Creating play equipment with the great designer of Finland.

November 10th, 2017

PLAY DESIGN LAB has recently launched three new products in Japan. The designer is Eero Aarnio, the world’s famous Finnish designer known for his iconic design such as the Ball Chair. Here we would like to introduce the story behind the design process of these new products.


Design culture of Finland

   Scandinavian people live with the nature, and even in the bitter cold they have a good quality of life.

   Finland is one of those Scandinavian countries where forests and lakes cover 80% of the land, which is why the country is called “the land of forest and lakes”. Winter is the longest season and it is almost one third of the year. In this environment, Finnish people have enhanced their quality of lives, and their creativity to enjoy life has developed the unique design culture of Finland.

   Finnish design is simple and functional, at the same time it is also friendly and will lighten up people’s heart. Bright and bold design is used as an accent of the minimal design. That is the playful side of Finnish design.


   For example, people are always fascinated with the colorful and unique design by the textile brand “Marimekko”. “Iittala” known for it’s tableware gives colors to the table and enrich people’s lives. These two brands sparked the Finnish boom in Japan.

   Not just famous brands but there are many famous artists and designers as well. Tove Jansson is the author of Moomin books that is loved all around the world. Alvar Aalto is recognized as one of the great masters of modern architecture. And then there is Eero Aarnio, the legend of furniture design known around the world for his unique and iconic designs. Even now, he keeps surprising the world with his new design.



Designing play equipment for children

   Finland is known as the leading country of education as well as design. Although for children, they may be more familiar with Finland as the country where Santa Claus and Moomin are from. This country is physically far from Japan, but we actually have many connections and feel close even as a young child.


   Now in Japan, the Finnish design exhibition is on tour to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence. The exhibition venues are Fukuoka City Museum, the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, the Fukui City Museum, the Fuchu Art Museum and the Miyagi Museum of Art.

   In the lobby of these museums, there are a few products that are popular among children.



   Colorful and unique chairs line up among the famous chairs at the lobby where people can actually sit on them. The designer of these colorful chairs is the great designer as mentioned above, Eero Aarnio.

   Eero Aarnio is one of the interior designers who started using fiberglass, bright colors, and curved lines to form a shape, which was something new in the 1960s. His representative work, the Ball Chair is in the collection of famous museums known around the world.


   The first product he designed for children was the chair “Pony” in 1973. The product was not just to sit, but it also made children want to play with it and won their heart. This was just the beginning and after that, he continued designing many products that children love using animals such as birds or dogs, and fantasy animals as a motif.


left:Aarnio and the Ball Chair  right:Creating Pony /photo_Aarnio Design Ltd.


   The members of PLAY DESIGN LAB thought Aarnio is the one who will bring new ideas to the future of Japanese children, and asked him if he could design a new product. Even though it was a sudden request, Aarnio willingly consented.


   We decided to visit Aarnio at his home and Finland to make an agreement for the new project. After more than 10 hours from Japan, we arrived to Veikkola, a city near Helsinki. In the woods appears a house with a wide window facing the Finnish landscape. This is Aarnio’s home that he built on his own.


Aarnio’s house


   Aarnio who warmly greeted us at his home, was full of spirit and youthfulness that we could hardly believe he was over 80 years old.


   Once we got to our seat, he started showing us all kinds of new ideas he had for us and all of them were playful and fascinating. Looking through the sketches made us excited as we were back in our childhood.

   After showing the sketches, he opened champagne for us to celebrate the beginning of the new project. We realized that his cheerful and friendly character is what lets him create the playful and heart-warming products.


   After that, Aarnio gave us a tour of his retrospective exhibition held at the Helsinki Design Museum. The exhibition was filled with people coming to see his work, which showed how much he was loved and respected by everyone.



At the retrospective of Eero Aarnio, Helsinki Design Museum


   He sent us many sketches after we returned to Japan. Many of the staffs that saw the sketches for the first time could not resist smiling at the playful ideas.

   We immediately started developing few of the products. For this project, all the products will be produced in Japan. We discussed with Aarnio many times, thinking about what would be the best shape for molding and arranging some parts to meet the requirement for children’s safety. After almost one and a half year of development, three products finally completed.


These are the new three products.



Norsu is the Finnish word for elephant. Climbing up the large back and sliding down the ling trunk. Children can also go under the trunk too.



