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Several key factors unite the Scandinavian approach to design. A number of these have their origin in the characteristics of the Nordic environment. The northern countries are famously dark, cold and snow-covered for long months of the year, with brief, intense light-filled summers. Important areas are mountainous and heavily forested. It is therefore not surprising that many Scandinavian designs have been inspired in some sense by organic forms, materials or natural patterning.
To survive in such inhospitable conditions, Scandinavian have developed a strong practical bent that makes the most out of limited resources and delivers workable solution with optimum economy. Before the modernist’ credo “form follows function” was ever coined, the useful everyday Scandinavian objects displayed such a conviction.
Because industrialisation arrived late in the region, the traditional craft skills remained alive. As a result, Scandinavian modern refused to allow the machine production to supplant the instinctive handling of materials that is innate to craft. While resourcefulness and practicality give Scandinavian design its clarity, its living craft tradition root the design process in the material world and the individual artistic imagination.
During the long months of darkness, Scandinavian homes had to offer psychological warmth as well as physical shelter and the notion of domestic cheer is embedded in the Scandinavian approach to design. Emotional warmth is never designed out of the picture, as it can be in the more austere reaches of the industrial inspired Bauhaus aesthetic. That warmth may be expressed in colour, pattern and texture or in organic form, but there is always a human quality to Scandinavian design, even at its most futuristic.
There is also an important moral dimension, which has to do with the political and civic climate rather that the physical one. The prevailing ethos in Scandinavia has long been socially inclusive, liberal and tolerant, which has led to the shared conviction that it is the role of design to improve life for everyone, not to pander to a privileged minority. As a consequence, simple, understated, well-made products have long been preferred over conspicuous consumption of status symbols or showy grandiose effect.