Iittala began as a glass factory in southern Finland in 1881, and now over 130 years later they have grown to become an important piece of Finnish heritage, producing the works of several generations of influential designers. They are also owed credit in the wider world of Nordic design: in the early 20th century Iittala were among the first to move from the more decorative, ornamental style of dinnerware that was popular at the time towards a more functional style, containing elements of what are now considered typical of Scandinavian aesthetics.

The historical significance of the company is inseparable from the influence of visionary design pioneers Alvar and Aino Aalto who led the development of the Iittala brand in the 1930s, and designer Kaj Franck, who took over in the 1950s. Their curiosity set Iittala on its course to become what it is today. As they saw it, the impetus for sustainable design is borne out of a sense of respect not only for material, tradition, and form, but also for the end-user of an object; the user determines the final function of a piece, and as such they deserve timeless designs that will endure without needing to be discarded, updated, or replaced. Today the Iittala factory still produces original glassware designed by Aino Aalto as well as the timeless Aalto Vase said to be a likeness of the Finnish coastline.

Iittala continue to work with visionary designers who have their own distinct voices to contribute to the organic, changing arena of Nordic design. Klaus Haapaniemi, Harri Koskinen, and Elina and Klaus Aalto are all prized collaborators from within Finland, while Cecilie Manz from Denmark and Andreas Engesvik from Norway contribute designs representing their respective Nordic countries.