Photo by Jeffrey Czum from Pexels

To begin, a quick definition: the term “Scandinavia” refers to a region of the world consisting of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden (though some people include Finland and Iceland in the grouping). And apart from its stunning landscapes, harsh weather, and friendly locals, the Nordic north is also widely known for its excellent design culture.

Gentle colours, clean fonts, and nature-inspired visuals are just a few characteristics of Scandinavian design. And a larger part of what makes this style so successful is its timeless functionality: completely unfussy and unpretentiousness.

That said, let’s explore some of the secrets that set Scandinavian design apart. . .  

Minimalism and functionality

One of the first words you’ll hear if you ask a friend to summarise Scandinavian aesthetics will be “minimalism”. It’s likely that this stereotype is partly fed by brands such as IKEA who have brought nordic simplicity into our everyday lives. 

Whatever the case, minimalism does appear to be a key feature in Scandinavian graphic design, especially logos. Bold, text-focussed designs (like, for example, the one belonging to IKEA) are prime examples of Scandinavian minimalism at work. 

The concept of minimalism, especially when viewed through the lens of Scandinavian design, blends almost imperceptibly with functionality. This is particularly evident in Nordic-inspired interior design, but it applies just as much to graphic design as well. It’s all about questioning each individual element of the final product, asking what their purpose is and if they’re achieving it.

In short, less really is more in this philosophy, and anything that doesn’t need to be there probably won’t be.

Aesthetics inspired by nature

The Scandinavian countries are widely known (and envied) for their incredible natural landscapes. From fjords and mountains to sprawling forests, this region of the world is a magnet for nature lovers. 

It seems like the locals, too, are somewhat entranced by the great outdoors. And a deep-rooted respect for nature seeps through many Scandinavian-esque designs.

Cool, unassuming pastel colours are all characteristic of this style. And generally anything that evokes feelings of calmness and neutrality is right at home here.

Tree-, animal-, and forest-based illustrations are another common aesthetic theme, as well as icons and patterns that resemble elements of the natural world.

Natural light (or a stylised interpretation of it) is also present in many Scandinavian designs. Perhaps this is a result of the prominent and dramatic role that light plays in many parts of Scandinavia. Long, harsh winters are a staple of life in the far-North. It could easily be the case that this relationship with drastic light cycles has inspired the light, brightness that can so often be found in Scandinavian designs.

Clean fonts and lines

Scandinavian design is often very clean, and this aesthetic of cleanliness can permeate both the images and typography.

When it comes to the written word, titles, logos, and headings, tend to consist primarily of sans serif fonts. This lends space and clarity to the overall design, balancing the visual components by blending them into one seamless display.  

Sweden even has its very own national font: Sweden Sans (above). It was developed by the Söderhavet design agency for the Council for the Promotion of Sweden. The agency themselves call it a “Lagom” font—Lagom being a Swedish word meaning “just the right amount.” Sums it up perfectly. 

Simple shapes and straight lines also play a huge role in the Scandinavian-esque aesthetic. Particularly lines, which are an incredibly effective way of bringing a contemporary and sophisticated edge to a project.

So if you ever feel like one of your designs (maybe a logo, for example) is in need of a small visual push, try incorporating a few clean lines for a Nordic touch.

Simply Scandinavian 

For more on Scandinavian design, see our post on the brilliant branding of Oatly (a Swedish oat milk manufacturer). Or, to dive deeper into minimalism, take a look at The Art Of Minimalist Graphic Design.