175 years of Svensk Form

This year Svensk Form (the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design) celebrates 175 years making it the oldest design organization in the world.

It all began with Nils Månsson Mandelgren, artist and ethnologist, who initiated Söndagsritskolan för Hantverkare (Sunday Drawing School for Artisans) on October 20, 1844. The following year, in 1845, the school was handed over to the newly founded Svenska Slöjdföreningen (Swedish Association of Handicrafts), since 1976 known as Svensk Form. Söndagsritskolan is today known as Konstfack (University of Arts, Crafts and Design).

During a conversation with Mats Widbom, Managing Director of Svensk Form, we learnt of the impact the organisation has had on society historically.

“It’s fascinating to look at the role that Svensk Form has played”, Widbom begins. “It has taken in everything from being a strong agent of change at key moments in history – such as being responsible for the Swedish pavilions during the world expos during the 19th century and the first part the 20th century and establishing the first Swedish design museum (1872–1884) at Brunkebergstorg in Stockholm, whose collections were later donated to the Nationalmuseum – to producing important exhibitions that paved the way for the interaction between architecture, design and lifestyle/social development.

One of these groundbreaking exhibitions was Hemutställningen 1917, emphasizing the importance of making good design available not just to a rich upper class, but to the working class as well. The home exhibition revolutionized domestic interiors and showed how a worker’s home could be furnished and decorated in a practical, common-sense manner.

Another, also leading milestone in Svensk Form’s history, was the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930. The exhibition, conducted in cooperation with the City of Stockholm, was significant in the history of architecture, firmly introducing functionalism as the dominant architectural style in Sweden. It demonstrated an interplay between design and social development, linked to the emergence of the Swedish welfare state and a range of social reforms. Gregor Paulsson, the art historian and head of Svenska Slöjdföreningen, the early name for Svensk Form, was the intellectual leader of the exhibition, which took place from May through September 1930 and entertained about four million visitors. The ideas lived on and influenced the shape of Swedish housing and living for years to come.

What is your view on the future of Swedish design?

“Design is an important driver of the transformation that society must now achieve. We only have a short period of time to reverse the trend of climatic and environmental threats and it is going to require innovation and new technical solutions as well as changing consumer patterns and lifestyle. Design must enter the picture at an early stage as the cohesive link between research/innovation/technology and content/people/society. In short, there is a need to create content that makes it viable for people to build tomorrow’s society using new innovations and technologies. Here at Svensk Form, we’ll be prioritizing what we feel acknowledges the importance of design and sustainability.”

And specifically for Svensk Form’s nearest future?

“First of all, we look forward to celebrating 175 years with all our members, partners and regional associations. We’re also looking forward to an exciting future for Svensk Form where we hope to be able to establish even stronger nodes for the design development in different parts of the country. Svensk Form has 13 regional associations and we’re working to get them better funding so they can make further advances and together we will push the importance of design and sustainability.

In the international perspective we look forward to reaching out to important design markets such as Milano Fuorisalone within the framework of the Design program together with Visit Sweden, The Swedish Institute, Architects Sweden, Swedish Fashion council and TMF – The Swedish Federation of Wood and Furniture Industry.”

Swedish design award

Svensk Form is the organization behind the Swedish Design Awards – Design S and Ung Svensk Form – showcasing the best Swedish designs. Design S is the largest and most comprehensive design award in Sweden, backed by the design scene. The award is aimed at professional design­ers, architects, individual specialists, producers and companies that work with design in a broad sense.

175 years of Svensk Form


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STOCKHOLM DESIGN WEEK runs in February 6-12 2023 in connection to Stockholm Furniture Fair, and in September 5-9.

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