Imaginary Life

Ice Circle, a new Nordic snow and ice network

Imaginary Life recently was invited up to the Artic circle by artist Laila Kolostyak to help organise a seminar and workshop for over 20 selected snow and ice professionals from Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway. The seminar was funded by Kulturkontakt Nord and the Norwegian Barents Secretariat and aimed to explore how Snow and Ice professionals can raise the profile of their work, as well as collaborate and share knowledge across borders on how to drive successful projects of all scales; from installations in nature parks, to interior and architectural design, to urban planning and urban reclamation and festival planning.

Keynote speakers included leading professionals such as Timo Jokela from the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, known decades of spectacular land art, Jens Toms Ivarsson, Design Director at the world-famous ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden and Ole Morten Rokvam, an artist and craftsman who has curated leading events with snow and ice in Norway for over a decade. In addition, the artists from Kirovsk and Murmansk were exceptionally inspiring, sharing their festival and community work and bringing a lot of love and live music.


We spoke with Jens Thoms Ivarsson:

We were discussing the ‘eternal ephemerality’ or ice. Is that something Design can learn from?

Absolutely. Imagine: the earth was created at some point, some billions of years ago. The water we are working with could have come from a comet- its ancient and essential stuff. Two different materials met and collided, basically stone and water. They became a frozen moment. Hot lava froze into stone, and water turned into ice. It’s this moment of change that artists and designers often explore in the materials and contexts they work with. Moments of change. Tipping points. How materials age next together. How they behave. It’s fundamental stuff, but ice also teaches us about the nature of continuous change. The seasons, nature’s needs, human needs in winter climates, and of course, climate change. These are new frontiers for design in general. We always think about the negative aspects of snow and ice, how to get rid of it, how to avoid it. We’ve hardly scratched the surface of how to use it as a material.

How long is something ephemeral?

It’s a good question. It all depends on the point of view, the objectives of a project. We follow the melting process of the ICEHOTEL too- it is so beautiful. We spend so long making details, crafting interiors and design elements –always knowing it will melt and return to the river again. And during the process, the sound changes in the building, the atmosphere is fantastic. It’s not sad- its liberating. The ice hotel doesn’t collapse, it opens up in the centre to reveal the sky and the surroundings of the place where it started. There is so much new knowledge to be gained about snow and ice.

But there is a high risk of making mistakes working with such a volatile material?

Yes – but the volatility also opens possibilities. Designers always ask “How do I avoid mistakes?” Ernst Billgren’s book ‘Vad är Konst 2′ (What is art 2) says that the short answer is to sit very still! As soon as humans do something there are mistakes, but mistakes also lead to discoveries. All our genetic development and success is built on learning from mistakes. When I work in stone or concrete and it is placed in city, there is a lot of pressure as the object will lasts for a lifetime. Working in snow and ice is very freeing in a way. You can be more brave and experimental. Less self conscious and more playful.

How do you work with seasons of water and light at the ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi?

You’d think it all happens in the winter as the focus is on ice art but we are moving to all year round. In the summer there is rafting, fishing and other nature activities and the phenomenon of the sun never setting at night- that is a very special experience to have. Also we are preparing for the water to freeze long before it does. It’s the pivotal moment for us, as we invite artists from all over the world. And those artists are not all traditional ice sculptors. We work with people from all background to explore what they can create with ice as a material.

We can also funnel water from the river, and blow it through snow canons to create a material we call “snice” –manufactured snow. We can throw snow onto moulds. Sometimes we use reinforcement to create very large structures. We are also learning more ever year about how to use ice reinforcement. The old way is to create giant moulds for architectural structures where the walls are built with plywood moulds and filled with snice, much like the process for creating concrete buildings. By exploring ice reinforcement we open new doors to resourceful innovation in architecture.

How many people are involved in constructing the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi every year?

At the ICEHOTEL we have a team of over 50 people who work on the structure alone. Then there is all the finishing work on interior design, lighting and so on. Tools and methods are developing all the time and its important to share this knowledge.
Focus on working together is important – the joy comes when it is finished! One of the hardest jobs is being on roof in minus 35 connecting wires without gloves. It’s the engineers, technicians and ice workers we really have to thank! They make these ideas possible.

