Design Ecosystem in Tallinn

{ 🇪🇪 } – Tallinn: the digital-savvy capital of Estonia

Tallin’s Old Town. Photo by Ilya Orehov.

The tiny capital city of the Baltic state of Estonia frequently makes the headlines for its well-preserved Old Town and its revolutionary e-residency programme. But in recent years Tallinn is putting itself on the design map, partly due to the number of creatives flocking to the city, and partly due to its Nordic heritage.

Estonia is a young country, as it only (re)acquired independence after the collapse of the Soviet empire nearly 30 years ago. Estonians were quick to leave that legacy behind them and quickly re-established ties with Finland and Sweden, two countries which have been leading the way in design for a while now.

But what sets Estonian design apart?

While this might not be the easiest question, this article will attempt to answer it and offer a good introduction to Tallinn’s – and Estonia’s – design scene.

Estonian Design: Fresh Approach and a Legacy to Uphold

Estonia is no stranger to design. This small state on the Baltic Sea was annexed into the Soviet Union in 1940 and became one of its constituent republics, and would regain its independence again only in 1991. This means that for about 50 years, there has been little to no contribution made by Estonia towards design except propaganda posters, everyday appliances and the likes, which nevertheless had to comply with State requirements. No doubt, Soviet-Estonian design is an interesting phenomenon on its own, although it is not what this article will be about. What we will examine is the way design has been brought back to attention from 1991 onwards, and how Estonia has claimed design culture as one of its priorities.

This attention towards design takes into account the peculiar aspects at the core of Estonian identity – sustainability, the use of natural resources such as wood, and a minimalist aesthetic.

The State of Design in Tallinn

The design scene in Tallinn is alive and well. It could even be said that it has never been as alive as it is right now. Initiatives, events and shops dedicated to design are currently very much present in the Estonian capital. As stated earlier, this small Baltic republic was very eager to re-established its cultural and economic links to their cousins on the other side of the Gulf of Finland, the Finns.

If you know a thing or two about design, or you’ve read our article titled Design Ecosystem in Helsinki, you will already know that Finland has been ahead of the game for quite some time now when it comes to design. Due to both geographic proximity and socio-cultural-linguistic ties, Estonia and Finland have always had a fondness for each other, therefore it is only natural that the Estonians would be out to chase success in the design arena and prove they are nothing short of the Finns when it comes to it.

If you know a thing or two about design, or you’ve read our article titled Design Ecosystem in Helsinki, you will already know that Finland has been ahead of the game for quite some time now when it comes to design. Due to both geographic proximity and socio-cultural-linguistic ties, Estonia and Finland have always had a fondness for each other, therefore it is only natural that the Estonians would be out to chase success in the design arena and prove they are nothing short of the Finns when it comes to it.

Lovers of design will be delighted to know that there The Tallinn Design Map, the go-to resource to discover all the best studios, shops, museums and galleries dedicated to design, is available in both digital and print formats. But this is only one of several efforts made by the city to boost its design reputation in the global arena. Among others is the Tallinn Design Festival, which has already hit its 14th edition as of last year, which takes place yearly for an entire week as is comprised of several exhibitions, workshops and a plethora of side activities and events.

Aerial view over Telliskivi Creative City. Credit: VisitEstonia.com.

Design Education in Tallinn

It is possible to gain an education in many fields of design in Estonia’s capital. Both traditional university programmes and more experimental, non-degree workshops and courses are available. If you’re seeking the former, the Estonian Academy of Arts / Eesti Kunstiakadeemia (EKA) has several Bachelor, Master’s and PhD curricula, with many also available in English.

Among them, one of the most interesting is the “Making Space”, an MA programme developed in collaboration with the Tallinn University of Technology / Tallinna Tehnikaülikool, whose objective is “to prepare an independent creative person, who is able to create personalised three-dimensional environments, combining architecture, design, art and technology into a coherent whole and lead the implementation of their interior architecture projects”. A more traditional education with an emphasis of Estonian heritage is the “Design & Crafts” MA programme, which works closely with the EKA’s Sustainable Design research centre as sustainability is at the core of this country’s arts and crafts. For something more closely related to technology than to design, then the “Design and Technology Future”, an MA programme offered by the aforementioned Tallinn University of Technology / Tallinna Tehnikaülikool, will no doubt be a good choice.

On the non-degree education front, it is worth mentioning the very original “Designing Wearables for Health and Well-Being”, a two-week experimental interaction design hands-on course offered this coming July by the Tallinn Summer School. According to the organisers, its goal is “to empower people to shape their digital environment thus providing a new level of digital literacy”.

Where to Work From in Tallinn?

Short answer: almost anywhere.

There are few other cities that can boast such extensive WiFi coverage as Tallinn. You will have coverage pretty much anywhere in the city centre, so, if the weather allows it (and the Estonian weather, unfortunately, doesn’t often) it is possible to work in the open air … of course, electrical plugs are still not to be found scattered throughout the city, which means that your best bets for remote working in Tallinn are, as it’s often the case, laptop-friendly cafes and co-working spaces. And – no surprise here – Tallinn offers plenty of both.

For cafes, one of the places which you can always count on is the Reval Café chain (A little note here: Reval is one of the previous names of the city), which has several branches throughout Tallinn, especially in the center. There are apparently 16 of these Reval Cafés, so wherever you are you are probably not far from one. The best things about this chain are the large and cosy areas where staff will leave you alone – except for occasionally checking if you’d like another tea or coffee or asking if you enjoyed the food – and plenty of plugs.

Let’s say you prefer co-working spaces, though. In this case, the obvious advice here is to head to Telliskivi Creative City’s LIFT99 hub, which shares the roof with the Fotografiska museum. LIFT99, which is also present in Kyiv, another city recently featured in our Design Ecosystems series, offers desk space in 9 private rooms for small-sized teams and 5 meeting rooms, a fully-equipped kitchen and 24/7 access.


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Gianmarco Caprio / Content & Community Manager @ Phase

Content creator, editor and community manager at Phase.

www.gianmarcocaprio.com/