Posts Tagged ‘Denmark

14
Sep
10

There is no such thing as Scandinavian design

If we take Scandinavia to include the mainland of the Nordic region (excluding Iceland and Åland), there is a persistent view through the media that Scandinavian design is a consistent and homogeneous design culture and ethos which leads to a consistent and homogeneous design product.

It isn’t true. It’s a construct of the need to find a convenient label, much like there is meant to be such a thing as ‘middle eastern cooking’ or an ‘English accent’.

Despite the laudable efforts of such firms as the new pan-Scandinavian design firm Muuto (from muutos, ‘new perspective’ in Finnish: muuto.com) which is intentionally bringing designers together from across the region, the concept of Scandinavian design itself needs to be deconstructed.

Here’s why. Historically, the four nations of Scandinavia have spent their time dominating, or being dominated by, each other. The Danes and the Swedes were on top (intermittently, of each other); the Norwegians and the Finns underneath, though the Finns as a Russian archduchy did have a degree of freedom the Norwegians did not. The historical picture is therefore informed by the desire of two nations to spread their culture – and of two others determined to build up theirs under the pressure of others.

The assimilation of foreign styles, and making something unique of them (Gustavian neo-classicism in Sweden, the National Romantic Style in Finland, the assimilation and use of Schleswig architecture in southern Denmark, for instance) provides a concrete backdrop to national difference. The way architectural and visual design styles were used, particularly in Finland and Norway, not to identify the nation with the wider world (as they are in Denmark and Sweden, for instance) but to identify them as something other, something different and unique, continues to inform the design ethos of the various countries in many ways.

If the view of the outside world of Scandinavian design is blond people making beech furniture, then it is equally easy to stereotype – though with a greater degree of accuracy – the various nations (spoiler alert – wild generalisations imminent).

Danish style is actually the one people in the outside world, the influence of IKEA notwithstanding, think of as being ‘Scandinavian’. Human proportions, clean lines, whites, greys and blacks with some silver and red as an accent colour. Precisely engineered, beautifully thought out, intensely practical. (en.ddc.dk)

The design of Norway comes across much as its people do – thoughtful, ecological, distinctly different – and frequently quirky. In fact, this sense of humour, almost Italian in its approach, is one of the most striking features. (norskdesign.no)

As for the Finns, they design their products to fit their country – though they do have something truly unique in the rya rug. Finnish design is closer to Danish, though they won’t like me for saying so – its preoccupations are the same, but with more of a stress on the use of wood and glass, and a move in colours away from the greys of Denmark to whites, light colours and wood tones. (designforum.fi)

Sweden is interesting. IKEA seems to have sent the product design industry into a bit of a spin – taking their cues more from their history than their present, Swedish design seems to be trying to find its feet as its ideas, and its talent, are increasingly plucked to make some kind of affordable mélange which whilst practical, lacks the intensity of workmanship and attention to usability that, ultimately, is the mark of design excellence. (svenskform.se)

Four countries. Four histories, deeply intertwined – but four clear and distinct design cultures, informed by that history, by geography and personality. Paul Simpson, in his Summer 2009 piece for the British Design Council (designcouncil.org.uk), makes the argument clear, by making it more complex. His ‘Myths of Scandinavian Design’ include ‘Myth 1: There is such a thing as Scandinavian design’ – followed soon after by ‘Myth 5: There is no such thing as Scandinavian design’.

You can’t have it both ways. Spend enough time in the countries of Scandinavia and it becomes clear: there is design in Scandinavia, some of the best in the world. It’s just that there is no design of Scandinavia, but instead four unique and independent design worlds which cross over and cross fertilise – but which ultimately stand on their own.

scandinavian design

25
Aug
10

Stendhal Moments

Industrial DesignCreative businesses are naturally emotional environments. We deal every day with the science of marketing and media, of ROI and metrics, of rather dense and impenetrable models. But ultimately, we’re about offering people the option to think differently about a product, a service, a person – and that means getting into their heads, and that’s an emotional process.

Just sometimes, though, that emotion creeps up on you entirely unexpected. Two recent examples, of when the whole thing got really rather overwhelming and where, were I Henri-Marie Beyle, I would have had a Stendhal moment.

The Medieval and Renaissance Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum are astonishing. Choir screens from Belgium; a house frontage from Bishopsgate in London, statues, stained glass, caskets and chalices ad what seems almost infinitum. When one visits a church in Italy, all of which seem like little museums in their own right, usually there is one piece of staggering beauty. Two if you’re lucky. But this is like someone’s backed up the European Renaissance and dumped it into the Museum, where it has been carefully, beautifully and lovingly arranged with the sole intention of overwhelming you.

There’s two floors of this. And a mezzanine. And just as you think you’re coping, you come round a corner and walk past an inconspicuous little brown thing in a case stood by the back wall of something utterly glorious. And you’re about to go past when you think, “I wonder what that is?”.

It’s the Codex Forster. The Codex-bloody-Forster. It’s one of Leonardo da Vinci’s own notebooks, in his own hand, with his own… you get the idea.

It was at this point that I went outside to calm down. Any gallery – and this is the permanent exhibition, not a special, only-open-for-a-month thing – that can hide the Forster Codex behind a wall as if it’s just another thing, creates Stendhal moments all the time.

And more prosaically, walking down a street in Copenhagen, I stumbled across the Danish Design Centre. And had another moment in front of, of all things, a set of tables. The “Little Friend, 2005” by Kaspar Salto, produced by Fritz Hansen, to be exact. It just works. It is beautiful, functional, the lines are perfect, every part of it thought out to within an inch of its life (but not so far that it has lost its essential delight).

This, I have to say, came on the back of design manifestos for Danish design on the walls, clear and thought through, video interviews of clarity and perspicacity, a standing exhibition of beautiful objects. I have a nasty feeling that the Danes are probably better at product design than anyone else, and the exhibitions – and the thinking underlying them – at the DDC just reinforces this. I mean, even their ‘you’ve paid, here’s your little badge to prove it’ is a lovely little clip, with their website address on it, not some little sticky thing that destroys clothing.

Anyhow. Two moments when design becomes beauty, and when that beauty becomes overwhelming. Is it any wonder that we get emotional when we create, when we stand – however slightly – in the same light that creates Stendhal moments?




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