I met Antti Hinkula an hour before his flight back to Helsinki, where he co-founded creative studio Kokoro & Moi in 2001. Hinkula is constantly traveling back and forth between Helsinki and New York City, where he and partner Teemu Suviala recently opened a second location—a sign that the Finnish studio had made a mark in America. The seven-hour time difference between the two cities was a blessing, allowing the studio to run around-the-clock. “When I go to bed in New York my team in Helsinki will continue to design,” Hinkula said.
Over the past 14 years, Kokoro & Moi has made a name for itself with eclectic designs that beautifully combine bold colors with busy typography—think Marimekko with an edge. Having conquered Helsinki with a range of work for corporate, cultural, and public clients ranging from Stockmann department store to Helsinki Design Week and the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority, the studio expanded to New York, where they chalked up clients such as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the American Institute of Architects.
When Hinkula and I met, Suviala also happened to be in New York but was reporting to Wolff Olins for his first day as their new creative director, a visibly excited Hinkula revealed. “Of course it’s always a bad thing when someone leaves,” he said. “But on the other hand it also opens some new possibilities and challenges for other people.” Following Suviala’s move, Hinkula takes over as the CEO of a team of eight designers.
The two met when they were students at Finland’s Lahti Institute of Design and had worked together for over a decade until Suviala’s recent move. The name Kokoro & Moi came from their penchant for combining completely different references in their work. They originally wanted a traditional company name like “owner & owner,” but they didn’t want their names in it (a smart move, in retrospect). Pairing names with words from different languages, they chose Kokoro, which means “heart, mind, and soul” in Japanese, and Moi, which means “hello” in Finnish. “We just picked a word that sounds good and looks good,” Hinkula said candidly.
Unlike Kokoro & Moi’s expressive and colorful portfolio, Hinkula is surprisingly understated. For most of the interview, he propped his cheek up with his hand and sounded nonchalant, but sincere. While the studio has taken on an increasing number of clients from outside of Finland—from the brand identity for a Japanese record label, store, and café to an American-Chinese restaurant, Fung Tu—he admitted to not knowing much about other cultures. But then again, he noted, these clients had sought them out to take a contemporary, rather than a traditional, historical approach.
Hinkula’s lack of interest in over-explaining his designs was refreshing. When I pointed out the Chinese typeface the studio created for New York restaurant Fung Tu looked like the ancient seals of Chinese emperors (an opportunity to dramatize his work served on a silver platter) he humbly responded, “We just round it and shape it in good balance with everything else.”
Such composure extended to how he felt about the departure of his long-time working partner, too. (Suviala will remain an owner of the studio, but won’t be involved in its day-to-day operations.) Fortunately, the studio won’t lose his unique point of view. “We started working when we were in school,” Hinkula said. “Our mindsets are alike. What we’re thinking about are really the same.”
If that’s the case, we don’t expect the output of Kokoro & Moi to slow down or change direction any time soon—and that’s a very good thing.