New Nordic graphic design: the balance between Scandinavian traditional crafting and globalization 3.0
Cumulus Conference 2018 – Diffused Transition and Design Opportunities
October 31 – November 3, 2018. Jiangnan University in Wuxi, China
Article in Proceedings page 848-858
Scandinavians are some of the most digitally connected people in the world. However, the ubiquitous connectedness and globalization seem to pull Scandinavians towards a need for increased local awareness. This paper taps into how Norwegian graphic designers and design students appear to oppose the omnipresent digital impact in their lives. This resistance becomes apparent through a growing interest in design crafting and local traditions. Nordic design and Scandinavian culture seem to have renewed global interest these days. New Scandinavian concepts have emerged as a result of this. In this paper, the terms New Nordic Design and Scandinavian hygge are investigated through two student projects exploring inspiration from Norwegian crafting and local traditions. However, these students’ designs are still perceived as contemporary, as they also contain inspiration from currently available digital sources.
Keywords: Globalization 3.0, Hygge, Inspiration, New Nordic design, Norwegian Graphic design, Packaging design, Scandinavian Graphic Design
This paper is an inquiry into how people in the Scandinavian countries, approach the globalization 3.0: which Friedman (2007) explains as to how global connection points have changed over the centuries, from being on a national level via companies’ interconnections to becoming on a personal level through our ever-present digitality. The Scandinavians are some of the most digitally connected people in the world, according to the MGI Connectedness Index (Manyika, Lund, Bughin, Woetzel, Stamenov & Dhingra, 2016, p.12). However, the omnipresent connectedness and globalization seem to pull Scandinavians towards a need for increased local awareness, local crafting and also the possibilities of sometimes being digitally disconnected. This paper investigates a further development of the globalization 3.0, through selected student projects within packaging graphic design, which explore Norwegian food concepts in a Nordic university college setting. The works visually address the transition into a new globalization based on local traditions and what Ritzer (2011, p. 174) calls the “…interpenetration of the global and local resulting in unique outcomes in different geographic areas”. Elements of the New Nordic Design is explored in the student project. New Nordic Design is suggested to consist of an interplay between the storytelling around the designs, the digital sharing of the stories and the actual design objects (Skou & Munch, 2016). Skou and Munch (2016) describe the New Nordic Design to be “tokens of dream pictures of the Nordic countries as harmonious societies in balance with nature”. Other Scandinavian concepts such as hygge (Linnet, 2011; Levisen, 2012), and lagom (Barinaga, 1999; Hart, 2017) are spreading beyond Scandinavia these days (Loughrey, 2016). These terms are Scandinavian everyday words, describing a modest lifestyle and the enjoyment of the small things in life such as an ordinary meal with good friends and the enjoyment of living a humble life. The paper asks: How can the combination of globalization 3.0 and the Scandinavian traditional crafting be explored via graphic design?
The paper inquires into how our digital connectedness and present speed of life seems to create a need for personal and authentic graphic design communication, – with a local twist. The student design projects in this paper aim to convey the simple lifestyle of Norwegian food traditions and crafting to the world, through packaging design and the digital sharing of the packaging design concepts.
The paper is structured as follows: First the main analytical concepts of Globalization 3.0, New Nordic values and Scandinavian and Norwegian culture are unpacked. Secondly, selected student projects within packaging, graphic design affiliated with Norwegian culture and elements of hygge, are presented. Subsequently, the author discussed via the students’ design concepts how the ubiquitous digital opportunities in Norway these days may have created a contra-reaction that manifests itself through a resurgence of traditional Norwegian and Scandinavian elements in Norwegian graphic design. These design elements aim to create a simple and evocative atmosphere associated with hygge. The discussion is also about how the apparent contradiction between the traditional Norwegian simple life and the personal digital connectedness, described in globalization 3.0, can be balanced.
