Jonas Pettersson is the CEO of Form Us With Love, one of Sweden’s most exciting design studios. Shrugging off the stylistic heritage of Scandinavia’s 20th-century design legacy while embracing some of its humanist ideals, the multidisciplinary team has helped shape what it means to be a young Nordic design firm today.
Now nine-strong, the Stockholm-based studio tackles a wide range of projects, from conventional industrial design for brands like Ikea, Muuto and Hem, to exhibitions and industry initiatives like Prototypa – a new platform that aims to connect designers and manufacturers to explore the possibilities of prototyping.
In 2014, Form Us With Love founders Pettersson, John Löfgren and Petrus Palmér (now the head of design brand Hem) launched their own product company Baux in collaboration with two business and marketing experts. Their aim is to overhaul the fusty image of architectural acoustic panelling with bright, graphic patterns and sustainable materials.
Here, Pettersson talks to design writer Anna Winston about the studio’s sustainable ambitions, the importance of design fairs and the problem of “Nordic style”.
Anna Winston: What does the term Nordic design mean to you right now?
Jonas Pettersson: It’s super hard to say what Nordic design is, or even what Scandinavian design is right now. I think it’s often perceived as an aesthetic or a style, which I’m not really fond of. I had a call an hour ago from a big technology company that is looking for a Nordic design studio, and they’re basically looking for a “Nordic style”, which is not what we do although there are other designers that have been driving that lately – some here in Stockholm and some in Denmark.
You can definitely see when someone in the US or in Asia tries to apply a “Scandinavian style”, it’s so obvious. That’s why we’re not so into style, or what colours or shapes are currently considered Scandinavian. We are more interested in working out our approach. The very open approach, the flat organisation, the collaborative way of working, that’s a much more interesting part of our heritage than the style. And our decision to focus more on that affects how we work and who we work with. It’s never on our agenda to design “Nordic” or design “Scandinavian”, but it’s definitely part of our culture.
AW: Is there a common “Nordic” thread culturally?
JP: The Nordic countries are in many ways quite similar. Overall they are very high on equality and rank very high on the happiness rating from the UN. There’s a very stable financial and economic situation and we have some security in society. Sweden in particular has very high taxes, meaning we have a very safe social system, but at the same time the country is driven by the free market. So that has played a part in driving what is happening in design. It means that it’s not only the rich and wealthy kids that can study design, it’s actually quite a broad audience that can work in this field.
But we are also international. If you look at our team, we are nine people from six different countries. There are just three Swedish people in our studio. We’re not trying to protect of preserve some idea of being Scandinavian or Nordic. We don’t think about it, so everything just blends more over time.
AW: Sustainability is quite high on the agenda for designers in the Nordic region right now. How important is it to what you do as a studio?
JP: In the last five years we’ve been investing heavily in sustainability. Now we see a lot of people talking about it and a lot of change happening, which is great. I hope it’s not a trend.
Being thoughtful about resources is nothing new, it has been about for a long time as an idea, we just called it common sense – we needed to use less material to afford it, or we thought about how we could upgrade something or refill something instead of buying something new. But for a long time we stopped thinking about it because we developed this tendency to think that our resources were endless. Now we’re coming back to a realisation that resources are not going to be endless.
It’s still not as high on the agenda as it could be (with manufacturers). Baux is not a huge company – we founded it ourselves and we invested in it, it’s ridiculous in relation to a big company – but (sustainability is) the only path we want to take. A bigger company might be more afraid about missing out on business. As industrial designers we have to think about how we can industrialise something so that it is sustainable environmentally but also commercially. How can we scale this? Because otherwise we are not going to reach out to a big audience.
AW: Are events like Milan design week still important to you as a studio?
JP: Yes. Milan is a way to connect with people, to share stories. We have a new collaboration that we will launch during the fair. But Milan is also tricky because it’s so busy. Sometimes it’s like a classroom filled with kids and everyone speaks at the same time. So it depends on what your ambition is.
Some of us will be laying on the floor looking at the technical details and being inspired by that. Personally, I enjoy the initial meetings and trying to understand if there are new things, new collaborations, that might be around the corner. You can meet someone from a car company or a technology company – they’re all going around and checking what’s going on. It’s quite luxurious to be in this industry that other industries are inspired by.
Stockholm (Furniture Fair) is a bit more quiet so you can actually have a voice. It was a super good fair for us this year. We launched an acoustic panel with Baux, which has had a very good reception, so it was fun.