Blog – Why are Scandinavians so good at design?

Blog – Why are Scandinavians so good at design?

Simplicity and functionality – two words that instantly spring to mind when talking Scandinavian or Nordic design.

More than a generation of the world’s greatest minds has grown up on the interlocking toy blocks made by Danish company Lego. If anything, Lego has proven that a design seemingly so simple can be so mighty, even replacing Ferrari in 2015 as Brand Finance’s ‘world’s most powerful brand’.

Much as we like to poke fun at Swedish furniture giant IKEA, their hugely popular designs are often imitated but with rarely the same heart, soul and ‘earthy’ ethos of their source material, which is something Finnish design house Marimekko can also attest to.

While the smartphone is all the rage now, it wasn’t all that long ago Finnish telecommunications design innovators Nokia dominated the mobile phone world and, in their future-forward manner, have now redirected their service offering to meet the requirements of new markets.

There are a multitude of elements that characterise Scandinavian (Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish) design and an even greater number of elements that conspired to establish their genesis. While it is a blanket statement to say the Scandinavians are better at design than many other nationalities, there are general principles at play in Nordic design approaches that we can all take to heart and put into practice.

Probably the most elemental factor is the climate. As Janice Simonsen, IKEA’s US design spokesperson told Newsweek, resources and raw materials are often hard to come by – and with a limited period in which to accumulate them – so efficiency, practicality and quality have always been an integral design principle for Scandinavian designers.

Social influences – particularly the egalitarianism of many Scandinavian cultures – are also an important factor in their design. Many designers are motivated by a desire to improve quality of life, as well as stimulating social change, through their designs. Quality and beauty, goes the thinking, should not be the exclusive purview of the wealthy.

Superior craftsmanship is also an essential characteristic of Scandinavian design. The long-held cultural attitudes of Nordic society have seen many artisans shun mass industrialisation that revolutionised the 18th and 19th centuries, preferring instead the quality of products created from handcrafted manufacturing.

As Kristi Robinson from The Swedish Press notes, even when Scandinavian designers started to embrace mass production, “They found ways of manufacturing that retained the elements of folk art that were so integral to their cultural identity.” With this in mind, and the suburban backyard being the traditional centrepiece of Australian culture, it is no surprise the Hills Hoist and Victa lawnmower are such successful examples of our own local innovation.

In a recent article, Paul Hughes from Integra Systems made clear the frustration one Australian manufacturer feels at the stagnation of our so-called ‘Ideas Boom’. There are many examples of world-leading innovation that have come out of Australia but there are a lot of ways in which we can find inspiration from Scandinavians when it comes to improving our design output.

It’s important to note that Nordic designers have not re-invented the wheel. Volvo cars are still motor vehicles and IKEA furniture produces basic items that our ancestors have been using in homes for centuries. What characterises the Scandinavian approach is their ability to do things that have been around for years – but do them in far better and simpler ways (this is what was described as Horizon 1 design in our previous article).

This all might sound obvious yet it is something overlooked in the quest for innovation. It’s fundamental that we focus on coming up with products and industrial design that benefit our customers, and that incorporate design at an almost cellular level.

As Paul Hughes explains, “The common thing across all the big Scandinavian designers, like Danish companies Fritz Hansen and Kvadrat, is design is everything to them. It’s something that is fully ingrained in every aspect of their culture. From the minute they meet you at the door and show you through their premises – even the way their premises are designed and the way they dress – it’s all about design. It’s a cultural thing.”

In our next article, we’ll talk about Integra Systems’ trip to Denmark to meet with some of the world’s best design companies. To view some examples of Integra's world class designs visit www.integrasystems.com.au

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Published in Blog
K2_WRITTEN_ON February 24 2017
Written by Erika Hughes