Is Northern Europe The Startup Design Capital?

    We were sitting in the ArcticStartup office yesterday afternoon and Antti showed me the video to the unreleased to-do list app, Clear, by UK based Realmac Software. The app is beautiful and colorful way to do the same to-do list function that has been iterated a thousand times since the invention of the keyboard.

    Whoever created Clear didn’t come up with a brand new way to solve an unsolved problem — they thought, hey I’ve got the UI skills to build a better mousetrap. And with posters everywhere on the way to the office proclaiming Helsinki as the World Design Capital of 2012, that got me thinking about where the “Arctic Valley” is in terms of elegant design.

    The rest of the world looks up to the clean, bold, and functional design that has made Northern Europe’s buildings, furniture, and even household appliances unique. Our area is also coming out with startups with unique solutions to problems — ideas more than just a better to-do list.  Are we also creating the web services and mobile apps that are built on this foundation of a higher design aesthetic? I believe this area can do more than the standard pastell colors, bubbly fonts, and contrasted-color rounded buttons that have been A/B tested into mediocracy.

    Maybe it’s because it’s been repeated to death by everyone, but when you thing of a well designed service you think of Path or whatever Apple has designed. I know Silicon Valley is its own world, but I have to say those products that are the exception of the American consciousness of design, not the rule.

    Just thinking about this, you have to say Apple products in America stick out sorely from their environment. Most iPhones are used in a treeless parking lot in front of a run-down strip mall by someone wearing sweat pants. That’s just not the case here, even in the middle of Lapland. Your milk cartons are more aesthetically pleasing than most of America.

    It makes business sense to employ a higher aesthetic. I’m like a typical consumer — at a glance I can’t tell a lot about how well your app or web service works, but I can make some guesses from the way it’s presented. 

    This is just observation bias, but a couple times a week we’ll get emails from startups from out of our area asking to get some coverage. I usually have to dig through their website to find out where they’re from, and it sucks digging through a service that makes you say, “oh man, this looks hot,” and then find out they’re just two guys from Germany.

    While a few startups from the region come to mind, after all that being said, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m just an idiot to write all of this up. It’s very likely that could have such a bad eye that I’m just looking for lipstick on a pig. Regardless, there’s such a home-field advantage when it comes to strong and functional design, so that this whole area should be known as the Startup Design Capital. We’ve got enough talent and culture that “Nordic” or “Baltic” should be a label people use describe how apps or websites look.

    For a future post I think we should highlight the best examples of good UI and design coming from Nordic and Baltic startups. In the comments let’s come up with a list of well designed Nordic and Baltic Startups.

    Clear for iPhone (Coming Soon!) from Realmac Software on Vimeo.

    Image by JForth on Flickr