1. Globalization 3.0
Friedman (2007) describes the development of globalization through three stages where Globalization 1.0 started with Columbus discovering the New World in 1492 and lasted to the early 1800s. The Globalization 1.0 was driven by national global expansion, and global communication and interaction were predominantly at a national level. Through this period the world shrunk from a sense of being large to a medium size. As Friedman describes: these actions “flattened the world”. During the period from year 1800 to 2000, Globalization 2.0 shrunk the world further from size medium to small through the interaction of multi-national companies creating global markets and a global economy. The global communication was mainly between companies of different nationality. Globalization 3.0 appeared around year 2000 as the development of global electronic interconnectivity allowed individuals to communicate directly with each other. The major software advances allowed people worldwide to work and communicate together with infinite potential. Graphic designers may use the personal global digitality to share their design projects and also get inspiration from around the world. The digital potential is what this paper discusses and opposes, presented through two Norwegian student projects of packaging design for local food concepts.
2. The Nordic European countries, Scandinavia and Norway
Scandinavian culture and graphic design are influenced by several things, including local and international historical events. The Scandinavian nations are Denmark, Norway and Sweden while the Nordic countries also include Finland and Iceland. Both these groups of nations have commonalities, but there are also differences in both geography and culture. Similarly, graphic design from these countries have resemblances and some variations (Sundqvist, 2002, p. 11), which is further explained later in the paper. This paper refers both to Scandinavia and the Nordic in order to put the Norwegian students’ projects into context. First a quick history lesson in order to grasp where Norwegian graphic design comes from. Norway was a Danish province for four hundred years before it was handed over to Sweden after the Napoleonic Wars in 1814. Not until 1905 did Norway become an independent nation. The building of the newborn Norwegian nation drew its inspiration from the Romantic movement in Europe. (Eriksen, 1997; Fiell & Fiell, 2017). Visual symbols of Norway have, through the past century, emphasized the rural, clean and unspoilt character of Norway. Romantic folkloric design is more visible in Norway than in Denmark and Sweden (Eriksen, 1997). Although Norway today is one of the wealthiest nations in the world (Lange, Wodon, Carey, 2018)with some of the most digitally connected inhabitants (Manyika et al., 2016, “Global Connectivity Index”, 2018), the self-image of being rural and rooted in nature is strong. As a contrary, Sweden depicts itself as future-oriented and modern, and the Danes as easy-going, sociable and urban (Eriksen, 1997).
Nordic countries are known for their egalitarian societies where the collected good is cherished, the welfare system is excellent, and the tax rates are high. The United Nations World Happiness Report (Helliwell, Layard & Sachs, 2018) list the Northern European countries as the happiest in the world and The World Bank Group list the Scandinavian countries as some of the wealthiest (Lange et al., 2018).Lists like these may have given Scandinavia increased attention globally and assisted to put the Nordic countries on top as the most prosperous places on earth (Kolff, 2017). Kolff (2017) refers to it as Scandimania.
Scandinavian design is well-known internationally, with reference mostly to Scandinavian objects, furniture and interior designs from the 1950ies and 1960ies (Sandbye, 2016; Skou & Munch, 2016; Fallan, 2012; Halén & Wickman, 2003; Kolff, 2017). However, other Scandinavian terms are entering the collected Western vocabulary and are becoming brands in themselves. Terms such as The New Nordic and Scandinavian words such as hygge and lagom have appeared in books, magazines, blogs and academic articles over the last years (Grundtoft, 2015; Skou and Munch, 2016; Hucal, 2016, Heart, 2017). These terms influence Scandinavian and Norwegian graphic design today.
3. Values of the New Nordic
The New Nordic term first appeared in relation to food with the “New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto” from 2004. Since then, the concept New Nordic has spread to several aspects of Nordic experiences (Sandbye, 2016). The supposed Nordic values give a backdrop to the New Nordic. These values include the aim for authenticity and honesty as opposed to superficiality, where functionality is the ideal (Skou & Munch 2016). These values apply both to Nordic food experiences and to design. Skou and Munch (2016) explain:
New Nordic food has introduced locally grown ingredients, …, that have neither been part of the industrialized and globalised modern food culture, nor the pre-industrial traditional Danish food. Instead, the food culture has been recast in the image of a set of regional values. And these values of purity, simplicity, and ethics are actually quite close to those normally attributed to Scandinavian Design and architecture, illustrating how values and images may travel back and forth between different cultural areas with the effect of reinforcing each other.
