Stockholm Design Lab’s Björn Kusoffsky talks minimalism

Q: Do you see your brand of simplicity as something particularly Scandinavian?

Yes, I do. It's something about scarcity; scarcity is the mother of simplicity. The Scandinavian counties were really poor countries. The demanding natural conditions, where mere survival imposed stern demands on people, led to simple solutions. There was very little scope for extravagance. Great measures of innovation were needed just to face the challenges of everyday life.

Q: How does that history play out in your approach to graphic design?

Our design is not so much about a minimal look, but more about an attitude, which I see as more straightforward and simple, and probably more honest. I think design can be honest.

Q: What do you mean by honest?

It's a case of 'what you see is what you get'. I would say that a lot of American or Italian design is not as straightforward, it's a bit more fluffy. But there is a balance. When design becomes totally functional you risk losing the more poetic part. For me good design has both functionality and poetics. Sometimes absolute simplicity works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Not as simple as it looks: it took SDL three months to find a Japanese font that worked well with Helvetica

Not as simple as it looks: it took SDL three months to find a Japanese font that worked well with Helvetica

Q: What makes it work?

To some extent, it relates to the competition. In the case of our batteries for Askul (above), there aren't any batteries that look like that. In that instance, by taking away, by simplifying, you are really adding something. Simplicity is the most difficult thing to achieve. Again in the case of Askul, it took three months of trial and error to find a Japanese typeface that worked well with Helvetica. A lot of our projects may look very simple, but there is so much work behind them.

Q: Do you think there’s a generation that has a particular need for simplicity?

Simplicity attracts anyone who wants to alienate from clutter and lead a better life, or a more simple life. I think we really can contribute by creating something that simplifies people's lives and also by doing work that makes design evolve or take a new step. Going back to the idea of honesty, if we are able to do something more honest, then we'll go for that.

Words: Emily King

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 218.

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