The life of Nordic designers
23 March 2017
Johanna Bjarsch Follin
Scandinavian Design has a unique feeling and expression and has long since been trendy outside the Nordics. At London Design Fair, held at Truman Brewery in East London in September 2016, Sweden and Scandinavia were well represented. The Swedish Pavilion, organised by the Embassy of Sweden, was one of the great attractions of the fair, exhibiting a number of Swedish designer brands.
Nordic Design Collective, a marketplace for Nordic designers, had their own showcase and pop-up store at the fair with designs made by smaller and less well-known Nordic designers. Apart from just showcasing the products, available to buy on the day, Nordic Design Collective also held a Supertalk themed ‘The Life of Nordic Designers - Inspiration and Challenges’. This featured Nordic designers talking about just that; what are the inspirations and challenges with being a designer today. The LINK spoke to Maria Richardsson, CEO at Nordic Design Collective, to get a brief of this Supertalk; what drives development within Nordic design at the moment, and what is life like for independent designers in the region?
“A large majority of Scandinavian designers get their inspiration from nature and their immediate surroundings, something that becomes obvious when looking at designs, patterns and choice of material. Nature seems to be important for Scandinavians, which, when you think about, it comes naturally as the environment and the climate, the cold and the dark up in the Nordics has resulted in that a great respect and appreciation for nature is deeply rooted in our culture,” Richardsson tells the LINK.
Scandinavian design is easily identifiable, certain characteristics and traits that seem to be inherited through culture and history - but for a Scandinavian it is not easy to pinpoint what others perceive as typically Scandinavian. So which concepts and events in the history of the Nordics has resulted in the mentality that guides the Scandinavian design line?
“Folkhemmet, the Swedish welfare state that dominated the political agenda in the mid-20th century, has imposed the importance of equality in the mindset and culture of people. Going further back to the peasant society, there was a strong tradition of craftsmanship as the Nordics became industrialised relatively late. As one had to make their own furniture, the Nordic tradition has resulted in a functional and simple style, simply because the design had to be simple to be easily manufactured and should be available to anyone,“ Richardsson tells the LINK.
It appears that cultural history and traditions, but in some sense also politics, inspire and influence design and art forms.
The labour market for designers has changed in the last decades; production companies work with freelancers instead of having hired designers, which is why becoming an entrepreneur within design has become increasingly common. Being a sole entrepreneur and designer, there are many sides of the business you must run by yourself, and finding the balance between running the business; administration, marketing, sales, and having the time to be creative in between is challenging to many designers. However, becoming an entrepreneur does not solve the struggle of surviving on the creative business, Richardsson says.
“Oftentimes design, what you are actually good at, is what you do least, and many designers have no business experience which makes it difficult to make a living as a designer today,“ she tells the LINK.
Entrepreneurship has given designers more control and power over their own creating, but four years ago, Richardsson recognised that arts and design education does not include entrepreneurship and knowledge in how to run a business in their curriculum. She started Nordic Design Collective with the mission to help these designers with the business-side of being an entrepreneur, to spur and encourage the creative design industry in the Nordics.
Besides inspiration and challenges facing Nordic designers today, the Supertalk also brought up thoughts on current trends in the design world. Sustainability has been a hot topic in the design sphere for quite some time now, especially in the Nordic countries which are all at the forefront of sustainability in most its aspects. Nordic designers are no exception, product designers emphasise creating products with a long-term thinking and that are sustainable.
Sustainable design can mean a number of things, and Richardsson points out that most designers today already have a sustainable mindset. For Nordic Designers, already very sustainability aware, the choice to work with sustainable sourced materials in an environmentally friendly production, is already the obvious choice. Today, the focus has shifted more towards using ethically sustainable materials and being socially engaged in communities affected by your production.
Another, relatively new aspect of sustainable design is to have a long-term and sustainable thinking when it comes to the actual design. Working with high quality materials and timeless and classic designs for a prolonged lifetime is an upcoming trend in the design sphere, as well as designing multipurpose products. Many designers take an active stand against consumerism, and design products that are aimed to last, and that are easy to combine with other products and furniture.
“I have seen an increased awareness among designers in that their work in some sense support the consumer society, something they do not want to be part of, and hence being sustainable not only in the choice of materials but in all aspects of the design, is one of the strongest trends we see on the Nordic design scene right now,” Richardsson says.
Nordic Design Collective is more than just an online shop with beautifully designed products. It is a marketplace, passionate about supporting independent designers from the Nordic region and helping them to reach out with their designs to a larger audience.
While designers are passionate about designing but usually have no interest and most importantly no education in sales and marketing and how to reach out to clients, Nordic Design Collective exist to assist designers with the business-side so that designers can focus on what they are good at - designing. Besides helping individual designers to spread their products via the online shop, Nordic Design Collective also emphasise shining a light on the designer behind the product, showing their passion and dedication for design and telling the background and history of the person and product to further add value to their uniquely crafted designed products.