breadth and depth

From my long post on Wednesday about crafts and craftsmanship you can probably guess that I believe that in Denmark the survival of craft skills and the diversity of craft skills are important factors that help to explain the success of the design industry here - along, of course, with strong schools of architecture and design for training at university level.

A major part of the design industry in Denmark is built around well-established and successful, world-class manufacturing companies, and there are an amazing number of top architects - given the population of the country - and a good number of successful design studios.

However, what has impressed me at events over the year that I have lived here, such as Northmodern and 3DaysofDesign, is that Denmark has an amazing number of small companies, many set up recently, who are designing, manufacturing and marketing excellent and well-designed furniture and smaller products for the home. By small companies I mean that many have been established by just one or two designers. Some of the designers and craftsmen involved have formed these companies as the first step for a career in design after finishing at university while others have come through the craft apprenticeship system that survives - and may be gaining in importance - and some have launched their companies based on their obsession with design or with creating and making but without formal training.

So there is drive from the bottom up, with an amazing number of new companies coming through all the time, and strength at the top.

If there are problems for smaller companies they often come from having to do everything … so while someone is designing and sourcing packaging, attending design fairs to promote their work, trying to market their products, dealing with orders and sending out their products and acting as their own business manager, dealing with banks and accountants and government departments, they are not actually working on the design of the next product … what they are good at and what they set up the company to do.

One solution is to try and pool the experience that comes from success and failures by working alongside similar companies … that is one of the very positive values of a design quarter as in Helsinki. If you suddenly need a photographer fast or some graphic work for a design show it must help to have someone just round the corner whose work you at least know. Better and subsidised studios and workshops would certainly help and the more central the better … being banished to a distant but cheap industrial area does not help. Co-operatives like Den Danske Keramikfabrik is one way forward that looks very promising - a group of designers and ceramicists creating a pooled resource for manufacturing - and established companies promoting and supporting local young start-ups is a clear investment in the future of design and manufacturing in the country.