Different regions around the world offer different takes on almost anything.
Food, fashion, beliefs — you name it. People from all over the world have come up with a myriad of unique ways to do it all.
Design is no exception. It takes on many forms and is characterized by different qualities from country to country.
Among the most reliable styles the world offers is Scandinavian design. Serene color palettes, sleek lines, and heavy use of natural resources, only make up one aspect of its best qualities.
Scandinavian design’s critical acclaim and staying power can be attributed to its functionality, utility, and naturally, its timeless beauty.
To offer a closer look at what makes Scandinavian design so darn good, we’ve detailed 7 of its most prominent characteristics and 5 awesome designers from the region.
01. Clean Lines & Forms
The cups above, part of the visual identity for 7-Eleven by BVD, are built using a few rhythmically structured forms that to give shape to the convenience store’s characteristic number 7.
In combination with muted color palettes, which we will explore below, and minimal ornamentation, straightforward lines and forms result in design pieces that feel contemporary and sophisticated.
Keen on letting Scandinavian design influence your next piece? Try using a few simple shapes as design elements. Add repetition to the mix and watch a sophisticated design solution blossom before your eyes.
Scandinavian design is simple. Many of its design solutions set out to reduce the initial complexity of a product, rather than cram it with attributes.
They aren’t packed with detailed illustrations or complex color palettes. All the elements it features, be it a shape or typeface, strive to be as straightforward as possible.
In the image above, you’ll find part of the visual identity for the A. Andreassen brand by Bond Agency. Instead of relying on a multitude of design elements and techniques, it banks of type alone to produce a visual that feels modern and polished.
In combination with only the most essential design elements and the right treatment, a simplistic approach can bring out the serenity and sophistication characteristic of Scandinavian design.
On top of its simplicity, Scandinavian design is also minimalist. This means taking the most essential elements and rendering them with stark, radical, reductive forms almost to the point of geometric abstraction.
Scandinavian design is a fine example of how minimalism can give way to some of the most elegant design solutions out there. More often than not, reducing the number of bells and whistles you include in every aspect of your work can help you produce outstanding work.
Check out the illustration above, part of the Airtime identity. It features just enough details, only the essential pieces, to communicate what it is to the public.
If you’re going for Scandinavian minimalism, try pulling a Coco Chanel. She used to say: “When accessorizing always take off the last thing you put on.” So as you design, take a step back and consider if those design elements are absolutely essential.
04. Sophisticated Color Palettes
Color in Scandinavian design is honest, clean, straightforward. Check out how the earthy, warm hues of the Golden Eggs‘ cover design above give off exactly that vibe.
Mostly, Scandinavian color palettes feature white, cool grays, lovely sky blues, and cream shades. Often, these muted combos help produce pieces that are understated but elegant.
While in most design disciplines earthy muted palettes tend to dominate, not all Scandinavian designers stick to them. Popular Marimekko often offers great prints made with bold, bright colors.
Scandinavians love the great outdoors — it’s hard not to with views like this one. It comes as no surprise to find that Scandinavian design often features design elements modeled after nature.
Lunawood, a producer of wood materials for decking and facades, boasts of a visual identity that features a variety of design elements all modeled after wood and its wonderful textures. Not only is it apt, considering that the company works directly with wood, it exemplifies the common practice of being influenced by nature in Scandinavian design.
Wood textures, beautiful colors, shapes and patterns all rooted in Scandinavia’s love of nature are all commonly seen across stunning pieces of design. They add warmth and familiarity to minimal designs which can be alienating and cold unless executed excellently.
06. Use of Light
The region’s dark winters have inspired the incorporation of light as a major design element in Scandinavian design. Its scarcity during dark winters has given way to a style that gives careful consideration to light — how it shapes our lives, and our work.
It is not uncommon then to find pieces that use light to produce visually appealing pieces. In the lovely swan design featured above, light is used to help define the origami’s shape and create a sense of depth.
As designers, because we often work indoors and in front of bright computer screens, it’s hard to remember to look to light whenever we need inspiration. Occasionally, it’s enough to look around the room to catch an interesting shadow that might give way to a distinct design solution.
Much of Scandinavian design banks on the availability of natural resources and an individual’s ability to create stunning pieces from them. That’s why craftsmanship, or the the ability to transform raw material into beautiful design, is an essential skill to master.
