Björn Dahlström

The best design is in my view something akin to science-fiction in its exploring of alternative possibilities. It will strike you with wonder, widening your mind, opening it to new worlds beyond the everyday.  

Like that little boy in the The Close Encounter of the Third Kind: that’s us, the astonished, curious, truly fascinated spectator. And that’s why it can never be too much design. We need it in order to invent and conquer the alternative possibilities of the future. But there has to be more than the mere superficial, design has to infuse products with something more than outer form. Björn Dahlström undeniably has the knack for it. He’s a keen problemsolver and one of the most trusted in contemporary Swedish design. Product after awarded product ranging from chairs to chessboards to bicycles to heavy duty machinery show a design which fuses possibilities and compromises into clear-cut visually striking solutions which definitely will register in the mind of the causal viewer. ”If I am a Scandinavian designer? Sure, and I think it gives me the urge to offer the user something which is durable both aesthetically and functionally. For me it translates into enhancing the impact and use of products through a process of fusing and simplifying.”

Björn’s whitewashed office sits right in the middle of the hipstery part of Stockholm’s south side, right above Bruno, a posh shopping gallery where he once had his workshop in former producer CBI:s designstore. Björn has moved up two floors to a room with a view of the surrounding roofscape and the gallery’s outdoor café. Here he and his wife and occasional co-designer Anna von Schewen work all by themselves without any assistants. ”I prefer to work without employees nowadays. I process the projects in my head until they are almost finished. I don’t need a flow of drawings to arrive at a solution; I just draw my ideas directly in the computer’s 3D-programs. Paper and pen has been replaced by the work of the brain, and I can often take the very first drawing right to the client.” You can hardly accuse Björn of being a hipster; his recently fully outgrown beard proves the contrary if anything. But he shares a nerdy quality, although it has real roots in his passion for technology and construction. The BD6 chairs we are sitting on are proof enough of his talent, a roomy and yet distinct design. If anything, it’s Björn’s start in graphics and animation already in the ‘70s, which proves to be one of the clues to his success. The bike Z for Skeppshult is an ingenuous solution enhancing the flexibility where the shaft bearing the saddle is set between the wheels, and it’s also graphically exact in its visual appearance. The same goes for the transportation version where add-ons are easily fitted on both rear and front. Here is no need for carbon fiber or other exotic materials; Björn starts with exploring all the possibilities presented at the Skeppshult factory where they are still proud to base their production on tubular steel. ”Graphic design is one of my working tools when chiseling out a striking and compelling form. The other one is the production process. It might sound odd, but I find inspiration in restrictions. It’s when I encounter the limitations of the production apparatus of the client that my creativity awakens.” The same goes for many other products ranging from industrial designs for Ittala, Hackman and Krups, to furniture design like the Superstructure chair (originally for CBI, now produced by de Nord), the Kaskad and the Two in One for Nola, as well as chairs for Magis and Plank, not forgetting his very first design, the Rocking Rabbit for Playsam back in 1989.

No wonder that Swedish design is still at the front news. Be it the easy-going aloofness, the absorbing and interpretation of global life styles, a country of early adopters of all of the latest trends, or, at the same time, it’s relation to nature and a democratic attitude, Swedish design surely sports an attractive uniqueness. There are almost no insurmountable ties to the past like in Denmark or Finland, but rather a creative spirit, which among the younger designers borders on the superficial. There was no tribute paid to the Italian Memphis group when the concept designer movement launched their arty design in an unruly attack on the design world in the mid ’00, like history is just an impediment to creativity. Björn’s work though is not about reinventing the profession, but exploring innovation in the factories of the manufacturers. ”I don’t think design can solve all the problems of the world, the challenges are gigantic and requires political decisions. But we can lay the puzzle in a better and more efficient way. And I don’t think we should deplore yet another chair. There is an irresistible urge to make a better one, a collective inspiration and search on the edge of the possible for new solutions, that’s in the nature of humanity itself.”

And here’s a keen interest in arriving at a sustainable design by keeping the materials clean and recyclable as in his kitchenware for Krups, or just making the Kaskad Chair really thin and extremely stackable in order to minimize use of materials, transport, and packaging. His use of a graphically exact design language reminds of Danes like Per Mollerup and Per Arnoldi, Swedes like Karl Erik Forsberg and Sigvard Bernadotte, or more modern ones like Yokoland in Norway. On the drawing table right now is an adaptation of the Swedish modern classic, the String shelfsystem, for office use. And also a loudspeaker system that present intriguing new challenges. ”I believe in giving objects a high quality, that will ensure that you care about them, and that might be the reason that they last as long as they actually do.” But sometimes Björn will even venture out of the expected. ”The chair I did together with Anna for The Swedish Museum of Architecture has rendered a lot of interest not only for it’s looks, but also for ergonomic qualities we didn’t even think of at first. The slight slope of the seat induces an active position which is actually helpful if you have problems with your back”. And not all work is commercially motivated. The first bike project was born out of sheer passion, and then evolved into the Z-bike series. Another non-commissioned project is a promising sailing boat made for the Nordic Baltic Designers Events in Riga less than two years ago. The idea was to experience an increasingly fragile Baltic sea at first hand, in order to preserve it for future generation. ”I like sailing, and I had this idea about a boat for daily trips out in the archipelago. It’s not about investing huge amounts of money, but a small and accessible boat which can be afforded by everyone.” The boat is meant for active use by people with just a basic knowledge of sailing. It will ride the waves stable and reliable enough thanks to a smart coupling between rig and keel through something akin to a gearbox. Björn admits that the boat won’t win any racing prizes, but it will allow everyone, even the slightly handicapped, the possibility to venture out on the sea.

Featured in DAMn Magazine 2013