Lisko means lizard in Finnish. It is a bench with the motif of a fantasy animal that is like lizards and crocodiles. Aarnio says, “Lisko wants children to ride on its back and let their imagination fly.”



BABY DRAGON greets the children with its big head and a friendly smile. All children would enjoy riding on its long back supported with four legs.



   To fulfill the requirements of slides and benches, you just need the minimal structure. Although in Aarnio’s design, there is much more, filled with imagination. With Aarnio’s magic spell, the action of sitting on a bench turns into a “playing together” with friends for children.

   We hope that having these “new friends” in the children’s environment will open up the new world of play.



Interview with Eero Aarnio

In the end, we interviewed Aarnio and asked him about himself and the products. He also gave us a message for the children in Japan.


●Please tell us about your childhood. What did you do for fun?

During my childhood years of ages seven through twelve Finland was at war and there was a shortage of everything. Basic goods were limited and rationed, continuous air strikes in Helsinki interrupted normal daily routines and school days. Nightly bombings prevented regular sleep and forced people to seek cover in bomb shelters in apartment cellars during the air raids, which sometimes lasted all night. I also had to flee seven times from the city to the countryside with my mother and during one of those times the building where we lived was bombed and my home was destroyed. Even during these years, I was able to play with my friends, but the most important thing was that my family survived the war and life continued.



●Are there any reasons you started designing objects for children?

Because a seat does not always have to be a chair or a sofa, I decided to design a soft animal figure on which you can sit like riding a horse, and the “Pony” was born. Several years later the Magis company from Italy contacted me and asked if I was interested in designing objects for children which were neither toys nor furniture and I designed the Puppy, the Penguin and also the Trioli, a chair with three different functions and which later received Italy’s most prestigious design award, the Compasso d’Oro.

From left:pony、puppy、torioli / photo_Aarnio Design Ltd.



●In an article you said that you always have ideas in your head, but when do you actually come up with them? Are there any special moments when a new idea hits your mind?

When I get a new idea in my head, I will immediately make some sketches and when I’m happy with the final result, I will draw it in one to one scale. My best ideas happen in the morning after a good night’s sleep.



― Finally, he talked about his thoughts about the new products and gave us a message for the Japanese children.


●Japan has favorable feelings toward Finland and an exhibition of Finnish design in commemoration of Finland’s 100th anniversary of independence has just started in Japan.

What is your impression of Japan?

In 1967, I travelled around the world and spent few days in Japan, a country of great traditional architecture and natural beauty.



●Are there any special thoughts for children in the products you have designed this time?

A playful child is always so full of energy and new ideas that every new unseen object opens up completely new worlds for her/him.



●Slides are one of the most popular plaything for children in Japan, how was designing Norsu?

Very often the shape of an elephant has been used for slide designs for children but it could just as well be a giraffe drinking with its legs spread out and the long neck stretching down to the ground would be the slide. Most important part for children is the long slide.



●Please give a message to the children who are using the products you designed.

You have to allow children to create their own plays. They should not be deprived of their own joy of creativity, there is no wrong play. Children come up with very creative ways of using different objects, unlike adults who seem to follow the more conventional ways. And this is true also with my designs.



●You are known as great designer with such a playful mind and your products are loved all around the world. What will be important for young designers in Japan to be someone like you in the future?

There is no child without a gift, everyone is gifted in their own way. Every parent or teacher should know this and guide the child towards the right direction, even if the child wants to be the world’s best backwards runner one day.

A young designer could for example try to make use of the power of magnetism. In Japan there are trains weighing hundreds of tons that hover couple of millimeters above the tracks, so why couldn’t people sit in invisible chairs based on the same principle of the magnetic field? As if the laws of gravity were invalidated. There are no limits to creativity. This is good for children to learn and keep in their minds regardless of their occupations later in life.



Information of where to see the new products

All of the products will be exhibited at the Finland pavilion of the IFFT Interior Lifestyle Living.(Details below) Please come and see Aarnio’s design that is full of imagination and thoughts for children.


IFFT / Interior Lifestyle Living

[Exhibiting Norsu, Lisko, and Baby Dragon]  >>Official website

 2017.11.20~22 Tokyo Big Site West 1 Hall Finland pavilion