[Skip to Content]

Danish design is smart design

From an award-winning washing up bowl and smart enzymes to the world's fastest electrically powered racing car, design is not only about looking good but also about providing smart solutions to the world's problems – both big and small.

Washing up bowl

Designer Ole Jensen has designed probably the world's most famous washing up bowl.

A washing up bowl. A rather dated item in the era of smart phones and 52 inch flatscreens. But that is what designer Ole Jensen launched at the start of the new millennium: a soft rubber washing up bowl in bright colours. It was at first met with a certain degree of indulgence, since what would one do with several washing up bowls now that everyone had a dishwasher?

But the washing up bowl has since gone from strength to strength in kitchens all over the world. The acknowledged design lexicon Phaidon Design Classics has chosen it as one of the 999 most innovative and influential designs of the past 200 years. The restaurants in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York use it as a champagne cooler. The washing up bowl with its characteristic folded-over edges has practically become an icon of modern Danish arts and crafts, because it is smart, simple and attractive.

But new Danish design is much more. It is also sustainable design. Design which shows that sustainability is not only about restrictions – turning down the lights or reducing the heat – but also about turning up the flame of innovation, to play and experiment with new materials and intelligent solutions.

Sustainable design for the future

Sustainability ranges from the lighter, bright green solutions to the rich green, thoroughly worked through solutions. Sustainability is the bowl made of FSC certified wood. It is design furniture of high quality, which will last a lifetime. It is super trendy bicycles that make it attractive to leave the car at home. And it is the charcoal purification of tap water that eliminates the need for imported water in plastic bottles. It is the new type of solar cell, and fashion clothes created from recycled polyester and organic cotton.

“In the future it will no longer be a question of whether the product is sustainable, just in which way. We are already seeing clothing collections which are both well-designed and made of organic fairtrade cotton. And we will see furniture that is not only functional and attractive, but also sustainable,” says the Danish writer and TV host Frederikke Aagaard. She is a trained architect and has arranged several exhibitions showcasing sustainable design.

LampAn example of the new trend is Danish designer Tom Rossau's sculptural lamps using laminated birch strips. With light wooden strips in organic forms, the lamps create a warm light and an atmospheric setting for environmentally friendly but bleak energy-saving light bulbs. Other examples are scooters and racing cars that are powered by electricity instead of gasoline. A company called Lynx has created the world's most powerful electric car, which with 950 noiseless horsepower puts electric vehicles in a whole new perspective. The Lynx can cover 150-300 kilometres per charge depending on how the car is driven, and the acceleration is astonishing (0 to 100 kph in under 3 seconds).

“There are lots of opportunities, including business growth opportunities, in the areas of greentech and sustainable design production. Denmark has a long tradition for showing accountability in production which is not just about having a proper CSR policy. Denmark also has a reputation for doing the same in relation to craftsmanship. It is also what we are known for internationally – that Danish products generally, and furniture in particular, are of very high quality,” says Frederikke Aagaard.

Intelligent Textiles

Another exciting area of development in the design landscape is intelligent textiles. Imagine being able to simply brush grass stains and red wine stains off a white summer dress. Or a baby's diaper that signals when it needs changing. Imagine socks that never get smelly. Or clothes that tell the washing machine how they should be washed.

With sensor technologies and interactive clothes, tactile information from the skin (goose bumps, humidity, temperature fluctuations and pulse) can be made measurable, so they can be used to interact with the environment. Clothes will ‘notice’ the body and communicate with the environment which will then respond to our moods and needs.

That is one of the main areas for intelligent textiles: clothes coupled with electronics to them smart and useful. But there is another area for smart textiles which is even more exciting, says Hanne Troels Jensen, who heads the Knowledge Center for Intelligent Textiles at TEKO, Scandinavia's biggest design and business school.

“It is about working with the functionality of textiles, adding extra properties so that they can do more e.g. become resistant to stains and static electricity, waterproof, temperature regulating and ironing-free,” says Hanne Troels Jensen.

Some of these properties can be created by impregnating or otherwise manipulating the textiles. There is also a lot of development going on in technologies which make it possible to put the functionalities right into the textile fibres, so they are there from the start. They will then last better than if one just impregnates the surface layer.

Just take environmentally friendly enzymes for the clothing industry. With new enzyme technologies, it has become possible to save enormous quantities of water, reduce CO2 emissions and cut down on the use of bleaching agents in garment production, and at the same time produce materials that are softer and more durable. An enzyme technology developed by Denmark.

Strategic Design

Common to many of the innovative design products with a commercial wind in their sails is that the design is conceived from the start. Simply stated, it is good business to use design strategically, so that design is incorporated in all parts of the company's production.

Common to many of the innovative design products with a commercial wind in their sails is that the design is conceived from the start. Simply stated, it is good business to use design strategically, so that design is incorporated in all parts of the company's production.

“The design concept has expanded considerably in recent years, and today is much more than just a finish on a more or less completed product. When we talk about strategic design today, we mean design as an integrated part of the company's overall business strategy. Design incorporated into every part of the company, the management, business development and product development,” says Christian Scherfig, managing director of the Danish Design Center.

The Danish Enterprise and Construction Authority has calculated that the added value for companies that use design and design concepts as a key part of their development and business processes is 22 percent higher than for those companies that only use design as styling or finish.

The UK non-departmental public body The Design Council has reached similar conclusions in a report that examines cases such as LEGO and Virgin Atlantic Airways, and describes how both companies and public authorities can create greater value through the integration of strategic design.

The latest survey of Danish companies shows that 23 percent work strategically with design, and 40 percent integrate design into development processes.

“These are really good numbers, but there is still room for improvement. We are trying to get even more companies to work strategically with design. At the same time, politicians have seen that design is a necessary competition parameter and so for a number of years the Danish government has prioritised design and was the first in the world to launch a design policy which aims to promote the use of design in Danish business life,” says Christian Scherfig.

EU Innovation Barometer

The barometer is a weighting of 25 parameters in innovation such as education, patent applications, research costs in industry and exports of innovative products.

  • Sweden
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • UK
  • Belgium
  • Austria
  • Netherlands
  • Ireland
  • Luxembourg
  • France
  • EU
  • Cyprus
  • Slovenia
  • Estonia
  • Portugal
  • Italy
  • Czech Republic
  • Spain
  • Greece
  • Malta
  • Hungary
  • Poland
  • Slovakia
  • Romania
  • Latvia
  • Bulgaria
  • Lithuania

  • Innovation leaders

  • The followers
  • The moderate
  • The modest  


    Denmark no. 2 on EU Innovation Barometer

    Denmark's fine ranking is due to the growth in the number of PhDs and the number of international publications, growth in foreign revenues from licences and patents, and increasing public sector investments in research and education. The annual Innovation Union Scoreboard is compiled by the European Commission as part of the Lisbon strategy to strengthen Europe's competitiveness in the knowledge society.