FCINY Visual Identity by Tsto


FCINY’s new visual identity and website were created by design agency Tsto in collaboration with type foundry and design agency Schick Toikka. Tsto’s Jonatan Eriksson and Matti Kunttu sat down to discuss the design process, collaborative practice of their agency and the complex notion of national identity. 

Matti Kunttu: The fundamental question to begin with was to pin down what kind of organization FCINY actually is and also to question how does it actually function? It became clear to us very soon that what FCINY does is not a promotion of Finland or being a Finn per se as it instead highlights ideas, actors and projects that are linked to or initiated by people with Finnish background.

Jonatan Eriksson: Being based in New York I already had quite clear image about FCINYs functions and means of operation. It also made sense for us to start to formulate a visual identity and the new website based on the idea of movement and exchange instead of promotion of national values. It seems that especially our generation finds the whole notion of national identity ambivalent and problematic when attached to art, artists or institutions.

MK: Example of this is the Venice Biennial and the persistent usage of national pavilions as a venue for exhibiting art. We feel like underlining the geographical borders is not interesting or relevant in culture. Yet there are so many organizations and institutions that maintain and aim on strengthening the difference between nations, traditions and ideas.

JE: Expectations towards the public money have been typically high in Finland. But as the times change, both individuals and organizations have to consider alternative modes of operation. I find myself thinking of Finland as a big ear who listens attentively to all the things going on in the world but who does not communicate with the world. Finns have all the prerequisites for becoming a part of the global culture yet so far the examples of this have been limited. But things are changing slowly.

MK: Quite often Finnish cultural organizations come across as stuffy because the public money is provided mainly for the purposes of Finnish culture. This results in a culturally closed system that doesn’t enable much international dialogue and presence. Furthermore it is not possible to be selected as a director of Finnish cultural organizations unless one needs to be able to be fluent in both Finnish and Swedish. In practice this means that for instance the museums run by the state can’t select a director from a group of highly professional international applicants because in order to be selected, one needs to master the two national languages.

JE: It was clear that with FCINY we would not create an outer shell or imagery that would try to present the notion of Finnishness. We did not want to add anything. For FCINY does not have a need to present form or design itself. And this institute is not a form as such but moreover acts as a platform. 

Communicating the ideas of mobility and transformation became crucial as FCINY is not a fixed organization nor would it identify with certain principle or dogma. For me FCINY represents a dance between two continents, not a mouthpiece that aims on shouting the good news of Finnish culture in New York.

MK: It was clear that the content would be highlighted at the new website and with the new identity at large. All the projects, artists-in-residency and other contents already communicate a lot about the focus areas of the institute in a very concrete form. There is no reason to tie the program to any specific visual style as the program and activities of FCINY are constantly changing and developing. 

We ended up focusing on a two-sided thinking in which on the one hand the institute is a structure and backbone for all the activities that it produces and supports. And at the same time all the FCINY’s content and ideas – the program – represents the flesh around that organizational backbone. The content of the program will essentially determine what FCINY looks like.

JE: Background for all the choices we made was strong brief from FCINY, which included a wish for a new custom typeface. The aforementioned two-sided thinking was utilized also in the new typography created by Berlin based type foundry and design studio Schick Toikka. The structural typeface communicates the institute’s background and organizational structure whereas the content typeface in the website accompanied by the logo communicate the most interesting part of the website, in our opinion: the projects, individual actors and collectives and the program content in general. 


MK: We have followed Schick Toikka for a long time and this project was the perfect opportunity to join forces with them. Their approach to type design is very close to ours so it made sense to give a central role for them in the overall execution of the project. 

JE: Currently there is almost an oversupply of talented type designers in Helsinki. But what makes Schick Toikka special for us is their distinctively international style that is influenced by Dutch and German traditions blended with Finnish sensibilities. 

JE: The six of us started Tsto design agency in 2010 after the graduation from the School of Arts and Design in Helsinki. In the beginning we did everything together and through mutual agreement. We used to face every design challenge together which was highly time-consuming but at the same time very educative way of operating. A central project that shaped our agency was designing the identity for Flow Festival in Helsinki. Somehow each of us identified strongly with that project and through that collective experience all of us started to experiment more and thrive towards unexpected directions. 


MK: Another key project was the identity and exhibition catalogue for Don’t Shoot the Messenger exhibition at the Design Museum in Helsinki in fall 2013. The exhibition dealt with the expansive field of graphic design where designers’ role is under a process of redefinition and evaluation. Considering the context, we wanted to demystify the process of graphic design: to open it up and to show what are the different components behind it. This practice is so complex that is impossible to explain it sufficiently.

JE: We want to push both the form and conceptual side in our designs and Don’t Shoot the Messenger is a good example of a project where the conceptual and the textual forced the visual and formal to fall back. We wanted to open up a direct access to what drives contemporary designers to expand their professions away from traditional client based approaches. It became evident to us that this was something we couldn’t express through form. What ended up being central for this project was a book written by one of our founders Johannes Ekholm recording conversations about being a designer. The published work became almost an instant success that stirred a lot of discussion that widened well beyond the design circles.

MK: Different contexts require different forms and functions. What was exceptional about the process with FCINY was that none of the collaborators took the task personally, meaning this visual identity, website or this institute as an organizational structure is nobody’s personal creation and thus fragile for critique coming from outside. We wanted to build a platform that could function with itself not only now but also in the future, yet in a way that allows changes, alterations and further development when needed.