What other type of work do you do there?

One example is that we send ice and snice all over world- and send our engineers to make large events possible. For examples we created a catwalk for Chanel at the Grand Palais in Paris. We needed to install a cooling system for the 40 m long 8 m high catwalk. Karl Lagerfeld ordered it. We had to tell him not to wear boots not to get wet. He was great fun to work for. We asked him to lick the ice and he obliged!

One of my favourite projects that you showed at the seminar was the roundabout you made in a lake.

Yes, we cut out a huge disc in the river and added a boat engine. It was a simple intervention to see if the disc would rotate – and it did! It rotated at a perfectly even speed. It worked out better than we anticipated it would. Nature is like that.

Seeing things differently

Visualizing complexity is a design approach that has always been used to handle multi-layered facts and perspectives. By using creative methods to visualize dry data, diverse people in an organization can be engaged in critical decision-making, from the outset of a project through to continuous improvement out on the marketplace. Turning dry facts into deep insights enables rapid and relevant decision-making. And it is only the people within a company who can know what relevant steps are needed for innovation. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Doing the right things based on the wrong assumptions is not innovation.

Maps have to be ‘designed’ correctly for the task at hand. Take the world map as we know it today. The Gerardus Mercator’s projection was first published in 1569, and became widespread because it depicts a line of constant bearing as a straight line, which was relevant at the time for marine navigation. But the drawback of using that map today, to visualize new and existing business markets, is that it distorts the shapes and relative sizes of all the countries. The map also distorts our perception of the world. The map of True Africa created by Kai Krause, shows that Africa is far larger than we think. Then see the maps on land area to population, or amount of money per head spent on healthcare, and we instantly gain a more informed picture on which to base our innovation strategies.

The True Africa map by Kai Krause shows the size of the continent in relation to European counties.

The True Africa map by Kai Krause shows the size of the continent in relation to European counties.

The Gerardus Mercator’s projection was made for marine navigation.

The Gerardus Mercator’s projection was made for marine navigation.

Map from shows public health spending to population

Map from shows public health spending to population

Innovation is not so much of an outcome, as a process of asking the right questions at the right time, and asking them again and again, reiteratively. Since a company’s offering exists in real-time, across connected or digitally enabled networks, so too do the insights and information that continuous questioning and decision making are based on need to be in real-time. Innovation means never being satisfied with the obvious assumptions. And to break preconceived ideas we now have big data and data visualization.

Although a company cannot map all the potential outcomes of its activities, visual maps can play a large part in nurturing breakthrough thinking so that a company can focus on what it does best – and partner for the rest. Data visualization has yet to find its role in delivering real-time information for communications within a company, for critical decision making, or for real time communications between a company and its network, who, in a connected world, should be more deeply engaged in the ongoing strategies, activities and outcomes that bring to life a brand’s vision of innovation.

Maps don’t always make good online interfaces, but they do help us understand data in an intuitive way. Moving into a service-driven world, a company’s offering is continuously evolving and data visualization can be used to engage different types of stakeholders in the ongoing process of value generation. Imagine, for example, a call to action to developers to test and hack a beta digital service “pre-launch”. Or real time, localized invitations for users to swarm around an open innovation event, on and offline. Or adding services by using data collected from the public realm, such as traffic or weather reports, or national averages on life expectancy in relation to lifestyle choices. Innovation should be continuous rather than be an occasional manned mission to Mars. When users are informed and communicated with in more personal and transparent ways, they are more likely to offer up their own data to share in the benefits of ongoing innovation.

Maps in themselves do not tell us what to do: but they can help us harness knowledge and creativity to solve problems, and that is true innovation. No market research report or marketing message can compete with factual, real time information. We need to use technology and its designs to help us question all the assumptions that we take for granted- and make sure our good intentions result in meaningful activities.


How drawing saved my life. By Ilkka.

As long as I can remember, I have been drawing. As soon as I could hold a pencil I started scribbling. Those scribbles turned into drawings of my friends, my family, their houses, their cars and other people I saw on the street. It was a way of navigating the world that existed around me. It was my way of labeling things. Drawing was part of my language process, like any child. It helped me categorize the world- and therefore understand it.