The values of today’s Scandinavian graphic designers are similar to the values of the New Nordic architecture and furniture designers. When Scandinavian graphic designers are interviewed, two main elements often appear; the inspiration from nature and the minimalism that are often visible in Scandinavian design (Cheung, 2017). In the book Truly Nordic (Cheung, 2017) Scandinavian graphic designers manifest the inspiration from nature. However, they claim that minimalism in itself is not important. The importance is to convey the concept of the design where the form becomes the message (Cheung, 2017, p. 100, p. 224). The Norwegian graphic designer Svein Haakon Lia from the design company Bleed states:
Norwegians (like most Scandinavians) are practical people, we don’t like a big fuss or complicating a message. There is a matter of fact approach in how we communicate with not too much politeness or unnecessary decoration. I think this makes Norwegian and Scandinavian design cleaner and to the point. In these cases, the form becomes the message and concept (Shaoqiang, 2012: 6).
Sundqvist (2002, p. 11) describe Scandinavian graphic design as being modest, clean, and functional. He suggests that the cold climate of Scandinavia with snow, ice and cold winters inspire Scandinavian designers to use a ‘blond’ colour palette, light colours to brighten up the darkness of the winters. However, Sundqvist explains the Norwegian colour-palette as being more colourful than the other two Scandinavian countries. He also claims that Norwegian graphic design has less of the simplicity typical for Scandinavia and suggests this may be due to the deeply rooted folk-traditions of Norway. This setting is confirmed by Sommar (2003, p. 141) describing the importance of folk-tradition in Icelandic and Norwegian designs due to the fact that aristocracy has never been important in these two Nordic countries.
4. Scandinavian terms: hygge and lagom
Scandinavian words such as Danish and Norwegian hygge and Swedish lagom are getting increased attention internationally and may appear as symbols of the New Nordic values and attitude. Linnet (2011) explain hygge as a social phenomenon associated with Scandinavian culture and every-day life, such as “… egalitarianism, home-centeredness, middle-class life, romantic and religious ideals, and concerns for ‘inner spaces’”. Levisen (2012, p. 88) claims that hygge is expanding its semantic territory and conceptual influence, as the word is getting more attention from foreigners. The sense of hygge is often experienced with good friends that have the same social standard or strive at being equal by moderating viewpoints and adapting to each other. Hygge has a strong orientation towards the present, a here and now-situation, where one enjoys the moment and feel content. (Linnet, 2011; Abrahams, 2016). Abrahams (2016) describes her feelings of hygge as having a cup of coffee in the afternoon or being woken by a cat’s gentle purring or spending time with her loved ones. The word hygge is being used in the Norwegian and Danish languages, having the same meaning, but the recent phenomenon of hygge is more defined by the Danish culture. This paper aspires also to show the Norwegian side of hygge. Having hygge at home is immensely important to Norwegians. Gullestad (1992: p. 79-80) describe the ideal Norwegian home as being warm, both figuratively and atmospherically, personal with ambience, clean and tidy and giving a feeling of a safe place to be. This feeling of hygge is a setting of relaxation. Hygge is not a design style, it is an atmosphere. The word Hygge was shortlisted by the Oxford Dictionary as a word of the year in 2016 (Loughrey, 2016; oxforddictionaries.com). Countless books, blogs and blog posts explaining the art of hygge have been published in the United Kingdom and elsewhere explaining how to achieve hygge.
The Scandimania tendency, and the longing for a simple life, is also manifested through the Swedish word lagom, meaning just enough, not too much and not too little (Barinaga, 1999; Heart, 2017). Lagom is also increasing in popularity and number of books (Kolff, 2017). There is even a British lifestyle magazine named Lagom, focusing on the Scandinavian simple lifestyle (Stocks & Stocks, 2018). The magazine Lagom manifests the longing for the Scandinavian values of a simple life, redrawn from the stress of the everyday. As the magazine claims: “we eschew pomposity and keep our feet well and truly on the ground” (Stocks & Stocks, 2018).
5. Methods and selected students work of packaging design
This paper explores Globalization 3.0 through Norwegian graphic designers’ personal global inspiration and activity, and proposes a Scandinavian opposition to ubiquitous digitality, manifested through renewed interest in local traditions.
