The future of Scandinavian design

We’ve already taken a look at what Scandinavian design means today, and how Scandinavian design balances changing trends. Those two insights are rooted in the past and the present of the movement. Which begs the question: what is its future?

Having an inkling of where Scandinavian design is headed comes with the revelation that Scandinavian design is not an aesthetic; it’s a philosophy. One might wonder: will wider trends in minimalism cause the notion of Scandinavian design itself to become swallowed up; to be absorbed into a global pool of curved chair backs and steely clean-lined objects? Not likely. Scandinavian design is a philosophy that fosters innovation, craftsmanship and function, so to predict the future we shouldn’t be asking what the products of Scandinavian design will look like – we should be asking how the world around it is changing.

Technology and the environment are the two biggest factors. When technology is created that allows products to be developed in new ways, only then is the shape of those products determined. Take ECCO’s BIOM running shoe: two and a half years in the making, ECCO’s BIOM took all the expectations of what a running shoe should be – and threw them out the window. Instead they reimagined the notion from scratch by looking at what form and function were best for running, and best for the human body, and by what technology they had available. The BIOM shoe uses ECCO’s ‘direct injection technology’ to fuse the sole to the upper, in turn allowing light weight, water-tight shoes that better fit the shape of the foot.

ecco shoes direct injection technologyProduction of ECCO’s BIOM running shoe.

As CEO Dieter Kasprzak explains:

Technology helps to make things better. Especially our technology… We are not using glue. In normal shoe-making you need heavy glue to get the soles and uppers together, but this is what we don’t need.

Like many of ECCO’s products the look of the BIOM shoe is defined first by what the technology allows, and what the functionality requires. Then comes the design. “It’s a running shoe, yes,” says Jakob Møller. “But it’s not a traditional running shoe, it doesn’t look like a running shoe, and it was not supposed to: because if the functionality is the focus, it will look different.”

If you want to cogitate further on the matter, consider this question: why does an iPhone look the way it does?

Apple may not be a Scandinavian brand by geography, but by philosophy there’s certainly a snug fit. Apple’s designers didn’t put extra buttons, bells and whistles on the iPhone just because they could; the touch screen was invented, and the buttonless design naturally followed. And the 3.5 inch screen isn’t an accident, either: it’s the right size for being able to use the phone with one hand. To make the screen bigger would impact on that practicality. Like many Scandinavian objects, the iPhone is built on function before form.

Imagining the future of Scandinavian design is limited only by the imaginations of those creating the new technologies that underpin it. Look at where technology is heading and you’ll find that the innovators of Scandinavian design will be close behind it. Whether it’s a running shoe, a lounge chair, or a mobile phone, the future of Scandinavian design is the reimagining and redesign of objects based on what advances in technology will allow – and sometimes vice-versa. As John Lasseter, the chief creative officer at Pixar, once said: “Technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology.”

ECCO’s Jakob Møller also predicts that the environment will be a major influence over the future of Scandinavian design. “I would not be surprised if you see some breakthroughs in terms of working with sustainability and recycled materials, and with a responsible attitude to how we leave the earth to our children,” he says, adding that it’s already a big item on Denmark’s political agenda. “I think that will definitely play a role going forward.”

To these players in the Scandinavian design world, sustainability isn’t just a nebulous buzz word: there’s an inherent part of the product design process that sits perfectly in line with the concept of a curated wardrobe.

“When times are uncertain,” concludes Rebekka Bay, “we want to invest in something that has a bit of longevity. Partly minimalism comes from this idea that you want to buy into something that will sit with you a little bit longer, and doesn’t define an era or a season… but that has more longevity and more sustainability. I think minimalism and sustainability go hand in hand.”

bruuns bazaar spring 2012
Bruuns Bazaar S/S 2012.

A true object of Scandinavian design is a piece of art. It has curves that rival the most luscious Hollywood screen star, angles only an architect could replicate, and above all a simplicity so elegant you wonder why you’d never thought of it yourself. And yet, the odds are you never would.

To think like a master of Scandinavian design you have to not just create something beautiful, but turn something functional into beauty. The core values of functionalism, minimalism, quality and craftsmanship have not changed over time; though what the brands have grown better at is evolving to keep up with market demands and trends. And in an economy where people want the best from everything they buy, that’s more a strength than ever. As for the future? Expect that strength to continue. Expect evolution to always be balanced by tradition. Expect more products to be reimagined from a minimalist mindset, as technology is born that allows for them to be reimagined.

When it comes to Scandinavian design, the past informs the future but it does not dictate it. We may not know exactly what the aesthetic will look like in years to come, but we know that it will be both a product of and a warrior against the changing world around it.