The Reputation Project

Words by Dorthe Smeby

Scandinavian design emerged in the 50s, and was groundbreaking with its functionalism, simple lines and philosophy of Nordic form. Today, almost seventy years later, the term still has a solid position internationally. Design connoisseurs and professionals look to the north when it comes to spotting trends and interior news with edge, and much anticipation is linked to the presentation of the latest in Norwegian design during the London Design Festival. The exhibition 100% Norway presents products by aspiring designers, in addition to promoting Norway as a design nation, and providing the exhibitors with invaluable experience for the future.

"Two hundred and forty square meters of new, exciting Norwegian design. It will be nothing but spectacular, says Benedicte Sunde of The Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture," says Benedicte. She only briefly pauses to take a breath and a quick sip of her coffee, before she continues to tell us about 100% Norway, the exhibition returning to the British capital, bringing the very best Norway has to offer in terms of contemporary furniture, interior and product design.

In its 12th year now, 100% Norway will be a part of the London Design Festival from 23th to 27th of September. This year’s exhibition will take place at the Old Truman Brewery in East London, and is a collaboration between The Norwegian Center for Design and Architecture, the Norwegian Embassy in London, the Foreign Ministry and Norwegian Icons.

Benedicte Sunde is the curator of the project alongside Peppe Trulsen from Norwegian Icons, and has been involved in the exhibition since 2008. "The idea behind 100% Norway has always been to sharpen the participants’ expertise of the market, to enable young designers and teach them about the underlying business perspective. The goal is for the participants to understand the market, but also get tools to do what it takes to succeed internationally. In addition to that, we clearly also want to promote Norwegian design abroad," she says.

This year’s line-up includes thirty-six of the most interesting, new Norwegian designers, presenting their products to an international audience. Every product exhibited this year is one hundred percent Norwegian in several ways, they are all both designed and manufactured within Norwegian borders.

From the top to the left:
August by Kristine Bjaadal. Photograpy by Marcus Erikstad.
As Long as You Like it by Sverre Uhnger & Thomas Jenkins. Photography by Kaja Bruskeland.
PAT VOL.1 by Kneip.
Spring by Siv Lier. Photography by Kaja Bruskeland.
Blossom & Piedistallo by Andreas Bergsaker. Photography by Lasse Fløde.

How do you select the participant?
"We have calls for entry, and Peppe Trulsen and I evaluate all the applications and choose the finalists. Unfortunately we can’t meet all the applicants, even though we really want to. We then have a two day workshop where the designers get half an hour each to present themselves, their prototype and their concept. The prototypes are extremely important to the exhibition, and in London we are known for having so good prototypes that people actually think they are in production. Therefore it is crucial that they are good enough, and we also help the designers develop them further if needed."

At the Old Truman Brewery the designers will exhibit in the company of well-known firms with a lot of international experience, and their advice can be both useful and eye-opening for a newly established designer or entrepreneur. The focus is on the synergy between designer and manufacturer, to create useful connections for the future. "The young designers want to learn, and their questions are many. What are royalties? How do I get into the contract market? What am I entitled to as a designer? Should I apply for a design protection on my product? They really learn a lot about the business by meeting the major manufacturers, and this is also where our focus is—to make the links that give them a good start."

To help the designers address their issues, about six years ago, they hired business consultant Alice Breed of Alice Breed Agency, as they needed a professional with knowledge of the British market. The agency makes an analysis of each designer, looking at everything from product and concept to website and their presence in social media. The same is done with potential manufacturers, and connections are made regarding possible future collaborations in the English contract market. "The basic idea was to make an exhibition that is sort of a reputation project, which at the same time has a business perspective, where we want to professionalize designers to better reach out to the world. And for the young designers, it often comes down to finding a manufacturer willing to get their product into production. We can’t just educate talented people to become unemployed."

According to Benedicte it’s important that the exhibition is perceived as a whole, presented as a mixture of prototypes and products already in production. In addition to the designers, 100% Norway will also showcase the products, prototypes and processes of five Norwegian manufacturers, and a selection of design classics curated by Norwegian Icons. "100% Norway truly is a great way of contributing to the international design scene," Benedicte says. "Not to mention a unique chance to present our very talented and up-and-coming designers."