Swedish design extends from traditional handicrafts to new techniques. The Kaskad chair, designed by Björn Dahlström, is inspired by the flow of waterfalls and won the Swedish Design S award for 2012.
Photo: Björn Dahlström
Swedish design knows no bounds
Sweden is seen internationally as embodying all that is best about Scandinavian design. This style – often referred to as minimalist – developed during the Second World War, with clean, simple lines and a strong emphasis on functionality.
Pioneers in the Swedish design field included industrial designer Sixten Sason and textile designer Märta Måås-Fjetterström, who early in the 20th century began adopting an engineering-driven design approach. After the Second World War, Swedish design started to have a greater impact: the leading names were furniture designer Bruno Mathsson, textile designer Astrid Sampe and graphic designer Anders Beckman, who later founded the Beckmans College of Design. Besides the Scandinavian design aspect, a distinguishing feature of Swedish design over the years has been a socially oriented style reflecting people’s situation in life.
Swedish furniture design has been extremely successful, with everything from stick-back, Windsor-style chairs – which remain extremely popular – to more sophisticated but still practical pieces.
Swedish crafts are more vital and boast a wider range of expression today than just about ever before. You can now find everything from traditional crafts, with glass and Sami handicrafts two of the most popular styles, to exciting contemporary designs and materials. One reason for this diversity is a tendency to question the established approaches that used to be prevalent at Swedish craft colleges.
Commenting on our times
About ten years ago, an increasing number of students and recent graduates began to shift their focus from a deep interest in technology, materials and function towards a new desire to tell a story with the things they made, to use these objects to comment on our times and their own activities. As part of this process, commercial culture and its various manifestations came to be placed on a par with more traditional aesthetics.
Babuschka jars by Monica Förster
Photo: Monica Förster
Sweden has many talented designers working worldwide for Swedish companies such as IKEA and H&M.
Others work under their own names, such as architects and designers Claesson Koivisto Rune and Thomas Sandell, and glass artist and designer Ulrica Hydman-Vallien, who produces ceramics, watercolors and textiles as well as painted glass and acrylic paintings.
The contemporary Swedish design scene boasts many exponents with international reputations. They include Monica Förster, who has created some of the best-known objects in Swedish contemporary design. She blends pure form with new technology and engages in everything from industrial design to furniture design. Förster has worked for clients such as Cappellini, Svenskt Tenn and Richard Lampert.
Thomas Bernstrand is the designer behind such prizewinning products as the Gobble coat rack and the People armchair. He studies at Konstfack and is working at the Bernstrand Design Studio, which he started in 1999.
Woven rubber flooring from Bolon.
Swedish designers are focusing increasingly on sustainable development. This not only adds value to their products but also boosts their international competitiveness. The designer becomes a natural link between producer and consumer. In the long term, good design solutions can contribute to sustainable development.
The Ecodesign Directive, an initiative introduced by the EU in its efforts to cut energy use by 20 percent by 2020, has also had an effect on Swedish design. The Ecodesign requirement means that products must meet certain energy-efficiency standards if they are to be used within the EU.
Norrgavel, founded in 1993 by Nirvan Richter, adopts a humanist, ecological and existential approach. The company sells furniture designed by Richter, as well as interior fittings. It has a clear philosophy of sustainability and was the first company in Sweden to be awarded the pan-Nordic Swan ecolabel for home furniture. In 1999, it won Möbelbranschens Miljöpris (the Swedish furniture trade’s environmental prize), awarded in partnership with WWF.
Bolon is a traditional family business that makes carpets. In 2003, it was taken over by the third generation, sisters Marie and Annica Eklund, who design woven floors for creative, inspired environments. The carpets are based on reusable raw materials and contain no harmful additives. Bolon has also worked for top fashion houses, most recently Missoni.
The Konstfack exhibition hall Vita Havet.
Wide range of design courses
Sweden has many design and art colleges with good international reputations. Here are a few.
Konstfack, founded in 1844, is one of the oldest art and design colleges in Sweden. Located south of Stockholm city center, it offers courses at bachelor’s and master’s levels. It has around 900 students and 200 employees.
The Umeå Institute of Design
The Umeå Institute of Design in northern Sweden provides four academic programmes focusing exclusively on industrial design and related specialisations. The college was founded in 1989.
Beckmans College of Design
Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm was founded in 1939 by Anders Beckman, a pioneer in the young Swedish advertising industry. The students at Beckmans learn to rely on their own imagination and creativity, and to develop their own personal styles in close cooperation with others, not only those in their own group but also students from other disciplines at the college.
The School of Design and Crafts
The School of Design and Crafts is part of the University of Gothenburg. The craft courses at the school include jewellery, textiles and ceramics.
The Swedish School of Textiles
The Swedish School of Textiles in Borås offers expertise in all textile fields from crafts and design to technology, production, finance and marketing.
In addition, there are now several schools that focus specifically on graphic design and communication, such as Berghs, Forsbergs and Hyper Island. Their programmes blend communication studies with courses in graphic design and creativity.
Swedish design awards
Design S – The Swedish national design award
Design S rewards creative, innovative solutions relating to products, services and environments, regardless of design discipline. It focuses on “design for sustainability issues including climate, the environment, the welfare of society and long-term quality of life.” The Design S award, which targets professional designers and producers, is announced by Svensk Form and SVID every second year. Instead of prize money, the winners and nominees are presented in an exhibition of products and processes that tours the world. The award also aims to inspire the business community and decision-makers in the public sector to use design to boost growth, competitiveness and welfare.
The Grand Award of Design
The Grand Award of Design is another prestigious award, presented each year to successful Swedish companies and their design suppliers. The aim of the award is to highlight the important role played by industrial design in product development and profitability. The award is presented by the Association of Swedish Engineering Industries in collaboration with SVID and Svensk Form.
The Torsten and Wanja Söderberg Prize
The Torsten and Wanja Söderberg Prize is presented annually by the Röhsska Museum in Göteborg for “innovative, outstanding achievement in arts, crafts and design” in the Nordic region. The prize is worth SEK 1 million. In 2010 the design group Front was awarded the Torsten and Wanja Söderberg Prize. Front comprises Sofia Lagerkvist, Anna Lindgren and Charlotte von de Lancken, who specialise in crossover design using a range of different skills. Their product design is based on their experiences, discussions and experiments.
Ung – Young Swedish Design
Participation in Ung – Young Swedish Design, a recurring travelling exhibition of work chosen by a jury, is a mark of distinction. The show aims to highlight and reward young designers. Special consideration is given to long-term sustainable development and green thinking in all processes.
The Design Archive
The Röhsska Museum of Fashion, Design and Decorative Arts
Co-operative of Swedish professional craftsmen
Swedish Fashion Council
Nationalmuseum/ National Museum of Fine Arts
Sweden’s largest museum of cultural history
The Swedish Association of Designers
The Design Archive
Last updated: 25 March 2014