design history February 22, 2018

Vikings: pioneer explorers and rebel designers

There are all kinds of myths and stories associated with Vikings, their origin ant the way they lived.

Mostly due to cinematographic interpretations, Vikings are perceived as barbarian pirates and raiders that were fixated on sailing the world to conquer every single place and destroy all the cultures that diverge from their one (the horns also played a major role into scaring people).

In truth, they were from Scandinavia and lived from the eighth to the eleventh centuries. And although there are several interpretations of the origin of the term Viking, all of them present some sort of association with sea exploration, unknown lands and commercial trade with multiple cultures.

So, Vikings were people who wanted to explore commercial trades by sea and settle into other territories to have a better life.

How did Vikings manage to succeed and reach as far as North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia?

They were badass; crazy, rebel designers, that’s how.

Let’s use a more known, recent interpretation of a Viking from the History Channels’ series. Let’s imagine Floki for a moment.

He is a shipbuilder, a master of his own craft. Possibly he learned from his own father and then, over time, he perfected his models and used real-life constraints to continue to build. Different ships played different roles depending on the goal.

He might be an artisan but he is also using design thinking. He thinks about materials, durability, and purpose. Also, he has into account constraints like distance, speed, agility and even communication, since he ornaments them to look more or less aggressive to other cultures.

Series and fiction characters aside, a very big part of Viking culture relied on ships. They used them for transportation, commerce, invasion and to display social status. The longship is the most common known ship from the Vikings and is the reason they manage to navigate long distances regardless of weather conditions.

So to me, Vikings were designers and on top of that, very good ones. Maybe they were crazy and maybe they had tattoos all over their bodies or maybe not. But they had a problem and they devoted themselves to think about it and to solve it. Call it what you want but that’s design.


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