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Monocle impressed by The Danish Design School

The trendsetting international magazine Monocle has highlighted how the Danish Design School trains future designers to combine a century-long tradition for arts and craft with academic research and business sense

The time when design was functional utility, styling and decoration has long since passed. Today design is associated with culture and economic development. The designers of the future must be able to do more than create a chair which is comfortable to sit in and lovely to look at: with an eye for economic growth and the manufacturer's ability to compete, they must find new ways of thinking and acting.

The Danish Design School in Copenhagen is one of the design schools that combines design and business. In its Annual Forecast Issue for 2011, under the headline Schools for thought, the international magazine Monocle has compared five design schools from around the world, each with their own approach to training designers. Monocle highlights how the Danish Design School incorporates a 135 year arts and crafts tradition into a modern reality based on market terms.

“The Danish Design School is a particularly historic case study that appealed to me because it has recently undergone many changes – taking a look at how it can improve its efficiency and relevance in the 21st century. That self-assessment is exactly what I was looking for. Rather than an age-old school that churns out students year after year, I wanted to profile a school which understands that you can’t rely on a heritage as a badge of success; you need to adapt and change to stay relevant and successful,” says Monocle’s Design Editor Hugo Macdonald.


Monocle impressed by The Danish Design School 

A foot in the past, an eye on the future
In 2010, the Danish Design School gained the status of an institute of further education, with its design programme now being based on both a hands-on arts and crafts tradition and a pure theoretical research profile, while at the same time focusing on close collaboration with the business community. This could be a fruitful strategy for the school, which aims to train students to interweave design and economic development.

“Another reason I think the Danish Design School and Denmark was a ripe case study is because Denmark’s design heritage is one of the finest in the world. But arguably the country has never lived up to fostering such a strong generation of design talent after the mid-century period. I think this is changing and we’re beginning to see a young generation of very Danish designers, capable of being great in a global context. The Danish Design School is crucial to fostering this new generation,” says Monocle’s Design Editor, who finds the new generation of Danish designers interesting precisely because they are adept at business, not just design, and because they have a respect for traditional crafts and Denmark’s heritage.

"A foot in the past and an eye on the future. Academic, practical and business training combined is the perfect formula for creating the breed I am talking about," explains Hugo Macdonald.


A classic approach to design

In the introduction to the feature, Monocle sets out on a quest around the globe to find ”the new generation of students who might not be able to make a chair but know how to spot a problem and solve it.” In addition to Denmark, new, innovative students are emerging at design schools in Japan, Finland, USA and Russia – each with their own comprehensive approach to design and economic development.

In comparison with American students at Stanford University's new d.school, Danish students have a more classic approach to design – they aim at both creating a chair and solving a problem, thinks Hugo Macdonald.

“The Danish students are actually some of the most well-rounded of the feature. The combination of academic, practical and business training means they are versed in the art of keeping traditional craft skills alive, having a reverence and understanding of the past and thereby understanding the context in which their current output sits. Spotting and solving problems in this sense is perhaps more traditional than say the d.school or the Aalto Factory in Shanghai – where students eschew traditional design to learn design thinking, the aim being to employ their skills in a business environment.”

Hugo Macdonald believes that the Danes would be well-equipped in this vein too – essentially the skills they develop are the same as in the other design schools – but their training is still traditional in that the Danish students see themselves as designers in the traditional meaning of the word. Not design thinkers, ripe for solving business problems, as he expresses it.


Tradition and business hand in hand
But at the same time, Monocle highlights how the Danish Design School trains its students in combining the renowned arts and crafts tradition with business know-how, which is essential for becoming a successful designer.

“When it comes to targeting economic development and societal relevance, the biggest potential of the school lies in teaching students the importance of tradition and business. Being a designer today is a completely different discipline from being a designer in Arne Jacobsen’s time. There are many more options open to a well-trained designer to contribute to societal improvement. Having that self-awareness and combination of humility and confidence is vital. I think it is still too early to point to an actual impact, but I will be following the recent changes keenly,” says Hugo Macdonald.

It is part of the Danish Design School's manifesto that design should benefit society and the business community, and so the school has established a close collaboration with a number of private sector companies and business people. The students have internship agreements with public and private sector companies both in Denmark and abroad. A panel of business leaders provides the school with advice on requirements and expectations regarding the design programme.

To maintain its position as an international powerhouse for business and design, the Danish Design School should continue along the tracks which have already been laid, and learn from the other schools, opines Hugo Macdonald.

This article is from Focus Denmark Magazine, March 2011