ARTEK White, Text by 2011 Tiina Alvesalo, Photo Artek.

The decisive factor in the development of new products is the value of their newness, says Ville Kokkonen, Design Director at Artek. “If the product, the space or the service does not offer any improvement compared to its predecessor, its design will remain marginal, a form of opinionated formalism.”

Kokkonen has designed a new range of light fittings for Artek, entitled White, in which the Bright White 1 table lamp has been medically certified. The product family consists of high-luminosity lighting devices whose design starts from the properties of the space and the target of lighting. The unpretentious and elegant pendant, wall and table lamps can be used both as work lamps and as fixtures for domestic interiors.

Kokkonen spent nearly two years designing the White product range, a time span which is rare nowadays. The project included an extensive research phase complete with applied ethnographic testing. Observing human behaviour holds a special interest for Kokkonen. He is also enthusiastic about the architecture of antiquity and of the 15th and 16th centuries, when people thought differently about light and space. The solutions of those periods still astonish us today.

One of Kokkonen’s challenges was how to justify the integration of the new product into Artek’s existing collection. “We did not want to create a new product if it didn’t fit into place with the rest. We always try to design a product for a specific type of place, or to see if we have a distinct need for a product of that sort.” Artek did not have in its collection lamps for lighting large spaces, and most of the existing lamps are pendants. “The majority of them are from the 1940s–50s and are designed to use incandescent light bulbs. Artek lamps also have a certain decorative aspect to them, so we clearly had a gap also in our product family,” Kokkonen says.

Right at the beginning of the research phase Kokkonen came to think of bright light lamps. Looking at the topic in depth, he noticed that the design of all bright light lamps on the market followed what he calls “modern home appliance aesthetic”. Moreover, the quality of the light was seldom considered thoroughly enough. Artek Studio conducted a user survey among colleagues, acquaintances, friends and employees: how do people use light at work, at leisure, at home, in the office, in other places? One important discovery was that if someone has a light therapy lamp, it is stashed away after use.

Kokkonen wanted to design a lamp which would be more like a piece of furniture than a technical device. As the goal was to obtain medical certification for the lamp, the sense of it being an instrument was something to be avoided. “Wellness products are undergoing a paradigm shift. The health impacts of light, clean indoor air, energy consumption, physical and mental health, these are all vitally important things for everyone of us. And yet there are less and less products available that would be understated and utilitarian. Maybe that’s because they are more demanding to design.”

Kokkonen says that the white colour of the new product family was an important choice, because colours add abstractness. A wooden finish would have given different aesthetic associations and material dimension to the product, which in this case might have detracted from its directness. The inside of the lamps in the White series is designed to reflect white light. This reinforces the idea that the lamp is an unidentified product whose sole purpose is to provide a frame for the light. One goal was to develop a tentative typology for bright light lamps. “Many existing light therapy lamps project the light up, down and to the sides. One of the design criteria for the Bright White 1 was that the light should not disturb anyone else. ”The solution was to make the White 1 casing deeper. Mounting the fluorescent tubes at the back made the light cone sufficiently narrow. The light interface is made as graphical as possible to create a seamless blend of two tones of white. The thin veneered plywood acts as an insulator, preventing the lamp from overheating, keeping the lamp pleasant to the touch.

To the question for whom White is designed, Kokkonen replies without hesitation: ”No doubt about it: for everyone.” We can no longer speak about consumers of a specific profile or clear-cut consumer groups. Consumer choices are today governed by the individual’s values and living environment.

Kokkonen takes an optimistic view of the diversity of the design processes in the future. He believes that cooperation between experts and organisations coming from different disciplines will increase. Personally, his preference is to work with engineers, artists and researchers. “When we were designing the bright light product family, we got a lot of scientific data on the secretion of melatonin and cortisone, on how our behaviour is affected by the long dark winters in the north, leading to insomnia, eating disorders and depression.” The research results played a decisive role in the design process of the White collection.

Along with industrial design, Kokkonen has a keen interest in works which require a specific apprehension. One of these is space-related art, which he has been following for some time. Artists James Turrell and Robert Irwin have both addressed the theme of light and space. “I am not so much interested in artists as in certain individual works which are convincing and affecting in their hard-to-achieve simplicity. Because artists have no given parameters or briefs they must follow, the works they produce have to be almost preternaturally successful on every level: details, scale, novelty, and above all execution,” Kokkonen sums up.

Text by Tiina Alvesalo