It’s no different in Scandinavian graphic design, where the high level craftsmanship is evident across their many works. In the example above, Tian Gan, a designer based in Stockholm, created the beautiful fish linocut using her high level mastery of carving and engraving.
Each of the fish’s defining characteristics are skillfully cut from a linoleum block, covered in black ink and transferred onto paper. Click over to check out the final print here.
Below, you’ll find five great designers from a variety of disciplines that showcase different aspects of Scandinavian design.
In the selection, you’ll find prints, illustrations, typefaces, and even awesome examples of packaging design.
While the images below were carefully curated, they definitely do not showcase all the great projects each designer offers in their portfolio. To fully appreciate their mastery of Scandinavian design, take a few minutes to click through to their sites and browse the complete selection of their works.
01. Saana ja Olli
Sanja ja Olli, an awesome interior design duo, creates remarkable graphic design works and interiors you should definitely check out. They’ve also produced a variety of gorgeous prints that can serve as inspiration for your next project.
After browsing through their site, I fell in love with their prints, especially the one featured above. It feels warm and human, and features a number of different patterns that make up each triangle. I’d definitely throw a number of their pillows around my home.
If you are looking for an excellent color combo or just a great Instagram account to browse daily, click through to their site. In the Instagram account, you’ll find bits of their life, work, and tons of great images that can provide inspiration.
Check out this video from their account featuring a few of their awesome limited edition prints.
BVD is an example of a great agency that produces work many might be able to closely relate to. They have pushed out a series of beautiful projects across a variety of design disciplines, from print to packaging to branding. You saw a bit of their work above, as you read about clean lines and forms in Scandinavian design.
Among my favorite projects by BVD is the system they’ve designed for Blossa, featured above. It’s a flexible design where the bottle set features design elements that are both consistent and unique — different colors with the same luminosity, a central white graphic sitting between lines of type, among others.
Because every bottle’s label uses the same structure to organize information and the same primary design elements, the product line continues to feel like a family regardless of the differences in graphics each bottle features.
03. Gustav Karlsson
Gustav Karlsson is the designer behind the cool take away boxes featured above. Click over to his awesome portfolio to check out the rest of his work. His color choices, normally far from the muted ones that characterize Scandinavian design, add visual interest to many of his different identities.
Among my favorite pieces from Karlsson is the rebrand and packaging he did for De Cecco pasta. It presents an aesthetic that showcases some of the characteristics covered above and an awesome viewport that lets you see the yummy pasta inside the box.
04. Kristine Gulheim
Kristine Gulheim’s identity for Mote & Produksjon is built on a grid that allows the identity to shift form. It showcases the designer’s level of skill and, of course, touches on the craftsmanship discussed above.
If you have not done so already, check out some of her work in the link above. In her portfolio, you will find a variety of projects that range from identities to type design. I quite like the natured inspired branding project she’s created for Dyrenes Rike.
05. Sigríður Rún
SiggaRun, a graphic designer and illustrator, has built an awesome portfolio packed with beautiful, nature inspired work. If you’ve any doubt left about how nature influences designers of the region, click through to her site to admire her work.
Definitely take a look at her project, Anatomy of Letters, featured above. It is an interesting exploration of the Icelandic alphabet and its different components. The set borders on fine art and is decked with gorgeous details that make each letter come to life.
I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in Oslo, Norway. Needless to say, it is an amazing city. Every block offers an opportunity for visitors to appreciate Scandinavian design at its best. Be it a storefront or an lovely type installation, bits of the elegant style are scattered throughout the entire city.
Many of the characteristics we’ve covered are evident as soon as you fly in. Gardermoen Airport is a stunning building, built using an amazing amount of wood. If you ever do fly in, be sure to pay attention to all of the beautiful design details scattered around.
Keen on producing work that is influenced by the style, but don’t know where to start? Combine at least two of the characteristics we shared above. Try a muted color palette coupled with clean lines and forms. Take a look outside your window or a brief walk. Does nature offer any interesting ideas?
You’ll find that producing pieces that aim to replicate the style or be influenced by it is a lot easier if you do not try to cover everything you’ve read about.
Have you already designed a piece that touches on one of the subjects we covered? Drop a link for us to check out your work in the comments below. We’d love to check out what you’ve been up to as well!