Swedish design is committed to sustainability – and more diverse than its minimalist reputation.
There are certain characteristics that set Swedish design apart. One is environmentally friendly production, which has a long tradition in Sweden. Transparency is another, for products as well as production – it’s often easy to see how a product is made and of what material, and producers are open about the production process.
The classic Swedish emphasis on functionality and reduced form has undergone a change, and today sophisticated colour schemes, a broad range of sustainable materials and conceptual ideas form a new diversity. In recent years collaborations between design producers and small-scale crafts industries has also established itself as an important aspect of contemporary Swedish design.
10 pioneers in the Swedish design field:
1. Artur Lindqvist (1897–1983), furniture designer. His garden chair A2 from 1930 gained recognition for its unique spring steel construction, which lends it a peaceful swing.
2. Astrid Sampe (1909–2002), textile designer, introduced the printed towel in Sweden. Her pattern Persons kryddskåp from 1955 is a classic in the kitchen.
3. Bruno Mathsson (1907–1988), furniture designer and architect. His chair Pernilla from 1944 is an international icon.
4. Gillis Lundgren (1929–2016), furniture designer at IKEA, and the man behind the flat-pack and ready-to-assemble furniture. The Billy bookshelf from 1979 is a worldwide bestseller.
5. Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg (1955–2015), textile designer at Kasthall. In 1998 Moss, her contemporary interpretation of the traditional Swedish ‘rya’, brought the long-piled rug back into fashion.
6. Josef Frank (1885–1967), designer at Svenskt Tenn from 1934. His colourful patterns often blend dream and reality, like Teheran, created in the 1940s.
7. Märta Måås-Fjetterström (1873–1941), textile artist, made the Swedish ‘röllakan’ flatweave technique world famous. Her rug Bruna Heden, with its graphic pattern, was created in 1931.
9. Sixten Sason (1916–1967), industrial and product designer for Saab automobiles, Electrolux vacuum cleaners and many more. In 1943 he developed the Hasselblad camera 1600F.
10. Stig Lindberg (1916–1982, link in Swedish), designer and illustrator. Berså from 1961 is one of his most beloved patterns.
10 contemporary Swedish designers
1. BAUX is Johan Ronnestam together with Form Us With Love. They are experts on acoustics combined with pioneering sustainable materials. One example is acoustic felt made from upcycled post-production textiles, an idea in line with Baux’s tradition of finding inspiration in nature.
2. Björn Dahlström, industrial designer, working for clients like Articles Furniture, Iittala, Krups, Lammhults, Magis and Skeppshult. His award-winning Kaskad outdoor series for Nola is a Swedish bestseller.
3. Carina Seth Andersson is known for her glass and ceramic work where the balance between simplicity and meaningful form results in pieces of timeless quality. Her design for brands like Marimekko and Skruf has gained international attention.
4. Färg & Blanche, furniture designers and curators. Fredrik Färg and Emma Marga Blanche make up a designer duo based in Stockholm, but working worldwide. Their Emma chair family for Gärsnäs is an interpretation of a model from the 1840s, in new materials and using new methods.
5. Kauppi & Kauppi, is a designer duo – Johan and Nina Kauppi – who have both worked in a range of different design fields in Sweden and internationally. The Ohm Collection, a porcelain lighting range produced for Ifö Electric, has won them several Swedish and international design awards.
6. Martin Thübeck, interior architect and furniture designer, has designed the Lobster chair, which works like a chair but looks more like a toy – or a lobster – with its bent red steel pipes. With both ergonomics and humour it challenges the notion of what a comfortable chair should look like.
7. Matti Klenell, furniture and object designer, also interior architect. Klenell is well known for his work for brands like Iittala and Offecct. He often collaborates with small-scale crafts industries. The rattan chair NM& 040 for Nationalmuseum is built by Larsson Korgmakare in the Old Town of Stockholm.
8. Monica Förster is one of Sweden’s most rewarded design studios working on an international level for companies such as Alessi, Cappellini, De Padova, Georg Jensen, Offecct, Poltrona Frau, Rörstrand, Skultuna, Swedese and Volvo. In 2021 she was awarded the prestigious Bruno Mathsson Award.
9. TAF design and architecture studio is run by Gabriella Gustafson and Mattias Ståhlbom. Their design is often conceptual with unexpected combinations of form and materials. Among their clients are Artek, Fogia, Gärsnäs, Muuto, Nationalmuseum, Offecct and String. In recent years their exhibition design for clients like ArkDes has gained international attention.
10. Wästberg is a lighting company run by Magnus Wästberg. Together with leading architects and designers, the company strives to create well-being through good light. Or, in their own words: 'Light should shine for us, not on us.'
Sustainable Swedish design
Bolon makes innovative flooring solutions for public spaces. It is a third-generation family business run by sisters Annica and Marie Eklund. Under their leadership, Bolon has been transformed from a traditional weaving mill into an international design brand. With a strong commitment to sustainability, Bolon designs and manufactures all its products at a facility in Ulricehamn in southern Sweden. The company is recognised worldwide for its award-winning flooring and collaborations with some of the world’s most acclaimed innovators and creatives.
Sustainordic is a network initiated by the ArkDes museum in Stockholm and Form/Design Center Malmö. The platform aims to promote sustainable consumption and production. ‘The Nordic Report 01’, published in 2019, is the first report in a series of three.
Swedish design organisations
Founded in 1845, the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design – Svensk Form – is the oldest design society in the world. It is a non-profit association with a government mandate to promote Swedish design, both nationally and internationally.
The Swedish Industrial Design Foundation (SVID) aims to encourage the private and public sectors to integrate design methodology into their activities as a competitive tool. Its target groups include industry and commerce, local government, designers, universities and colleges.
Swedish Arts Council
The Swedish Arts Council is a government agency whose principal task is to implement national cultural policy and promote development in the cultural sphere.
Svensk Form collaborates with ArkDes, the Swedish architecture and design centre in Stockholm, to promote the role of architecture and design in society.
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, 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 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 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 is part of the University of Gothenburg. The craft courses at the school include jewellery, textiles and ceramics.
- 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 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.