It is without doubt that modern Scandinavian design has been widely accepted as an example of an excellent design practice, and it does deserve every single praise and applause it gets. But how do we define what is modern Scandinavian design? It is neither modernism nor post modernism, and it seems artistic, yet not opulent like Art Nouveau. And while there are some “period styles” which can be assigned to some spaces and pieces, most modern Scandinavian designs seem to transcend time.
To lay down the basics, modern Scandinavian design is about functionality, much like modernism. Also, like modernism, it emphasizes that form follows function, but with an added espresso shot of form. Modern Scandinavian design also places a larger emphasis on natural materials of quality, rather than synthetic materials, considering that the materials impart character to the design. “To this day, the Scandinavian insists that purpose and function are the first considerations for the use of available materials. After the problem of usefulness is solved, an object should be made attractive enough to please human aesthetic needs.”(Beer, 1975). While this aptly summarizes Scandinavian design, there is more depth and detail involved.
Within the sphere of functionality, a Scandinavian design would also be ecologically friendly, created with a minimal amount of waste production and as far as possibly, locally sourced. As a result of its geographic location and historical situation, which allotted the situation of limited natural materials and a lack of communication with outsiders(Beer, 1975), thus nurturing a race of people to value the environment and their own heritage.
And with regard to its aesthetic expression, Scandinavian designs adopt an approach which is “… essentially timeless,… gratifies a multitude of personal tastes… is totally contemporary, yet complements designs from the past.”(Beer, 1975). Its use of simple motifs, geometry, natural forms never impede an objects function, nor does it make it too gaudy or too inconspicuous.
While we are still on the topic of aesthetics, a very interesting Scandinavian term is “brukskunst”. It translates to applied art, and is as it claims. It is functional art, which transcends the sanitized forms of modernism into something better, something more beautiful, yet equally functional. “Utility + form + colour + texture + durability + cost – this is the exacting formula…”(Beer, 1975) that is the essence of “brukskunst”.
Another interesting term is “Hygge“. “In essence, “hygge” means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people”(VisitDenmark, 2015). It is the coup de grace of Scandinavian design, and is what makes Scandinavian design so unique. Furniture, spaces, scenarios can all create the feeling of “hygge“.
To conclude, Scandinavian design is something which incorporates logical, functional thinking, and emotional, aesthetic feeling. It is Modernism 2.0, better, improved and much more pleasant. Putting it up against Dieter Rams’ principles of good design and Wabi-Sabi, one can say that it is something which draws from the best of both worlds,