Every time I visit other European countries, I can’t help but notice how much more important good design seems to be to our European cousins, than it is to our fellow Brits. I absolutely love design and I love to travel. So combine the 2 and my recent trip to Stockholm and Copenhagen was always going to be sensational. And it didn’t disappoint.
From day-to-day things like the bikes we borrowed from our hotel to things like trains and the design of the folding table that makes it easier to sit down whilst still enabling you to fire up your laptop or share a meal on the move, the Scandinavians have great design running through their blood. Even the simplest things like this gallery cafe menu has been considered, simplified and created as things of beauty. There never seems to be an opportunity too small for the designers to express themselves and add to your experience of their country. And the opportunity to buy great design seems to come by on every corner, in some of the most wonderful interiors shops (why can’t we have shops like these please?)
What really bought it home to me (as if I didn’t know anyway) was a visit on my return last week to The Business of Digital, part of Leeds Digital Festival, which was a great event by the way, but which ticked my own checklist for poor design decisions. The choice of chairs in public spaces is something the Scandinavians take very seriously, looking for the ultimate balance of form and function that creates impact without delivering a numb bum inside the first 30 minutes. They would never, ever resort to that staple of the British hotel conference space, the stock-in-trade gold sprayed wooden dining chair (you know the ones I mean) without giving thought to far greater aesthetic alternatives. But there they were, line after line of them. Its as if organisers will just accept these chairs, because ‘that is what we do in this country’.
Now you might say, hang on a minute. Keep your hair on, its only a chair after all. But believe me, its the thin end of the wedge as far as I am concerned and a signal of something much more significant. It shows that in a country with a fantastic design heritage, that we just don’t care anymore, and that makes me sad. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think every humble town council or event venue should be investing their dwindling resources on chairs by Eames or Panton, but a little imagination and thought wouldn’t go amiss. So when you are out there and have a design decision to take, take a minute to ask yourself whether it could be done a different way or whether another design might do the job even better and look the business. There you go. Rant over.