ASKO - ASKO’s Scandi design direction

What it takes to spearhead ASKO’s Scandi design direction

Design that makes life simpler and more comfortable is a hallmark of Scandinavian style—and that of ASKO, a company renowned the world over for their quality home and kitchen appliances.

It requires finesse to bring Scandi style to life through ASKO’s range of products, a responsibility that lies with the company’s Global Design Manager, Jon Carlehed.

For Carlehed, it starts with understanding people’s holistic needs.

“It’s about creating an environment that feels ideal for you – the people who live in a space. Take a kitchen for example, it’s the heart of the home, and the design must support your everyday living,” he said.

Carlehed has overseen the development of many of ASKO’s most admired white goods and kitchen appliances over more than 10 years with the company—the last four as the global lead managing a team of four designers. Yet he still recalls the early days of his internship at ASKO.

“I sat in the corridor of the marketing department trying to remember all the names of the different machinery models—and the names of my colleagues,” he said.

“Before I started to work at ASKO, I perceived them as a very serious company, very engineering-heavy, with a long tradition of building sturdy machines in an aware way.”

It was a change of pace for Carlehed. As a young man he had travelled, done part of a psychology degree, and worked in video production, before deciding to study design. However, his deep interest in people and designing for a purpose was in alignment with ASKO’s approach.

Following his internship, Carlehed spent six years working as an industrial designer in ASKO’s research and development team before being asked to take charge of ASKO’s Design Centre.  

“At the time there were other structural changes, and our product portfolio increased, with new colleagues recruited to meet the demand. It was a fun but challenging time,” he said.

“Since I’ve worked at ASKO it has has grown more international—in terms of our market share—but from a design perspective too, it went from from being focused on local materials and suppliers to working with a large network of people all over the world.

“It feels like luxury to be living in the countryside in Sweden working with the world as a playground.”

An important aspect of the job is to listen to customers worldwide, Carlehed explains.

“Working as the Global Design Manager at ASKO means that you are communicating a lot: with end consumers; all the way through the manufacturing chain; and with our retailers. Fortunately, I like meeting people.”

He said translating needs into products people love to use requires a balance between function and aesthetics.

“If we only talk about the functional values of the kitchen then logistics, clean-ability, workspaces, and storage are important factors. If we then start to look at the emotional values, it can become an endless list depending on whom you ask—but as a proponent of Scandinavian design I would say that ambience is most important.”

He believes Scandinavian design has been popular worldwide because it helps to create a home that energises and relaxes it occupants.

“Scandinavian interiors are warm and inviting in terms of the colours, shapes and materials. That reflects the fact it was developed by people who spend most of the year inside their house, because the climate doesn’t allow anything else!

“It's also a reaction against busy lifestyles and a cluttered home. When you get home you do not want your home environment to steal energy from you. A home with less visual stimuli supports a minimalist philosophy.”

Carlehed says making everyday life easier is partly why Scandinavian design originated back in the early 1900s. Living conditions in Scandinavia at the time were some of the worst in Europe, with a conservative and hierarchical society and few women’s rights.

“A few key pioneers started to advocate for women and children and within decades there were significant changes. Women could vote and also started to work, which meant a double income for each family.

“The government supported this through well-structured day care for the children and programs aimed at planning an “ideal home” that was optimised for efficiency and busy working parents.

“These programs gave rise to Scandinavian design’s visual expression. By the 1950s, Sweden was one of the wealthiest countries in Europe and at the same time Scandinavian design peaked.

“Today the elegance, quality and affordability of Scandinavian design is perceived by the rest of the world as proof of Scandinavia’s democratic and socially progressive societies.”

Scandinavian design continues to provide a template a home that tempers the onslaught of modern life. It’s something Carlehed understands all too well: his family life comprises two full-time working parents and three kids under 10 years old.

“Every week I run ten to fourteen loads of wash and around ten cycles with the dishwasher per week. In my home, appliances truly save a lot of time and hassle.

“The refrigerator and the induction hob are my best friends in the kitchen. On weekdays the induction hob makes it easy to cook something quickly, but be very exact and have full control of the result.

“A simple piece of meat with steamed vegetables is my go-to dish but for the kids it’s not uncommon for me to make meatballs, potatoes and lingonberry jam.”

Ensuring ASKO’s solutions continue to make for a convenient and cosy home means Carlehed will continue to spend a lot of time talking to customers. Recently his work has focused on how ASKO products should adapt in response to the digital revolution.

“Our customers deserve flexible, but easy-to-use interfaces. But digitisation is connected to brand perception, so we are thinking carefully about how we want the interaction to be set-up and conducting user tests,” he said.

“For ASKO it’s a core activity—understanding our consumers. They are our inspiration and our reference point as we strive for excellence.”