Drawing People

Drawing People

I drew a lot of family portraits. People gave me confirmation through those. I got more confidence because they loved my drawings and slowly I started to draw things that I wished to see. A world of my own imagining. A boat with wheels or a man with 8 legs. They were kind of dreams, an imaginary life.

Drawing was also a way to express my moods and feelings and like most kids I used crayons and “wax pastels”. There drawings that were a kind of abstract expressionism. So far it is the story any child might have with drawing. But it was at school that drawing started to have a particular significance to me. Although I was verbally articulate, I soon realised that I wasn’t like the other kids. My imaginary world was visual- not verbal.

I started to have a very hard time in school. I couldn’t keep up with the class work and worse than that, didn’t understand the point of the exercises. Why couldn’t I carry on imagining the world? Why wasn’t I allowed to draw all the time?

It turned out that I am heavily dyslexic. But in those days, the schools and teachers didn’t have the tools or knowledge to diagnose kids like myself. And because my problems were not recognized or diagnosed at school, my situation just became worse. Drawing was my only refuge- my only way of communicating with the outside world and getting some positive feedback from my teachers and peers.

Drawing became my very own language.

The other kids loved it and I was more popular because of it. It helped me compensate for my verbal and written expression – or lack of it. But one day, when I illustrated my thoughts with drawings in a Finnish language test my teacher yelled at me again and everyone laughed at me. On Monday my drawings were great, on Tuesday they got me into trouble. It was a very confusing time.

Drawing Things

Drawing Things

Somehow I managed to finish school. My drawings meant that I could go to higher education – it got me into university and it was probably the greatest way for me to learn during my university time. I used drawing to make mental notes. It was the most important single media to learn, document, plan and illustrate all the design and architecture I was learning about. Once again I was allowed to dream.

As a student I traveled to important locations, sites and buildings in Rome, Siena, and Venice to make drawings. Once I sat all day in Siena’s main square until late in the evening. Drawing allowed movement, but it also enabled stillness. It let me observe life I wouldn’t normally have seen. I drew all the buildings around the square. I realized that drawing a building or site is one of the best ways to learn architecture.

Drawing architecture

Drawing architecture

During the drawing process you learn every detail, you learn about proportions and shadows, and even the daily changes of the architecture in a profound way. It was through drawing that I realized that architecture is not static, but inherently connected to the time and space of its surroundings.

Only later I understood the importance of life drawing. Even if it was difficult and painful to draw the human body, it was a way for me to learn about layers of structure, from what is seen to what is unseen. From the skin right through to the bones. The breathing living movement that is part of every stillness. Light and shadow. What I learned from life drawing I have also taken with me into my furniture design- it has been translated quite clearly into an understanding of the body’s relationship to furniture- and architecture. Ergonomics, use and pose. The emotion of space.

Drawing furniture

Drawing furniture

I have always been fascinated by technical drawings. To me they are like abstract modern art. Technical drawing tells me more about something than a photo or realistic sketch. Technical drawings reveal secrets and mysteries: How things are made, how things work. In the end, technical drawings are the final documents we do in my office. They are my work, and my tools to talk with other people about design. They describe my projects more than words ever could.

And my drawings go on teaching me, more than I could imagine. It’s not as if I have an idea and then I draw it. Drawing is a reiterative process, where the drawing itself takes on a life of its own and tells me the questions that need to be answered. Anyone who draws understands this. You can’t ‘choose’ what you draw unless it is already justified. Already correct. The designs in my studio are always based on technical drawings- they are the last defining work done in the whole design process. Drawing from an early age enabled me to develop a process naturally that enables me to ask all the right questions at the right time, again and again until the solution is just right.

When I am drawing today, there are many reasons depending on the time: maybe I am studying a technical detail, maybe I am trying to understand “what if” – or maybe I am trying to find out why something is good. Maybe I am just thinking aloud. I always make several sketches to communicate and discuss ideas with my people in my studio.

When I am bored: I draw, it’s a friend who can be with me no matter where I am. I entertain myself by dreaming about possible products and spaces for a future that is better than one we know today.

