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Hygge in Graphic Design: Tips and Ideas
Marc Schenker September 2, 2021 · 13 min read
Hygge’s Roots in Danish CultureFor us to understand Hygge in graphic design, we have to understand the origins and meaning of the word “Hygge.” Hygge has helped to define Danish culture. Having made its debut in the 19th century in Danish texts, the word gradually evolved over the centuries into the concepts of friendliness, well-being, and contentment that the Danish use it for today. There’s dispute if Hygge really means “wellbeing” or “hug.” You can’t deny that Hygge is much closer to “hug” than “well-being,” but the overall point is well-taken: both words refer to comfort. We get “hug” from the early modern period word “Hugge,” meaning “to embrace.” While “Hugge’s” origins are a mystery, it’s closely connected to the Old Norse term “Hygga,” meaning “to comfort.” In turn, this stems from the word “hugr,” meaning “mood.” To help us understand the impact of the word and its ensuing concept in Danish culture, let’s look at some of the evocative feelings the Danish get when using this word:
- A warm hug from a friend or family member
- A nice cup of hot cocoa
- Reading the morning paper in your favorite recliner
- Enjoying the warm, snuggly feeling of your pajamas and blankets as you fall asleep
- Eating your favorite comfort food
Traits of Hygge in Graphic DesignThis school of design has an unmistakably unique appearance that makes it stand out. The best way to familiarize ourselves with this concept is to look over various designs created in the Hygge philosophy.
Old World and FolkloricOne of the first things we notice is the old-world and folkloric design touches, which isn’t surprising considering its roots in the history of the Scandinavian people. This is evident in the engraving-style drawings and illustrations you’ll find on Hygge graphics. These are illustrations that you’d almost expect would be on the shields, ships, and battle garments of the Vikings! In keeping with the overall simplicity of the Scandinavian school of design, Hygge drawings are also very minimalistic, never using more detail than necessary to convey a specific animal, object, or occasion. By combining the old school with the minimalistic, Hygge contributes very memorable and unique illustrations to design. Take a look at our selection of Hygge-inspired graphic design products that showcase this old-world design theme:
NatureNature is a huge theme in Hygge graphics, as it is in design that comes out of the Nordic countries. Hygge design will almost always have scenes of nature included in some way, shape, or form. It’s not uncommon to see anything from reindeer’s heads and plants and trees to fruits and vegetables on Hygge illustrations. The reason for this is very simple: Hygge designers get their inspiration from the environment around them in the Nordic countries. This is also a principle of minimalist design in general, to take your design cues from what’s readily observable instead of relying on fancy ornamentation and wildly abstract ideas. Have a look at some of our Hygge graphics that prominently feature this nature motif:
Vintage-Looking Sans Serif FontsUnsurprisingly, type in this style resembles vintage fonts, simply because of the whole old-world motif that Hygge has going for it. With their faded and rough textures, Hygge fonts definitely borrow some inspiration from vintage typefaces. The end result is a very interesting appearance that stays true to the folkloric look and feel of Hygge. At the same time, most Hygge fonts don’t have any serifs, using only characters that are of utmost simplicity and, consequently, all the more legible and readable. Even with the typefaces, we see how Hygge continues to put an emphasis on simplicity and minimalism, to great effect. Here’s a collection of some of our Hygge fonts displaying their vintage look:
Geometric Shapes and Strong LinesUsing shapes and relying on clean lines are hallmarks of the minimalist design trend. Hygge uses both in droves, as is evident in any Hygge in graphic design creation. Decorations, icons, and ornamentation tend to always feature well-defined geometric shapes in this school of design. Of course, strong and clean lines are necessary to ensure that these shapes are visible and well-defined. That’s not to say that Hygge designs are blocky or too sharp-edged due to the strong lines. On the contrary, many designs still feature subtle and soft curves, circles, and turns to back off from any excessive right angles. Take a peek at the many interesting and diverse geometric shapes and strong lines present in Hygge creations:
Homely ElementsIf you recall, the concept and meaning behind this school of design is the comfort and wellbeing you’d experience in a familiar place, such as your home. That can be your favorite couch or recliner or your favorite room, as you pursue an enjoyable activity. Given this, it makes so much sense that many Hygge graphical design elements feature familiar and comfort-giving objects you’d find in your own home. In Scandinavia, when daylight hours are short and the nights are longer and colder, more people also tend to spend time indoors in the comfort of their homes, surrounded by this Hygge. When we look at various designs, we see elements like:
- Knitting textures
- Kitchen items like kettles, cups, and other dishes
- Utensils for eating like knives, spoons, and forks
- Accessories like candleholders, stockings, and other ornaments
- Stuff you’d find on walls like picture frames
- Stationery likes envelopes and ribbons
Colors That Pop, Thanks to ContrastNo matter what design style you’re looking at, color is always an essential aspect of any design trend or movement. Color takes anything and turns it from the drab into the lively, from the ordinary into the memorable. The same concept is at work with Hygge. Remember that Hygge stems from Danish culture, where, during the long, harsh winter, surroundings are very barren and devoid of any rich, lively colors. Hygge designers understand that, for Hygge to really succeed at making an environment inviting, warm, and comfortable, color needs to contrast with all the neutral colors of winter outside the home. The use of color contrast in Hygge graphics stands out. Whereas many graphics feature neutral colors, they’re always juxtaposed with livelier, vibrant colors (both warm and cool) to give the eye something attractive to focus on. It’s this attention to the aesthetic use of the color wheel and its combinations that makes it appealing. Here are some Hygge-inspired design assets from our marketplace that make intelligent use of color:
Neutral Colors for BalanceLook through Hygge graphics and photographic compositions, and it’ll eventually be apparent that neutral colors are omnipresent. That’s not an accident. Neutral colors are used for balance in design, as they can essentially be paired with virtually any other color on the color wheel and still look good. That creates a myriad of possibilities for color combinations. Neutral colors are commonly used as solid backgrounds in Hygge in graphic design pieces. This ensures that whatever’s going on in the foreground can really stand out and be easily seen and appreciated by the viewer. Neutral colors also function as white or negative space in many compositions, helping to draw attention to the more important design elements in the foreground of graphics. Peruse some of these examples of Hygge designs and compositions where neutral colors help to tie everything together:
CleannessYou can’t ignore the outright cleanness in this approach to design. Even graphics that are relatively busy and have a lot of different elements in them still manage to look clean because every icon or illustration or font is presented neatly and tidily in the frame. It’s almost as if every design is created with an efficient purpose in mind—which helps to keep the clutter at bay. Compositional techniques like the presence of white space significantly help with cleanness, as does the inclusion of lighter neutral colors like whites and grays. When you add in the presence of strong focal points in all Hygge designs, cleanness just becomes a trait of Hygge. It’s a defining quality in this philosophy. Here are some clean Hygge graphics in action for inspiration:
Hygge in Interior DesignFor us to thoroughly understand this approach to design, we have to go beyond just graphic design and explore everywhere Hygge is present. Another important area to explore is interior design, where you’ll notice an overlap between Hygge’s graph design elements and interiors.
CandlesIf you perused some of the Hygge design pieces in our marketplace, you’ll have noticed the recurrent theme of candles and candlelight. That’s because during long and dark nights, candlelight is warm, its glow is comforting, and it encourages curling up with your favorite tome for another homely, Hygge activity: reading. Candles are a mainstay in Hygge interiors. According to the Centre for the Promotion of Imports, the Netherlands and Sweden are two of the top six importers of candles in all of Europe. The flickering candlelight is both evocative and atmospheric, while providing a respite from the chill of winter. Skandinavisk, a Danish company, is even manufacturing a Hygge-scented candle that smells like wild mint, tea, rose petals, and baked strawberry cake when you burn it!
Nature ElementsThings straight out of nature are a core element of Hygge in the home. Our graphical showcase above featured many design assets that incorporated nature into different logos, illustrations, and icons. Nature features prominently in Danish interiors. This includes everything from:
- Wood trunks
Subtle and Monochromatic TonesThe whole point of this design philosophy is relaxation and feeling nurtured. That’s why you can’t have loud colors or in-your-face shades in any interior. Loud colors tend to be found in kitschy and flashy design schemes, which Hygge definitely is not. On the contrary, this approach to design is quieter, true to its calmness and comfort ideology. Plus, subtler tones are in keeping with the minimalistic design scheme that’s so popular in Nordic design. How does this trait manifest in design for the home? That means a lot of grays, whites, and browns in everything from pillows and blankets to kitchenware and accessories like candleholders. If you have a glance again at the Hygge in graphic design assets showcased earlier in this guide, you’ll note that a lot of the color schemes in illustrations, graphics and fonts feature more monochromatic influences than anything else.
A Place for Everything and Everything in Its PlaceThis subheading can serve as the motto of Hygge, at least when it comes to interiors. Set foot into any indoor space designed in Hygge, and you’ll quickly remark how orderly everything is. To keep their minimalist design qualities, indoor spaces have to be free of clutter. It’s part of Danish and the broader Scandinavian culture to live in tidy and mess-free homes. Perhaps none other than the furniture and home-accessories brand, Ikea, exemplifies this indoor design aesthetic better than anyone else. Head to any Ikea showroom, and you’ll see this discipline of order always enforced. This means books neatly arranged on their shelves, coffee tables free of magazines and DVDs, pillows neatly stacked on couches, and beds tidily made up.
The Social AspectSince Hygge is a feeling and concept, not just a strict design aesthetic, being in the company of people greatly contributes to the sense of wellbeing and comfort. Therefore, the social aspect of this philosophy is as central to it as folkloric themes, light colors, geometric shapes, and clean lines and compositions. In the home, this can take the shape and form of inviting friends and family over for a pleasant dinner and some stimulating, after-dinner conversation, perhaps with a bottle of wine or two. It can easily mean sitting around the fireplace, exchanging stories and sipping on some hot cocoa.
More Than Design…It’s a PhilosophyWhat sets Hygge apart from other design approaches is its emphasis on the feeling one gets with it. That takes it beyond the mere aesthetic and firmly places it into the emotional realm as well. When you consider that adjectives like “comfort,” “wellbeing” and “nurture” routinely come up when discussing Hygge, you can see why. This emphasis on how it makes you feel is evident in the various Hygge graphics we explored throughout this post. Hygge design is supposed to make you feel like you’re looking and experiencing the warmth and comfort of a familiar environment where you can relax and feel at ease.
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