Graphic design that is “anachronistic, misplaced or dorky”: Samuli Saarinen explores the mediation of language

The Helsinki-based creative thrives on designing for the publishing sphere, specifically on political and intellectually engaging works.

21 October 2020


As a child, Samuli Saarinen was a big fan of Linkin Park. This may seem like a rather arbitrary way to start an article on It’s Nice That but trust me, it is relevant. The Turku-born, now Helsinki-based designer wasn’t really an artsy kid growing up, unlike most creatives. But when reading an interview with Mike Shinoda and Joe Hahn (Link Park members) Samuli quickly discovered that the two studied graphic design and that, he tells us, is “how I first learned about the profession.” At first, he thought the medium was “just a profession,” not so much about self-expression, but as time passed this changed and Samuli became more involved with what graphic design could entail, leading him to pursue a degree in the subject.

Having studied at Aalto University in Helskinki, Samulie went onto study for a master’s degree at Amsterdam’s Sandberg Insituut – an extension of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. Today, his work mostly takes the form of print, an output he is drawn to for its materiality. On this, he explains: “In my work, I try to pay attention to the opacity that inevitably emerges at the conjuncture of language and its material mediation.” Exploring the mediation of language, not to mention the language of mediation, when it comes to graphic design for Samuli, it’s all about designing the experience of reading and in turn, discussion, writing and thinking.

“This is not to say that I would intentionally want to somehow obscure ‘the content’ with form,” Samuli details, “but I want to trouble notions of assumed transparency and immediacy between language and its material form.” In short, Samuli is interested in the relationship between content and its form and for him, there should always be “something strange” in its connection. He achieves this by creating a certain kind of tension between disparate elements in a design. This can be applied to a singular composition or a larger body of work, for example in a publication where separate aspects of the design amass to create an overall atmosphere.


Samuli Saarinen (Copyright © Samuli Saarinen, 2020)

“In practice,” Samuli puts it, “I try to make designs that feel messy, slightly off, a bit clumsy, anachronistic, misplaced or dorky.” There are a number of projects that we could discuss to highlight this unique way of thinking. Amongst an extensive body of work, there are logos, posters, exhibition visuals and numerous publications to choose from. But the one we are here to discuss today is something of a dream project for the designer; redesigning the serial identity for a classic book series of continental philosophy by Tutkijaliitto, a Finnish philosophy publisher.

Samuli has been an avid reader of the series for years and is also a fan of the original design “even if it lacked a certain refinement or commercial sheen,” he admits. Tasked with providing the series with a contemporary lift, Samuli considered designing a highly contemporary revamp but decided against it. “I wanted to retain the vernacular charm and idiosyncrasies of the original design and proposed to only do a fairly modest retouch,” he says. The end result is a publication that looks distinctly different to Samuli’s signature style – less playful in its colour choices and use of bold pattern – and although it’s an anomaly to Samuli’s usual output, the project holds a special significance for its sentimental value.

He’s worked on other designs for publishing imprint Tukijaliitto, more recently Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s Finnish translation of Mushroom at the End of the World. Having read the book in English, when Samuli heard the book was to be published in Finnish, he leapt at the opportunity to work on the design. Publishing is a genre of graphic design he hopes to continue working on in the future, specifically on projects he deems politically and intellectually worth publishing. And with that in mind, we eagerly await his next projects, both for their beautifully visual and highly conceptual stimulations.

GallerySamuli Saarinen (Copyright © Samuli Saarinen, 2020)



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Samuli Saarinen (Copyright © Samuli Saarinen, 2020)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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