So, Scandinavia. The fjords, the Vikings, the cold. The Scandinavian welfare state, usually called Scandinavian socialism. People with strange names that are able to speak English incredibly well. Long nights, short days, and people who usually rank among the happiest people on the planet. Scandinavia, a land of fish-eating, happy, well-off people. And in the midst of all of that, Scandinavia, the part of Europe with arguably the best industrial designers, some of which work in a style that has become known as “Scandinavian design”.
No matter how much we get impressed by Ikea, Bang & Olufsen, and Aava, it should never be forgotten that Scandinavian design miracle isn’t something that’s happening just now, and it isn’t something that’s happening completely in Scandinavia either. The principles of Scandinavian design came out of circumstances that were present on the peninsula for centuries, and the way they are reflected in the creativity of the designers is what makes Scandinavian design special now, and what made it special in the middle of the 20th century, when it started catching attention. Also, the countries that are usually thought of when someone says Scandinavia – Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, sometimes Iceland – are not all a part of Scandinavia. Only Norway, Denmark and Sweden are. But the same principles are applied in the design that comes from all of these countries.
It is said that Scandinavian design is minimalist and functional. This is true, and it’s mostly due to the harsh nature of the north of Europe. It wasn’t easy surviving there in the past, with the punishing and unforgiving climate and geography.
Everything that could be used for survival was used, to its full extent and with no left overs. Being wasteful in such a harsh climate would never have been a good idea, and neither would use of resources for something that wouldn’t perform as intended. That’s where Scandinavian design gets it functional and minimalist streak.
Also, those same tough circumstances have given rise to societies that are extremely egalitarian. Scandinavian design, no matter how much prizes it have won or how big of a status symbol it would be in other places, would always be something that’s applied to objects that could be used by everyone in the Nordic countries. There was never anything elitist about it, it was design for the masses, albeit enlightened ones.
The legacy of boldness, which was left in region from its most famous inhabitants – the Vikings can clearly be seen in the use of color in Scandinavian design. While the shapes are clear, with nothing excessive and burdensome in them, the colors were where the boldness showed. While Scandinavian design was never a design of bright, intense colors, the fact that they were used in some of the most memorable and well known masterpieces of the region’s design illustrate the desire to venture where few dare. That approach conquered the world a few decades ago, when Scandinavian design started getting the much deserved attention, and it is what keeps it relevant today. Hopefully, it will stay that way for many years to come.