I look back at the old masters: my heroes before me- Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen. I look at their drawings and am in conversation with them. In Alvar Aalto’s drawings you can see several scales sketched in a one single piece of paper simultaneously: From a detail of a door handle to the site-plan to the perspective of a house. In a way this represents his holistic view on design. Just one drawing holds all that knowledge.

I meet my heroes in books and discuss design and architecture with them through every line and gesture.

I am still fascinated about the vast variety of problems that Eero Saarinen could try and solve in a one single drawing: I saw a plan of a skyscraper and a evaluation matrix of candidates for his possible future wife in one drawing. For me this represents his opportunistic view on architecture- and how he also used drawing as a thinking process- to think about the future. To dream the future. The drawings are serious, poetic, light and artistic. They are about something that could be or something might not be for centuries.

So when you ask me to explain the importance of drawing, I should in fact, draw for you. Because drawing is not only a strong part of my work and who I am. It is more than that – it has enabled me to be myself, in a complex world ruled by words.

14.8 2013
Funchal, Finland
Ilkka Suppanen


Print design for Diana Orving textile, Winter 2011

The Wow Factor in Visual Design

Sandu Publishing House have released a book that features our very own Johan Hjerpe, concept developer, art director and partner at Imaginary Life. In parallel with commercial brand strategy and design work, Johan is highly active within the cultural field, driving projects as diverse as designing prints and textiles for fashion, set design, magazine art direction, graphic design and concept development for various art and fashion projects.
Entitled ‘Designers Universe – the Wow Factor’, the book is a fascinating, if not somewhat random collection of design that you will have seen in the latest blogs, crossing graphic design, illustration, fashion, set design and motion graphics. Described by Sandu as a book spotlighting “59 professional designers who shine within the field,” each designer, coming from different corners of the world, has a couple of spreads showcasing recent work with short Q&A’s on what makes them tick.

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Chinese Newspapers report on Swedish Design

The articles surrounding the Shenzhen Industrial Design Conference go something like this:
“Sweden: Design for Better Business
Sweden is the first country to become industrialized in Scandinavia and also the earliest country to develop the industrial design movement. IKEA and VOLVO have been icons in people’s minds, standing for Swedish design.
The Swedish designers coming this time are well prepared, not only for the signing ceremony, but also for holding presentations sharing their experience in furniture design, interior design, industry design and other types of design.”

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Why some companies are keeping quiet about sustainability

The companies who are keeping quiet about sustainability fall into two categories: the ones who know what they are doing, and the ones who don’t. Denial ain’t a river in Egypt, as they say in Cairo. Our oceans are dying, our air changing, and our forests and grasslands turning to deserts. From fish and plants to wildlife to human beings, we are killing the planet that sustains us, and fast.
But telling this to business people is like showing a smoker a slice of a cancer infected lung. It just doesn’t work. No matter how eco-conscious the person is- the catastrophe scenario is just too much to take on, emotionally, and viably. And quite frankly- isn’t it up to our governments and politicians to sort out this mess? The UN treaty on climate change — our best hope for action — expires next year. As it looks like, the US corporate-nation-democracy will not take the lead – leaving every other nation on the fence? We suspect not. But let’s stick to business for now.
Forward looking companies realize that drastic change in legislation is inevitable, and are already quietly working towards a 2015 change in legislation that will exceed any CSR law being mentioned today. Far beyond the blanket calls for lower carbon emissions and the carbon payoffs, a cradle to grave product life-cycle responsibility is almost certain to put many successful companies today exactly there: in the cradle if not the grave.

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Everyday Joy in Stockholm

Would more people take the stairs if it was more fun? Turns out, 66% more people choose the stairs versus the escalator when it makes noise. Or use the trash can if it was more fun? Joy can change everyday behavior. Thanks to Chad for the tip and VW for the project. See more on

The world’s deepest trash can….

Online agoras

Design Bay is one of the many growing online user driven market places that we expect to see more of in the near future. As a client you can post your brief and receive quotes from designers around the world, assess designer portfolios and ask designers questions. Payment via paypal upon completion and approval of the work. Just like IRL.

and here is another, crowdSPRING (Thanks Cat)