Design is taken very seriously in Scandinavia, particularly in Sweden. All the Scandinavian countries can pride themselves in having a large global presence in the quality design. The advantage that Sweden has over other places in the world is a commitment from the major companies to keep feeding the cycle of ever improving design ideals. The Ingvar Kamprad Designcentrum in Lund, at the Faculty of Engineering is just one excellent example of how the cycle and economy of Sweden is being perpetuated.
For those that do not know Ingvar Kamprad, he is the founder of Ikea (ee-kay-ah in Sweden). Like many other Swedish design behemoths, Ikea is family run. Talking to Swedes about Mr. Kamprad is proving to me that he is something of a character, very set in his ways, and something of a penny pincher (not surprising when one thinks of Ikea!). So having heard about his thrifty nature, I was a little surprised to know that he helped pay for the design centre to be built on campus. It is argued that it was a smart business move, as he is always trying to lure grads away from the centre and into working for Ikea, but also what I think lies a little deeper is the fact that he knows that it is no longer enough to exist in an industrial sense, but also to change the way that young people think about the world, as they will be his next employees and customers.
Sweden has been fortunate in the past 60 years. During world war two, many wealthy Europeans were able to put large sums of family money into Swedish banks. When it came time to rebuild Europe, the same Swedish banks were happy to lend out the money. From this, due to the pressure of an equal society, the average Swede had very deep pockets in the 1960’s. Stories of jazz legends being brought over to play in a 40 person café are not uncommon. However, being Sweden it was also not a good idea to flaunt any wealth, and it was also important that those less fortunate were also given a chance to do their part.
The social welfare of Sweden is being credited with giving it the powerful art and design movement. For a country with only 9 million people, it punches well above its global weight. When the singer for the Cardigans was asked why Swedish music was so high on the global charts, she answered that in Sweden the government paid you a fair wage to practice your art.
The design industry is no longer being questioned in its purpose as its contributions are now beginning to overshadow the traditional industrial based economy. It is still a little early at this stage, but having the acceptance and now the full support of the traditional industries is proving that the smart thinkers behind some of the world’s best companies also understand that we are looking at a new and different economy. Europe and especially Scandinavia have seen the transition, are fully behind it, and understand that this is the way to move into a healthier economy.
Sweden is exactly the right place for me at this time in my career.