free.

Of course family background still has an influence. But thanks to the school system, many people from less privileged backgrounds get an opportunity they wouldn’t get in many other countries.

TH: What is the one thing you think that can be improved in Finland? 

Olli: I could choose from many (xenophobia, racism…) but I think I’m going to go for people’s low self-esteem and belief in one’s abilities.

In Finland, we have some top level education and university-level research in the whole world and governmental systems that can monetarily support people through tough times. Granted, the system is not perfect and full of flaws and injustices, but it’s still a lot better than in many countries.

But still as people, we Finns are not usually having that much confidence in ourselves and tend to shy away from our potential (me included).

The depression and suicide numbers are high and people have a hard time talking.

This all is changing bit by bit though. The entrepreneurship revolution is empowering people to think and act in new ways. And many people in women’s magazines and therapists like Tommy Hellsten talk openly about feelings like shame and depression.

TH: That’s interesting yet slightly disconcerting at the same time. It’s like battling against the invisible all the time. Talking about battles, how would you interpret the term “Finnish War”?

Olli: Do you mean the Finnish war in the 19th century or the wars people fought during the second world war (winter war and continuation war)?

If we are talking about the second world war times, my grandfather (who I don’t even remember seeing) fought in the war and got wounded by a grenade. I know the soldiers paid a heavy price for keeping Finland independent and I do honour what they did.

I also feel a bit sad for them in the case that many of the soldiers carry within them emotional wounds, memories that they haven’t shared with anyone for decades.

I haven’t yet read it, but a book came out some years ago about this topic. The book was called Murtuneet mielet; it would surely be interesting to read it one day!

Or maybe we can conceptualise “war” in terms of the Finnish identity – the talk about multiculturalism, refugees et cetera? I’m quite liberal and think of myself as a world citizen, but I’ve nothing against healthy nationalism.

Healthy nationalism could mean highlighting and being proud of the Finnish society, Finnish traditions (sauna for example), Finnish basic education and bringing these kind of thing more to the world. Maybe even using the Finnish nature more in international branding and marketing.

I’m pro-building and creating stuff and co-operating with other people and nations in a good way. What I don’t like is the “destruction and exclusion and violence” -patriotism that some people and movements are for.

If Finland and Finnish traditions are such good things, why should they be protected/spread with violence? Why couldn’t they be spread with good-will and benevolence?

TH: -nods- I couldn’t agree more. The recent killing of Jimi Karttunen by the neo-nazi group SVL in Helsinki was horrible and awful indeed. On a lighter note, You run a really interesting project “So Many Dreams”. Can you tell us more about it?

Olli: Thank you! 🙂 So Many Dreams is a project inspired by projects like Humans of New York and PostSecret.

Its mission is to inspire people to live up to their full potential, to inspire people to dream. Yet at the same time remind people that we’re all human beings.

We all do and hope to have some dreams, big or small, personal or not.

We’ll see what will become of the project: so far I have dreams and visions for a big online dream database. On this database you will find people who could look through people’s around the world through different filters: age, gender, home country, different topics regarding dreams.

These dreams could be classified according to well-being, hobbies, relationships, travelling etc.

I have visions of many books (dreams of children/prison inmates/refugees/old people/handicapped people, children) and products (blankets, notebooks, jewelery…). I wish to have massive exhibitions in big conferences and events and festivals with thousands of dream post cards in the future!

Building a global brand and doing campaigns for organizations like Amnesty, Plan and Unicef would be amazing. The current version of So Many Dreams can be found here.

TH: Do you think that anyone in Finland can achieve their dreams as long as they put their minds to it? What are some of the barriers they might face?


Olli: As for most people I would say, yes.

Of course there are hardships – one has to find or create a supportive social environment for oneself for example. It can be hard to do anything in an environment filled with too much envy, cynicism or pessimism.

One has to be able to find supportive people which can be difficult, but luckily we have the world of internet nowadays.

Some guy for example just created a facebook group for lonely adults, it got visibility in the news. And now there are many groups of the same kind holding regular meetings and get-togethers.

And it depends on the dream also of course. Let’s face it, if you’re a single parent or act as a care giver for a family member then some dreams might be harder to pursue than others.

But then again, no one is dictating what should one dream about!

TH: As a young person, what do you think about Finland’s lacklustre economic growth in current times?

Olli: In spite of the current situation I have hope for the future.

“Entrepreneurship” is a big word these days and hopefully people and companies also start to relate words like “social and environmental responsibility” to it.

Nordic Business Forum had a theme “responsibility” in some years ago. Supercell too, has an awesome mentality of paying it forward. They have donated millions to a fund helping the youth not to become alienated and socially excluded from the society and their peer groups.

It’s been said that the Slush-generation of new entrepreneurs is thinking big and ready to internationalize and take and grow their businesses outside Finland as well.

So, let’s hope this entrepreneurship culture change empowers both the people and economic situation in Finland.

I just hope the Finnish school system stays free in the future as well.

TH: Haha, I hope all that talk on entrepreneurship isn’t just hype! After all, loads of startups do fail, and very badly. Just curious: Do you personally think that Finland is the best country in the world? 

Olli: Yes and no. As a society, we have nice structures that enable people to get support and help when life hits you hard.

No, these systems are not perfect–far from it! But still they function better than in many other countries.

TH: What are your dreams and visions for the future?

Olli: Well, I have many dreams. I wish to get my bachelor degree in special education. I wish to gain huge momentum with the So Many Dreams -project.

Hopefully I can build a big brand and make a living out of it, and to co-operate with international organizations like Amnesty, Plan and Unicef.

I wish to publish some books in the future. And also at some point I want to concentrate more closely on making music – it would be nice to have my music played in a video game or a movie one day.

I wish Dreamspire–an organisation I started with a couple of friends a couple of years agoDreamspire–an organisation I started with a couple of friends a couple of years ago— continue to make an impact in people’s lives. I wish we could get some fundings for this organisation. I wish to win the Finnish Championship of freestyle rap!

TH: Finland would be celebrating its 100 years of independence next year. What are your dreams and visions for Finland’s future?

Olli: I hope that the social landscape continues to change.

That it becomes more okay and acceptable for people to talk about emotions and mental health issues.

TH: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Olli: Not that much – or maybe that what a reader could do is to start writing down the things they want in their lives.

Do this writing daily for 30 days, and see what happens in your life.

Check down Steve Pavlina’s blog for further instructions and also I could recommend the book The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by the Malesian entrepreneur and world-changer Vishen Lakhiani.

TH: Thank you for your time and generous sharing today, Olli!

Olli: Thanks for the opportunity to be interviewed! I wish all the best for your future 🙂

We hope you have enjoyed this interview! The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feature photo courtesy of Olli, photographed by Sebastian Trzaska.