Scotland's Design Language: The Skinny Showcase

What characterises contemporary design in Scotland? What is our ‘design language’ – do we indeed have one?

Feature by Stacey Hunter | 07 Sep 2017

These are the questions we’re posing ahead of a regular feature where design curators Local Heroes take a look at what the most interesting designers in Scotland are working on

Since it was founded in 2015, Local Heroes have been championing the notion of a 'new movement in Scottish Design' first made visible with an ambitious exhibition of exciting souvenirs at Edinburgh Airport last summer.

The new aesthetic is eclectic – at turns youthful, elemental, minimalist and maximalist. And while there was a time when Scotland seemed to look to other countries for inspiration, contemporary design in 2017 is confident, expressive and original – symbolic of Scotland’s pluralism and connectedness to the rest of the world.

The broad brush perception of our design culture may be dominated by tartan and nostalgia, however the work of Scottish mavericks like Mackintosh and Paolozzi imagined new futures. In fact, Paolozzi’s early 1960s output arguably pre-dates the radical design movement led by Italian Ettore Sottsass, and that bold approach to colour, context and technology is finding a new articulation in modern Scottish design.

Designers Gabriella Marcella of Risotto, Karen Mabon, Juli Bolaños-Durnan, Alice Dansey-Wright, Jennifer Gray and Soizig Carey cheerfully and knowingly invoke a combination of 20th century painters, pop and ancient artefacts – rendered in paper, silk, glass, plywood and metal producing design that is fresh, exciting and highly desirable.

The minimalist rigour of an Instrmnt watch or Patricia Shone vessel communicate beauty with restraint. Tom Pigeon’s wall hangings and mobiles are exercises in colour palette precision, while in a reversal of traditions and techniques Hilary Grant incorporates high-tech chromostereopsis processes in her blankets and scarves, while Lynne MacLachlan employs moire in her 3D printed jewellery.

The combined result is highly original work that embraces innovation and internationalism, and what these designers all share is optimism and intellectual rigour. The new movement is polished, professional and accessible.

The strongest influence on contemporary Scottish design is definitely digital. Though geographically at the edge of Europe, high quality, popular Scottish design sits comfortably alongside the best of Danish, Italian or Dutch design in a way that was unimaginable pre iPhone, Adobe and Instagram.

What we think we know about design is rapidly evolving: Dutch design, for so long known for its Droogish irreverence, is increasingly defined by socially responsive design. Still though, a distinctive aesthetic snapshot materialises when Scandinavian design is discussed in a way that it simply doesn’t when Scottish design is. There are structural reasons for this, including a baffling lack of official platforms for design, government policy or opportunities to see and celebrate Scottish design.

In response, with this regular column, Local Heroes will continue to shine a spotlight on outstanding design spanning interiors, product and industrial design, fashion, graphics and craft, and hopefully offer the mouthpiece designers working in Scotland have told us they need. Together with The Skinny we’ll be embarking on a tour of design and its contribution to Scottish culture.

Join us each month as we present new projects, approaches and collaborations with the aim of uncovering what Scotland’s design language is, or could be in the future.