Course Syllabus

Danish Design A

DIS Logo


Semester & Location:

Spring 2024 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Elective - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

Design, Architecture, Art History




Thomas Dickson (current students please reach out to faculty via Canvas Inbox)

Time & Place:

Tue and Fri 11:40-13:00 in Fi6-Metro 102

Course Description

This course offers a survey of Danish Design focusing mainly on the modern era from the breakthrough of modernism in the mid-war years and up till now. It will, among other issues, look into the factors that shaped the Danish design tradition that is known worldwide for the organic esthetics, high-quality craftsmanship, functionality, simplicity and also a somewhat democratic approach to the concept of design. Design is never just a matter of the beauty of forms or materials alone, and certainly not in our context. Danish design represents a unique continuity between tradition and modernity. Social, economic, technical and political factors play their role too, along with specific subjects like the design disciplines of furniture, tabletop, toys, electronics, fashion, transportation and welfare solutions etc.

Some of the fundamental questions that shall be sought answered in this course include: Why do these designs look the way they do? What factors—historical, cultural, environmental, political, etc.—influence the designers in this particular period? How has the designer come to arrive at her/his final results? What are the designer’s personal viewpoints, and how do these relate to their design strategies, methods, and ultimate designs? What are some of the main reasons for the successful endurance and evolutions of post-war Danish designs in our time?

Course Structure

The course is structured around the following five topics. We will move through these subjects in the course of the semester:

Topic 1: Danish Modern Design (1945-68)

The breakthrough for Danish modern design came after WW2, with a philosophy that differed from that of Bauhaus. The success of Danish design must be seen in both the esthetics and the quality of the product, which can be seen as a kind of a promise to shape a better and more human world. We will look at Danish furniture and other designs of the period in their great diversity.

Topic 2: The background for the later rise of Danish design (1800-1945)

The basis for the later success of Danish design must be sought in circumstances on a level of society, economy, culture, technology, craft skills, education etc. Issues like the ‘folk high schools’, the apprenticeship system, the Coop movement, the labor movement and culminating with the Danish/Scandinavian welfare model.

Topic 3: Industrial Innovation

Inspired by both the success of Danish Modern and industrial design from abroad (especially USA) Danish companies began in the 1960’ies to use design more systematically in their product development and branding. There was though often a special innovative touch to this, or one could say: There was a problem to be solved, and design could help with that.

Topic 4: Welfare Design

The special structure of Danish industry (many SME’s) in combination with the welfare model sparked the development of solutions and products tailor made for the public sector both domestically and abroad. Various government incentives and investments aimed to inspire and support the development of a new type of products and solution in e.g. the energy sector and the health care sector.

Topic 5: Perspectives on Danish Design

New tendencies in Danish design are dealt with here – both in regards to consumer products and various new innovative answers to a wide range of problems in the modern world. Among the latter we find clean tech solutions, inclusive design and other products, projects and solutions of either a material or an immaterial nature.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this course you should have the abilities to:

  • You should have a competent grasp of the various components that go into and constitute good design. Especially in regards to the histories, theories, and methods of Danish Design from the 20th century
  • Exercise effective criticism and reflection regarding design in general and modern Danish design in particular. This includes demonstrating an ability to interrogate and interpret the diversity of design ideas as fielded in all lectures, readings, debates, field studies and independent assignments.
  • Cultivate and structure a set of valid criteria—approaches, inquiries, methodologies, etc.—upon which your studies and practices of (Danish) design may be more meaningfully grounded and articulated.
  • Develop an awareness of different strategies of design thinking/making that are recurrent in Danish Design in order to challenge and expand one’s own design processes.


Thomas Dickson, Architect and Industrial Designer

Royal Academy, 1990. Denmark's School of Journalism 1988. Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, 1989. Own office from 1991 to 2002 and again since 2009. Director of design futures Lego Company 2002-04, associate professor at Aarhus School of Architecture 2004-09. Visiting professor at Umeå Institute of Design 2010-11. Author of numerous books on design and innovation. With DIS 1993-97 and from 2017.

Required Readings

  • Jens Bernsen. Design: the Problem Comes First. Danish Design Council, 1983.
  • Dickson, Thomas. Dansk Design. Gyldendal, 2009.
  • Dickson, Thomas: Government and Design in a Strategic Context, D2B Conference Shanghai 2006
  • Dickson, Thomas, Nygaard, Tine. Walk the Plank. Design Museum Denmark, 1999
  • Ejlers, Steen. Architects in Danish Graphic Design. 1997.
  • Heger, Jarl. Danish Democratic Design: Year 1800-2000. Jarl Heger, 1992.
  • Joerstian, Tina, and Poul Erik Munk. Nielsen. PH. Louis Poulsen & Co., 1994.
  • Moeller, Henrik Sten, and Steen Rønne. Dansk Design = Danish Design. Rhodos, 1975.
  • Rasmussen, Steen Eiler. Experiencing Architecture. MIT, 1959.

Approach to Teaching

The Danish Design course will have its base in a series of core lectures, required readings, field studies, and independent ‘reflection’ assignments. Classes will often have the format of a lecture followed by a discussion or debate on the topic – based on the lecture, readings, observations and reflections. Outside of the mandatory bi-weekly class sessions, students are urged to visit various design museums, workshops, and shops in Copenhagen as part of their preparations for classes, either individually or with classmates.

Expectations of the Students

You are expected to fully engage yourself in the lectures, participate actively in discussions, and be open minded to your fellow students’ contributions to class. The aim is to establish an environment where we can learn from each other, as well as from the texts and cases we engage with. You are expected to actively support this approach. Readings and case investigations must be done before class and should be done with inquisitiveness. The ability to frame the appropriate questions and to apply critical thinking will be valued, and the class should form the setting in which to actively exercise this ability. During class discussion, you should make references to the readings in order to support the points or questions you wish to raise.

Field Studies

The field studies are a primary experiential learning component of the course. These activities should be viewed as an integrated component of the lecture course. The visits will illustrate and expand directly upon the content of the lectures and readings. Copenhagen and its examples of Danish Design will provide the basis for in-class field studies.


1. You are to keep and use a logbook over the length of the course and it is to be handed in on the last day of class. This work counts 50% of your total grade. The aim of the logbook is to sharpen your analytical capabilities and critical sense in regards to design in general and Danish design in particular. Over the length of the course you should make observations, reflect, take notes, do sketches and take or collect pictures to help and support your work with the logbook. Especially look for highlight aspects of the relationship between design, technology, culture and society during the course. You can also develop your viewpoints through participating in the discussions in class and on the study tours.

2. A midterm test will be issued.

Look in the 'Assignment' section in the left column for more information regarding the work to be done in this course.  


The final grade is determined as follows:



Active individual participation in class and on field studies


keeping a Logbook


Midterm Test


Academic Regulations

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on: 

DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -

Course Summary:

Date Details Due