Aesop shop, winner of the 2016 Design S award. Architecture by In Praise of Shadows Arkitektur AB. Photo: Aesop/CC BY 3.0
Swedish design is so much more than minimalism and IKEA. Diversity is a vital component of contemporary Swedish design, which challenges aesthetics and traditional methods. Emotional values are added to the familiar functional approach.
Swedish design style is often referred to as minimalist. After World War II, Swedish design started to have a greater impact with its clean, simple lines and a strong emphasis on functionality. Another 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 very successful, with everything from stick-back, Windsor-style chairs – which remain popular – to more sophisticated but still practical pieces.
Swedish crafts are more vital and boast a wider range of expression today than ever before. You can find everything from traditional crafts, such as glass and Sami handicrafts, to exciting contemporary designs and materials.
5 design pioneers
Pioneers in the Swedish design field include:
- Anders Beckman, graphic designer (co-founder of the Beckmans College of Design)
- Bruno Mathsson, furniture designer
- Märta Måås-Fjetterström, textile designer
- Astrid Sampe, textile designer
- Sixten Sason, industrial designer.
10 contemporary designers
Sweden has many internationally recognised contemporary designers, such as:
- Thomas Bernstrand, furniture designer
- Claesson Koivisto Rune, architects and designers
- Folkform, industrial designers
- Form Us With Love, architects, designers and strategists
- Front, furniture designers
- Färg & Blanche, furniture designers
- Monica Förster, industrial designer and furniture designer
- Ulrica Hydman-Vallien, glass artist and designer
- Åsa Jungnelius, glass artist and designer
- Thomas Sandell, architect and designer.
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 an effort to cut energy use by 20 per cent 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 (see image above). 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 collaborated with fashion houses such as AltewaiSaome and Missoni.
The Konstfack exhibition hall Vita Havet.
At the beginning of the 2000s, a shift could be noticed among Sweden’s design and art colleges and their recent graduates. Focus changed 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.
Some of Sweden’s design and art colleges are:
- Konstfack – University College of Arts, Crafts and Design
Konstfack, founded in 1844, is one of the oldest art and design colleges in Sweden. Located just south of central Stockholm, 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 (see above). 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, east of Gothenburg, offers expertise in all textile fields from crafts and design to technology, production, finance and marketing.
- The School of Industrial Design at Lund University
The School of Industrial Design at Lund University in the south of Sweden offers teaching at bachelor’s and master’s levels, and also has a PhD programme.
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.
- Form/Design Center
- Konsthantverkarna – a co-operative of Swedish professional craftsmen
- Nationalmuseum – an art and design museum
- Nordiska museet – a museum of cultural history
- Röhsska Museum
- Swedish Design Archive
- Swedish Fashion Council
Please note that this web version of ‘Swedish design’ may have been updated more recently than the pdf versions.
Last updated: 5 April 2017