This month, I visited Bergen, Norway to attend Startup Extreme, a conference that connects startups and stakeholders in the Norwegian startup ecosystem. Not only was I impressed with the innovation and growth of Norway's startup culture, I was also fascinated by the refined and minimalist designs I found everywhere I looked.
Norwegian design is known for being simple, functional, and beautiful. If you're looking to create minimalist designs that still send a strong, clear message to your audience, here are three takeaways you can implement today.
1. Prioritize quality.
Paal Friele Grung, founder of minimalist watch brand BERG, says that the Norwegian focus on quality may come from the relatively high income level of most households. (The nation has the second-highest GDP per capita in all of Europe, and sixth in the entire world.) "We are brought up with quality designed products," he explained.
Because of this focus, Norwegian designs tend to be sturdy, reliable, and well-made. They're crafted with care and imbued with passion.
Jonas Stokke is founder of Livly, a service that provides consumers with buy-one-get-one-free deals for restaurants, hotels, and fitness centers. To him, true quality is created by "a deeply passionately involved individual" or small group of individuals who have "empathy for the end user." In other words, quality design cannot be produced by a committee of stakeholders who don't have a living, breathing end user in mind.
How to implement this in your work? When designing, choose the highest-quality materials available for your craft. Take time to make sure it's the best work possible. Remember who you're building it for.
2. Focus on value.
Norwegian designers understand that design isn't created in a vacuum and doesn't exist to "look pretty."
According to this philosophy, every design has a purpose and provides a specific value to the user. Stokke explained the four types of value a design can provide: functional, aesthetic, environmental, and economic.
Designs have functional value when they're useful for a singular purpose and leave out unnecessary features. They provide aesthetic value when they're pleasing to the eye, environmental value when they're kind to the earth, and economic value when they provide a good return for a consumer's investment.
To provide true value to your customer or audience, it's crucial to "fundamentally understand what the task at hand is," says Stokke. "Then you can do that very well, and not anything else."
This focus on providing value may have its roots in Norway's egalitarian values. Norway has a history of championing human rights and is known for its universal health care system and other services that strive to provide value to all people. Maybe that's why Norway has enjoyed the world's highest Human Development Index since 2009 and was named the World's Happiest Country in 2017.
To apply this principle to your own designs, first identify the ultimate goal of the project. Are you trying to send a specific message or solve a specific problem? Once you've identified the singular goal, make sure everything included in the work moves toward it. Be ruthless in cutting out everything that doesn't.
3. Less can be more.
The final lesson we can glean from Norwegian design is that less can be much, much more.
Even though Norwegian designers have access to every existing material and tool, they often choose to use lots of white space and wood or other natural materials. You can see this in a number of industries including architecture, graphic design, and interface design.
Martin Braten Grina, UX Lead at Auka compares design to a clean, white sheet of paper: "You'd want keep as much of that simplicity [as possible.] This, I believe, helps to create more subtle and balanced interfaces which don't feel busy and exhausting."
Indeed, Norwegian designers prefer to create simple contrast instead of distracting users with complicated color schemes and busyness.
According to Grung, the power of a Nordic design comes down to the details. "That could be having some special buttons on a shirt, a strong-colored zipper on a minimalist jacket or in my case, moving the date on the dial from three o'clock to four o'clock," he says.
To emulate this principle, limit your design to a few colors and seek a form that matches the function you're trying to provide. Choose the most important focal point of the entire work, and make that the place of contrast.
Grina muses: "Norwegians are not known for being very talkative - often foreigners observe we're hard to crack. Perhaps that's why our apps, as well as our designs...are simple and cut-to-the-chase."