The Placement of the Sun

Designed by Yokoland

A post by ABDA member Kåre Martens


Being a Norwegian living in Australia but co-owning a business with mainly Scandinavian clients I must have flown between the two countries at least 40 times over the last 17 years. Apart from noticing via the in-flight entertainment systems that Adam Sandler’s career is going nowhere there is something else that I have noticed during these trips.


Every time I land in either Oslo or Sydney, the first thing that I do is to pop into the airport bookstore. Standing there looking at all the new books, I always sense a distinct difference between book design in two countries. It’s an overall feeling, not necessarily one specific aspect that I notice. Trying to write about what it is specifically is a bit hard because I tend to come up with the same cliches that I find so grating when non-Scandinavians try to review music and film from our countries. Music is always ‘arctic-sounding’ or ‘cool blue as an Icelandic glacier’ or something like that, even if the music was written by the Swedish version of the Teletubbies. Films are always ‘dark’, ‘brooding’ or depressing like either a Henrik Ibsen play or a painting by Edvard Munch, which would be the only two Norwegian artist the journalist would know were Norwegian.


Despite these stereotypes, when it comes down to it, the placement of the sun and the amount of clouds that usually sits in front of it does appear to have an actual effect on the aesthetic of the general creative output of a country. Neatly placed in rows in front of me in that bookstore at the airport in Oslo is a palette of broken colours mixed with white. It’s muted and, dare I say, a little ‘brooding.’ The palette in front of me at the airport in Sydney, however, is a palette of colours that come straight out of the tube and is not mixed with white at all. It’s bright and shiny. And I like it that way. Design should reflect the environment as well as the mood of the people who design things. I doubt it is a conscious decision though, to apply oneself in such a way as to reflect one’s overall national stereotype, it’s just the aesthetic environment in which one is raised.


The thing with Scandinavia is, as most people know, the position of the sun and the clouds that usually sit in front of it, only arranges itself in such a way that bright colours are produced for only two weeks a year. And what glorious two weeks they are! So glorious in fact that everyone knows that this is not REALLY normal. The brightness of this two-week utopia does not seep into our visual consciousness on a permanent basis. We know it is a lie. Soon every aspect of our country turn into a muted palette of greens, blues and reds and we are back to our brooding selves, a sort of Henrik Ibsen state of mind.


Below are some examples of beautiful Norwegian books.


Kåre Martens is one half of one of Norway’s most awarded book design agencies, Handverk.



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