Scandinavian Design has long been heralded for its simplicity, functionality and generally appealing aesthetic. The quality of work the nations from the North have become known for is a deeply embedded part of their culture, history and a series of responses to the world around them.
The modernist movement began at the end of the 19th century, looking to break the rigidity that had encompassed much of life after the Industrial Revolution. Within this movement, arts, crafts and traditional methods of manufacturing began to play a more predominant role as people began to grow weary of manufactured goods. Furthermore, countries made greater efforts to preserve traditional handicrafts and folk art as it grew in popularity. Largely inspired by the theories of John Rushkin, romanticism, folk traditions and nature became increasingly prevalent in art and design throughout Europe as the Art Nouveau movement took hold, marking the beginning of modernism.
Looking back towards nature and traditional manufacturing methods was a predominant part of design style and inspiration at the end of the 19th century in Scandinavia. The early emphasis on handicrafts and elements of traditional Scandinavian culture remains prevalent throughout their design aesthetic.
From early on their style of design was described as highly functional, and effective without the need for excess materials or heavy elements. This necessity to do more with less is a substantial part of the Scandinavian lifestyle. The frigid environment in the region has pushed the people to constantly find ways to be more efficient, providing well over a thousand years experience creating furniture and goods now described as minimalistic. The historical connection of minimalism and Scandinavia’s most plentiful resource, wood, are both obvious in their design industry to this day.
With increasing numbers of people moving to the cities from the countryside throughout the 20th century, many of the Scandinavian groups that once preserved and promoted the region’s handicraft traditions broadened their scope to promote design that could benefit the lives of everyday people in urban environments. This emphasis on humanitarian values in design pushed the industry to create goods that make no compromise between aesthetic, quality and cost.
The overarching goal was to create superior designed goods that are readily available, and can be enjoyed by the masses, therefore improving their everyday life through superior design. This has made Scandinavian work prime examples of both functionalism and minimalism, working in a union that has set Scandinavian design apart. The famed Swedish Society of Industrial Design solidified this ideology through their design work in the turbulent period between the two world wars, a time where social change was prevalent.
Europe and later America wouldn’t be largely introduced to Scandinavian design until it had been evolving for 30 or 40 years. Several design exhibitions featured Scandinavian goods, largely as we know it today, as early as the 1930s. The term Scandinavian Design was first widely used after a popular exhibition toured America and Canada from 1954-1957 under the name Design in Scandinavia.
At the point when much of the world was introduced to Scandinavian Design the style and processes had been evolving for centuries along with the region’s history and socio-cultural developments. Having been influenced by the ideals of socialism, a desire for a utopian society, the modern art movement and a historically enforced minimalist approach, the products and design coming out of Scandinavia surprised American audiences through a uniquely functional aesthetic that has become synonymous with the region.