Scandinavian Historical Redesign

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Kjetil Fallan has edited a refreshing book called Scandinavian Design: Alternative histories. The book presents a radically new assessment, a corrective to the persistent mythologies and reductive accounts of Scandinavian design.

Scandinavian design is still seen as democratic, functional and simple, its products exemplifying the same characteristics now as they have done since the 1950s. But both the essence and the history of Scandinavian design are much more complex than this.

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Scandinavian Design: Alternative Histories brings together case studies from the early twentieth century to today. Drawn from fields as diverse as transport, engineering, packaging, photography, law, interiors, and corporate identity, these studies tell new or unfamiliar stories about the production, mediation and consumption of design. An alternative history is created, one much more alive to national and regional differences and to types of product.

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The book introduces new histories of design in Scandinavia and, as the subtitle points out, offers alternatives to the well-known histories we have read earlier. This history of Scandinavian design is described as a “cleverly crafted concept, which has led to a disturbingly narrow understanding of Nordic design culture”, meaning characterizations such as “’humane’, ‘democratic’, ‘organic’ and ‘blond’.”

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Scandinavian Design analyses a century of design culture from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden and, in so doing, presents a sophisticated introduction to Scandinavian design.

The case studies presented of diverse topics such as the changes of copyright legislation in Denmark, the design process of reverse wending machines in Norway, the Cooperative Union’s consumer policy and its “non-branded” products in Sweden, or design students’ political activity in the 1970s Finland have not been part of the earlier narratives on the history of Scandinavian design available in English. According to Fallan, such themes have been ‘marginalized’ in the previous accounts.

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Thus the book opens a wider field of ‘Nordic design culture’ beyond the narrow conceptions of Scandinavian design and its history to its international readers.

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Kjetil Fallan is associate professor of Design History at the University of Oslo. He is the editor of the Journal of Design History.

Scandinavian Historical Redesign, written by Admin.