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Essays

Hanna Nova Beatrice on The Value of Design
18.11.21

Essays is a compilation of musings that examine the broad yet impactful role design plays in contemporary life. Leading design writers, commentators and thinkers are invited to contribute an individual perspective – accepting or challenging the notion that design does or should embody greater “value” by drawing on personal experience, expertise and knowledge. Contributors are encouraged to explore design’s influence and application in domestic and commercial settings, across history, culture, politics, and its power to impact all aspects of life from small gestures of the everyday, to the future and sustainability of our planet.⁠

We’re delighted to share the musings of Hanna Nova Beatrice – founder & editor-in-chief of Scandinavian interiors publication, The New Era Magazine, and Project Area Manager of Stockholm Furniture & Light Fair and Stockholm Design Week. Hanna has previously held positions as Editor-In-Chief of magazines Residence, Form and Plaza, and founding editor of My Residence. Hanna has worked as a design writer, moderator and creative director in design and publishing throughout her career.

Portrait courtesy of Hanna Nova Beatrice.

The Value of Design by Hanna Nova Beatrice

If you had a blank canvas, how would you set up your daily life and routines? What would you change, and where would you live? These are some of the questions that inspired the launch of my own publication, The New Era Magazine – questions and musings only amplified by the pandemic as provocations for a new future.

I founded The New Era Magazine on a strong belief in quality print and the need for independent media platforms. The magazine strives to celebrate Scandinavian interiors, design, art and craft to an international audience, while interrogating how we live – particularly in this moment in time.

The first issue of TNE found its way to readers in Scandinavia, Europe, US and beyond, in a distribution coloured by local COVID-19 lockdowns. United by the experience of being isolated in our homes, the need to discuss issues relating to our living spaces, communities and lifestyles felt greater than ever before – and the first issue sold better than we could have imagined.

The New Era Magazine, Issue 01. Photography courtesy of Arvinius & Orfeus Publishing.

When Issue 03 launched a year later, our lives had started to return to a post-pandemic state of ‘normal,’ yet our perception of the world had been deeply altered. I’ve observed a shift in how we now go about our private and professional lives. A sense of urgency is in the air, accounting for the time of stasis. Many of us are adjusting to a new pace while searching for new contexts and meaning.

“I’ve observed a shift in how we now go about our private and professional lives. A sense of urgency is in the air, accounting for the time of stasis. Many of us are adjusting to a new pace while searching for new contexts and meaning.” – Hanna Nova Beatrice

In a recent article in The New Yorker, journalist Cal Newport looked at the new wave of well-educated key workers leaving their jobs en masse: “Not because the pandemic created obstacles to their employment, but because it nudged them to rethink the role of work in their lives altogether.”

Many have been prompted to scrutinise their lives to find a new template – career downsizing, leaving the big cities in favour of smaller towns and reconfiguring living spaces to make them fit a new lifestyle. We are organising our homes in a different manner; the pandemic has made us acutely aware of how profoundly human wellness, cognition and health is connected to our living environment.

The home of Hanna Nova Beatrice. Photography by Andy Liffner.

The home of Hanna Nova Beatrice. Photography by Andy Liffner.

In speaking to journalist Spencer Bailey about our lifestyle choices, he reflected: “We will see a cultural shift where people don’t want to own so many things, and where it becomes more important to contribute to the collective good, to be part of a community, as opposed to living these fractured, consumer-driven lives we’ve been sucked into.”

Indeed, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of community and connection – but perhaps the biggest learnings have been about vulnerability. On a global scale, we have connected the dots that our world – and our very existence – is under severe threat. We need to find ways to live more consciously, and in tackling this, design plays a critical role.

“On a global scale, we have connected the dots that our world – and our very existence – is under severe threat. We need to find ways to live more consciously, and in tackling this, design plays a critical role.” – Hanna Nova Beatrice

To this end, I will always remember the spring of 2020, walking down empty suburban streets listening to podcasts that reflected on the challenges of our present state. When society slowed down, many of us entered a time of personal introspection. In what became Dezeen’s most-read article of all time, trend forecaster Li Edelkoort predicted a new world order. “The impact of the virus will be cultural and crucial to building an alternative and profoundly different world. This is not a financial crisis but a disruption crisis,” she said – a concise summary indeed.

World Hope Forum curator, Li Edelkoort. Photography by Ruy Texeira.

Shortly thereafter, Edelkoort launched the World Hope Forum as a counterbalance to the World Economic Forum – a global gathering with climate change high on its agenda. “By the end of this pandemic, as if after a war, only our buildings will remain standing and everything else will have changed,” she wrote in her manifest.

Around this time, design critic Alice Rawsthorn and design curator Paola Antonelli founded Design Emergency, a platform to explore design’s role in building a better future. It began as a series of live Instagram talks focusing on the role of design in addressing urgent problems of the pandemic, but quickly grew to tackle greater social, economic and ecological challenges.

Alice Rawsthorn of The Design Emergency. Photography by Michael Leckie.

Paola Antonelli of The Design Emergency. Photography by Marton Perlaki.

These initiatives demonstrate the changing role of design, which I’ve been proud to witness through my career as a design writer, moderator and creative director in design and publishing. When I first studied design in London in the nineties, my first investment was a bright yellow Tom Vac chair by Ron Arad, which I still own – though it’s not in use. The chair never really looked good in any of my homes but to me it has come to represent an era, and a view of design, that is profoundly different to that of today – a reminder of the broadening of our discipline.

Designers are now tasked with redefining systems – finding entirely new ways for us to produce, distribute and consume. We need designers to invent new economic models, new value chains and new ways to manage waste. Good design has always pushed boundaries – but design must now investigate new solutions and find innovative and sustainable ways to live.

Tom Vac chair by Ron Arad, designed in 1997. Photography courtesy of Lofty.

Formafantasma directors Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin. Photography by Renee de Groot.

“We need designers to invent new economic models, new value chains and new ways to manage waste. Good design has always pushed boundaries – but design must now investigate new solutions and find innovative and sustainable ways to live.” – Hanna Nova Beatrice

I find comfort seeing studios such as Formafantasma setting a new agenda. Investigating the ecological and political responsibilities of their discipline, they place research at the core of their practice. Their exhibition Cambio, which is currently touring Europe, is an ongoing investigation into the global forestry industry and its implications, and demonstrates the importance of research in today’s design industry. “As a generation we are conscious of the fact that when we create something, it will have an impact. We don’t have a solution, but we question all the time,” says the founders Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin.

Moving forward, I believe it will feel remiss to design without a similar sense of enquiry. We all need to question how to do things differently. The value of design thinking and acting outside the box has never been greater.