As a method, two student projects within packaging graphic design are analysed against global available inspiration and locally found Norwegian culture and crafting inspiration. The student projects relate to some of the values associated with the concept of New Nordic Design and the term hyggemay be found through the food concepts of the packaging designs.
The two student projects are drawn from a work-intensive five-week course investigating visual identity branding and Norwegian cultural concepts and design elements. The second-year graphic design bachelor students of Westerdals Oslo ACT got a brief to interpret the New Nordic design through packaging design. The students worked in groups of 2-3 persons. They were free to pick their own food and design concepts and also choose how to present them. Below are short presentations of the two student projects discussed later in the paper.
The concept of Pålegg presents a Norwegian way of eating open-faces sandwiches, a piece of bread usually with butter and a slice of cheese, ham, jam or other spreads on top. Pålegg pronounced /Pö:leg/, is the Norwegian word for what is put on top of a slice of bread. A Norwegian breakfast table usually has a variety of påleggs placed out on the table and the people eating make their own open-faced sandwiches. Having a meal like this together is often considered as hygge, a simple, but pleasant time together. The graphic design of this concept is based on a traditional, romantic way to painting on wood, from the 19th century, named rose-painting. Despite the traditional elements, the design nevertheless feels modern, as both colours and strokes have been simplified. Another humorous and contemporary detail is the illustrated piece of bread being placed in the middle of the pattern. Showing a big photo of a slice of bread on the front page with the pålegg on top is a direct and honest way of demonstrating how to use this product. Everything in the series of packaging design seems to have a purpose. The project is shared digitally on Behance.net (Andriessen & Nielsen, 2018).
The student design-concept of Fredags refers to the weekday Friday and the shared family meal Friday night to begin the weekend. Recently, taco, an international, imported tex-mex meal, has been a favourite for Norwegians on the Friday evening dinner. The student project Fredags intends to “take back” the Norwegian Friday meal tradition. The meal is inspired by the tex-mex elements of tortilla, cheese and a sauce, but all the components are changed to traditional Norwegian ingredients such as cod-fish and Norwegian vegetables. The design of the packaging series is simple with few colours, a white background, and with an illustration of Norwegian rural nature, the fjord. The project is shared digitally on Dribble.com (Aasbø, Henninen, Welde-Solsvik, 2018).
This paper suggests that the globalization 3.0 and the omnipresent personal digitality (Friedman, 2007) may trigger a need for ‘going back’ and embrace elements of our own culture and crafting heritage in Scandinavia. According to the graphic designers of Norwegian Heydays (Cheung, 2017) and Bleed (Shaoqiang, 2012), Norwegian graphic design is first and foremost about communicating a message without any unnecessary decoration. The student projects of this paper embrace the Scandinavian directness aiming to create honest information about the food through the packaging design and also to express a simple lifestyle through the food, a sense of hygge. Local values and traditions are comprised, but still, not without being influenced by the global design community (Sommar, 2005, p. 45), as international graphic design inspiration is ever-present through digital sources. Friedman suggested as early as the beginning of this century that global communication has reached a personal level through the internet (Friedman, 2007). For graphic designers, this includes sharing their designs and finding design inspiration. Graphic design portfolios have become increasingly digital. Digital communities, where graphic designers share their work, such as Behance.net launched in 2005, Dribble.com and Pinterest.com in 2010, are growing. When designers share their work online on their website or on their own account on a global design community, there is a possibility that the design is further passed on by others on global communities such as for instance Pinterest or on personal blogs. This way, the same pieces of design and design-inspiration are being spread quickly globally and designers all over the world look at the same inspirational input, which again may generate the need for individual distinction and a possibility to stand out from the rest. In Scandinavia, the need to create a design that stands out may have led graphic designers towards finding design inspiration also other places than on the internet. As this paper suggests; in our own Scandinavian culture. The two student projects address the traditional Norwegian everyday togetherness, the sense of hygge, through the graphic design packaging and also through the choices of food based on Norwegian food traditions. The Fredags project is inspired by international food-trends (tex-mex), but still suggest something new by using traditional local Norwegian fish instead of the meat, more common in tex-mex food. The Pålegg project has a different approach based on a Norwegian everyday manner of eating open-faced sandwiches for breakfast. This habit is well-known to all Norwegians and relates to family-togetherness and hygge. The actual design-elements of these two projects address both the Norwegian folklore and the rural landscape, but the style of the design-elements still gives a sense of being internationally contemporary. The line-art of the traditional rose-painting in the Pålegg project may be recognized from digital sources, for instance in a blog post from 99designs.no (Bryant, 2015). The line-art is an international design-tendency so common that we may not even think of it as a style. Adapting this style gives a contemporary touch to the traditional rose-painting element.
