Trailblazers: A visit to Estonia with AKU

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AKU is a design consultancy based in Tallinn, Estonia, working with clients such as the The Huffington Post and The Estonian Parliament to deliver ambitious solutions across branding, experience, packaging, strategy and websites. Founded in 2012 by Alari Orav, Kaarel Kala and Uku-Kristjan Küttis, th AKU team have now won more than 20 Estonian design awards. Here, Alari gives us an insight into the AKU way of working.

Hi Alari, so first of all tell us what made you guys set up AKU?

The three of us met at an advertising agency. We wanted to choose the projects ourselves and do more interesting and fundamentally better work. So we quit our jobs and stepped into the unknown.


What ways of working or creative practices did you bring with you from your old jobs then? What were the founding principles for the studio?

Advertising had trained us to work quickly and present convincingly. We also stuck to the working hours of 10am-6pm. There were no set principles - we just did the work that came our way. We have become more picky now.


What does AKU stand for?

It’s an acronym of our names; Alari, Kaarel & Uku. It means 'battery' in Estonian and 'evil' in Japanese (apparently).


Tell us about your work with The Estonian Parliament

We do not normally take part in public (i.e. unpaid) tenders, but made an exception here. It proved to be a great decision. The project taught us a lot about working with big organisations and how to deal with 101 different demands all for a simple business card. We still do work for the Parliament of Estonia, making it our longest-standing client.


If you guys could work anywhere in the world where you you chose and why?

We have been discussing moving to Viljandi, a lovely small town in southern Estonia.


And what's life like where you are at the moment - in Tallinn? 

Tallinn is a city of great contrasts - seaside, wooden houses, Medieval Old Town, Soviet brutalist tower blocks and a bog. It also ticks all the regular boxes: nice size, reasonable cost, good food, great people. You should all come and visit.


Whose work are you guys enjoying at the moment? Who should we be looking out for in Estonian design?

Tolm for great animations, Haiku and Fraktal for digital, Jan Tomson for packaging and Stuudio Stuudio for printed work.


What recent trends have you particularly enjoyed?

We’re really bad at following trends.

What was your favourite project of 2016?

Setting up an experimental detective agency got everybody at the office really excited. There has been one case so far and yes, it got solved.


And what new directions do you guys want to explore in 2017?

Slime mold. Africa. DJI Mavic Pro.


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