What is so special about Swedish designs? Designers love Swedish designs. Swedish design scene is now more vibrant than ever despite the size of the economy. Take a look at the success of IKEA and H&M. Sweden's penchant for practical innovation stems in part from its geography; I imagine it is kind of a necessity when resources and materials are limited. There is one more thing in common: design for affordability.
Swedish design has a historical tradition: They didn't invent design, but they did write one of the first books on it. Modern Swedish Design: Three Founding Texts outlines the importance of function, aesthetics, and affordability, and remains in print even though the first volume was published in 1899. Sweden is very different from America, elitism attracts strong criticism. There is a sense of humbleness, authenticity and modesty, and the Swedish lagomhet (appraisal of modesty and humbleness). Swedes often express themselves in modest terms. Since the 19th Century, a strong urge towards more individualist values took over the more collectivist ones.
Some suggest that the high-concept design culture is rooted in the country's socialist ideology, not sure I agree with that and they said the same thing about Bauhaus. Swedes have an overarching belief in equality with deep sympathy for the underdog. This is a core element if we think about social design, or design for the bottom of the pyramid. I think this is a good design attitude to have.
Minimalism and practicality are virtues, and there is no shame in having the same couch as everyone else on the block (there is a big cultural difference). In profiling notable residences for her coffee-table book Domesticities, Pilar Viladas cited the Swedish word "lagom", which means "not too much, not too little." It is what Swedes strive for, the "yin and yang" of design.
Until the 90s, neo-modernism was predominant and Swedish design stood for traditional values like simplicity, functionality and blond wood. Remember those wooden chairs? Something happened and a new generation of young craftspeople and designers led by Zandra Ahl and Uglycute questioned the values handed down to them, and started promoting a more abrasive, less perfectionist, more human attitude to design. They believe in a well-meaning ideology underlying the slogan “more beautiful things for everyday use,” with form dictated by function. Resulting in a new kind of democratic design, inspired by feminism and postmodernism, they pursue for designs that are able to tell users something of the historical and material culture in which we live. Design reflects our societies' value and attitude.