Similarly, the flat-art design style of the Norwegian fjord landscape illustration in the Fredags project, is an adaption of a global design style, for instance, discussed in the Uxplanet.org (Tubik Studio, 2015). The Norwegian rural fjord landscape is present, but the flat-art design style gives it a sense of being contemporary.
The concepts of both the student projects are approaching Norwegian culture by the choices of food and meal situations. The branding images of the two packaging series, depicting Norwegian nature and the inspiration from traditional rose-painting also suggest Norwegianness. However, the design beyond the images has a rather international style. When Scandinavian graphic designers are interviewed about their inspiration they often mention Norwegian nature and the fresh air. More importantly, they also mention the need for removing everything that does not convey the message. This is not necessarily pure minimalism, if a more complex design communicates better, more elements may be used (Cheung, 2017; Shaoqiang, 2012). However, the need for having a clear conceptual idea behind the designs and making all the designed elements part of communicating the idea may appear as typically Nordic. As an example, the swirly pattern of the student project Pålegg is not purely decoration, it conveys the folkloric tradition, whereas the limited use of colours may communicate modernity.
Skou and Munch (2016) claim that the myths and narratives about the designs are important parts of the New Nordic and that the designs themselves are not that different from other neo-modernistic designs around the world. The sharing of design creates expectations. Skou and Munch suggest that the international society want and need the dream picture of the Scandinavian simplicity and closeness to nature. Implying this, they primarily describe interior and furniture design. The national characteristics may be more apparent within graphic design, as graphic design more often uses images as an active part of the designs, than what is the case with most Scandinavian interior and furniture design. The two student examples in this paper imply that the design-style of the images may be related to international sources, whereas the motive of the images may be closer linked to Norwegian nature and folk tradition. Based on the student examples, the author suggests that the typical traits of Scandinavian design being simple, close to nature and with rural inspiration, may be more apparent within graphic design than within interior and furniture design.
The Scandinavian terms hygge and lagom are two examples demonstrating how the Scandinavian culture, based on local traditions, appear as being new and cool. These new-old concepts of hygge and lagom are shared extensively online (Bjerga, 2016, 2018; Heart, 2017; Schenker, 2018) and have become an inspiration for people all over the world. This way, the Scandinavian culture is spread globally, and the Scandinavian concepts come back to Scandinavians as inspiration appearing to be cool novelties. The inspiration becomes circular. The opposition to the ever-present personal digitality and the apparently generic global inspiration may make Scandinavian graphic designers find inspiration in their own culture and crafting. When sharing the designs online the designs become part of the vast digital global inspirational source.
7. Concluding remarks
The paper proposes that the globalization 3.0 and the omnipresent personal
digital connectedness in Scandinavia has created a counter-reaction where local traditions are revived and embraced. Still, this renewed interest in our own traditions may not have appeared without the increased and personal digital globalization such as the globalization 3.0 concept suggests. Via the two student projects of this paper, we may discover that inspiration from local traditions and ways of life, such as hygge, is not necessarily contradictory to digital inspiration. The longing for the traditional Scandinavian crafting and simple life is paired with the digital possibilities. The balance between the two may be the ideal graphic designers aim towards and is an opportunity within design. However, this balanced transition between the two is diffused and is an area for further investigations and development.
Thank you especially to Marte Maria Nielsen, Fredrik Falch Andriessen, Fredrik Welde-Solsvik, Sondre Gjerde Henninen and Lukas Aasbø for letting me include their work in this paper. Without their work, this paper would not have been written. Thank you also to Christiane Rynning and the members of the fACT research group at Westerdals Kristiania University College for reading and valuable comments.
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