Who knew simplicity could be so complex? Turning a complicated craft into an elegantly simple product may be all in a days work for the likes of Apple, but more often than not, it’s an art dominated by the Scandinavians. In our recent report on the future of Scandinavian design we looked at the principles behind the movement, the complexities of creating something that straddles the divide between timelessness and trends, and the way technology helps to re-imagine everyday objects into pieces of art.

But as we spoke to brand leaders of the Nordic world – from ECCO shoes to Georg Jensen – there were common factors influencing the success of the brands. We left Copenhagen airport with our pockets full of philosophical gems. Luckily, they made it through customs.

Here are five of those lessons.

ecco spring 2012 footwear
From the upcoming Spring 2012 collection of Scandinavian brand ECCO shoes.

Be the best: at what you do.

A common phrase that wove its way through our discussions with leading Scandinavian brands was wanting to ‘be the best’. None mentioned a desire to be the biggest, or the most profitable, and brand extensions were certainly out. Though ‘best’ is a subjective notion, these brands were all talking in the context of being the best at what they do. That comes down to the product: it’s not measured in the number of awards on a shelf, or the dollar value on a bottom line; it’s measured by their own view of what great product is. Scandinavian brands who believe in their product and keep a laser beam focus on making that product the best it can be are the ones that have survived the decades. And will continue to survive.
Do what you do, and aim to be the best.

Be in control of your resources.

Resources and materials are of utmost importance. Even after more than 100 years in the business, furniture makers Carl Hansen & Son use only local materials. Denmark’s weather conditions mean importing supplies can get sticky in Winter, so, third-generation owner Erik Hansen tells me, they stock up on raw materials and use only what is available locally. ECCO shoes, meanwhile, found relying on suppliers to get the right materials at the right times too troublesome all together, and have instead built up a supply chain model where they control every process from the production of leather at their own tanneries to the factory manufacture of every product. “Then you have a finished shoe and you want to distribute it to the world,” says CEO Dieter Kasprzak, “so at some point we said, we need our own stores.” Not every brand can own the process from starting point to retail store; but this drives home the importance of quality and craftsmanship to Scandinavian brands. Controlling the resources and supplies as best as possible means the end product is the best it can be.

Minimalist design is not an easy way out.

Having a design that involves less instead of more may sound easy. But stripping a product back to only what is necessary – and still making it beautiful – is a true challenge. Rebekka Bay, Creative Director of Bruuns Bazaar explains:
“Minimalism as an aesthetic also demands a lot more of the product. Which means you need to invest more time into the making, the fitting, the presentation of the product, because the product is not in disguise. There’s no makeup; there’s nothing to disguise or hide the flaws and faults that might be in a fabric or a shoulder or a fit.” Thus true minimalist design is not lazy design. It pushes brands to work harder, especially when the economy is down. “In times of uncertainty,” Rebecca adds, “minimalism, or functionalism, is always heightening.”

You don’t have to be Scandinavian.

If your address doesn’t end in the name Sweden, Denmark, or Norway, don’t fear. Applying these principles doesn’t mean you also have to apply the ‘Scandinavian’ lable. Just take Apple as an example. “One company that does [great design] to the extreme and to a level where we can just admire what they are doing is Apple,” says head designer of ECCO shoes, Jakob Møller. “They create new products and do it in a very simple way. And I can’t say that Apple is Scandinavian Design, but in a lot of the things they do, it very much reflects the basic things that include Scandinavian Design… both in terms of aesthetics, in terms of simplicity, in terms of materials, and in terms of functionality. They’re doing it fantastically well.” Re-imagining a product, be it a shoe or a mobile phone, works best when you strip it back to it’s core function and make it elegantly simple. Regardless of your address.

Sell more than a product: sell a lifestyle.

Your typical icon of Scandinavian design doesn’t just look beautiful; it improves your life in some way. It makes sitting and reading a book more comfortable, eating a meal more enjoyable, or getting dressed in the morning more effortless. All of that relates back to the high quality of life associated with the Nordic nations, and brands who recognise it let the glowing appeal of that lifestyle translate to their products. For ECCO shoes that means campaigns that aren’t about style but about the lifestyle the shoes allow: be it trekking through the Danish snow in winter, or stylishly pounding the cobbled streets of Copenhagen in spring. Whatever product you’re selling, regardless of where it’s from, sell the lifestyle that goes with it.

For an in-depth look at the future of Scandinavian design, follow that link.

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