When Beauty is Not Enough to Save the World: A Short History of the Scandinavian Design Students' Organisation 1966-1969
My dissertation examines how and why the notion of design changed during the late 1960s and early 1970s in Finland and Sweden by exploring the Scandinavian Design Students’ Organisation (SDO) and their demands for a better design education and consciousness of the designer’s social and moral responsibilities. This movement, neglected in previous scholarship, was born as a reaction against Scandinavian design culture riding on the success it had gained the previous decade when exclusive handcrafted objects were touring the Western world and winning prizes in international exhibitions. Design education still relied heavily on the notion of a designer as an artist and the produced objects as tokens of individual expression. Many design students felt that this notion failed to address the needs of a rapidly changing and increasingly dysfunctional city environment, which had become an important subject of wide debates reaching the design world.
The Scandinavian design student movement was strongly shaped by ideals of egalitarianism and international solidarity, while it also questioned the real extent of prosperity created by the welfare state. By organising state-funded symposia, producing ambitious publications, engaging with questions relating to design education, and collaborating with other disciplines such as engineering, psychology and ergonomics, the students strove to develop design towards a more collaborative, academic and research-based discipline able to offer tangible solution to real-life problems, such as poor living conditions, social injustice and environmental pollution.
Despite its short life, SDO left a permanent mark in Finnish and Swedish design cultures. By the time the organisation dissolved in 1969, the understanding of design had widened to include ‘anonymous’ industrial design, social and environmental design, design research and ergonomic design. Furthermore, the responsibility of a designer in creating a more socially just and sustainable world was recognized widely. Vocational design schools were moving towards gaining university status, and students had a greater role in shaping their own education.
School of Humanities
MA History of Design, 2015
I am an RCA/V&A History of Design graduate with a special interest in design education and design ideologies. My research focuses on the ways in which design is and has been imagined and used as a tool in creating a more sustainable and socially just world.