Working during the summer in Sweden (or the strange, workaholic foreigner)

I still can’t get used to the whole country basically shutting down for a month. I know that it’s basically impossible to get things done in July in Sweden, as everyone goes on vacation. When I worked in Canada, I had a relatively generous 3 weeks of vacation per year, which meant that I had to work close to 1.5 years without vacation in order to save up 4 weeks for a longer backpacking trip in South East Asia during the winter. I worked all summers, as a professional and a student.  

Now I get 5 weeks, though have already used up 2 weeks of it. I took 1 week off during Easter, and 1 week in June for sailing, will work all of July and take 2 weeks off in August to go to Canada. All of my coworkers either feel sorry for me, or think I’m strange. One asked, “When do you have summer vacation in Canada?” Uh, we don’t. It would be unthinkable for most companies to shut down for an entire month. Yet in Sweden it’s unthinkable that someone (me) is willing to work the entire month of July. 

I’m alone in the house this summer, as Per is away on a summer course in Taiwan. In a way, I’m a bit glad to be alone for a few weeks. I want to spend this month as a sabbatical, of sorts (as near as it can be, while still working 40 hours per week). I’ve started going to the gym again, after hurting my back, to try to rehabilitate myself with weight training, yoga, pilates, massages, physiotherapy. I got permission to set up a clay workshop at work, so I hope to do some form exercises from Rowena Reed’s Elements of Form on the weekends. One benefit of having little to no work to do this month (as clients are on vacation), is that I have a lot of hours to learn CAD modelling during the day. I’ve also been practicing my sketching in the evenings and weekends. 

It feels like there are endless ways that I would like to improve my skills as a designer (sketching, form, CAD, experimentation and exploration). Long lists of books I would like to read, both in English and Swedish. Endless amounts of work to do around the house and garden. My health has been put on the backburner for too long, and I also need to focus on treating my body better. I feel a bit dragged down by the routineness of everyday life, as though there aren’t enough hours in a day to accomplish everything I would like. The weeks and months are just flying by, without any way of stopping it. It just feels like something is missing for me, as though there’s something more I want, but I just don’t know what. 

I’m not satisfied with the level of my design skills at the moment. Of course I know I do fairly good work, and our clients and my workplace are extremely happy with my work. I know I’m my own worst critic… I just don’t want to become complacent, and I want to reach a level of greatness, or at least to make something real that is beautiful… I’ve been dreaming about doing some sort of intensive summer workshop, perhaps on my own, but preferably with like minded people. I just found out about this summer design workshop in a beautiful location in France http://www.boisbuchet.org/workshop-programs 

Perhaps next summer I will be able to join?? I also found some interesting summer design workshops in Sweden (found out about them though too late), and the ones that ran this summer weren’t as interesting, so I’ll have to keep my eye out for next summer. A crazy though ran through my head that I should organize my own workshop of exactly what it is that I would like to do… I’m just too scared that no one will want to sign up, and all the risks of trying to reach out and do something like that..I don’t have much of a network here in Linköping, and it feels a bit frustrating and isolating. 

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Thesis work started!

So now I have a sponsoring company, as well as a well defined project for my final thesis project! An infant carrier for Haglöfs! I’ve started to do a lot of the research, including tons of background reading on ergonomics, infant development, parenting, as well as looking on the internet to see what products exist today, and for inspiration in general.

It’s a bit ironic that my first design project – a homework assignment submitted to Umeå as part of my entrance application – was a backpack, and that my final projectwork as a design student will also be a type of backpack =)

But looking around the net, I stumbled upon a really fantastic website obsessed with all things backpacks, Carryology. I’ve been looking for a great looking and practical backpack for some time, and have bemoaned the lack of selection and design. I want a nice looking, comfortable backpack to carry all the things I need everyday, such as my 15.6″ laptop (which gets quite heavy after some time on my back, let alone if I were to use a messenger bag), that could carry enough things for an overnight trip, and look stylish and fit my everyday style. Most backpacks look too much like a hiking bag.

I had a second interview with Volvo Cars a few days ago (want the job so bad! Fingers crossed that I make it onto the 3rd and final round!!)… Anyway, I needed to go to an evening recruiting event, stay overnight in Gothenberg, and go to an interview the next morning. I didn’t have many bags to choose from that would be large enough to carry my overnight necessities (without being too large) and professional looking (or at least not like I was going hiking). Now I found this bag from Cote et Ciel, which I am in love with, and thinking about buying:

Cote et ciel rucksack

Reminds me of origami! Love the Japanese aesthetic, and simple lines. Undecided if I want it in grey, black, or tan.The lighter colours show off the form really well, but black goes with everything.

The other bag I’m considering is from Mission Workshop. I love that it is waterproof and expandable (so practical!), and would work really great for when I travel, but it looks a little on the big side and maybe overwhelming on my small frame.

Mission Workshop Rambler

I also like this bag from InCase, but apparently it’s not in stores yet… And perhaps it is a little on the small side to be used for travelling.

InCase backpack

When I think about the number of times I have thought, “I wish they made better looking camera bags!” “Backpacks!” “Laptop bags!” And all other types of practical bags. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to go into soft goods design, considering the amount of time I have spent and spend travelling, as well as my interest in design and fashion! It makes a lot of sense… something to think about if Volvo Cars doesn’t pan out.

Some days I feel worried and a bit stressed that I can’t/won’t be able to think of a great idea or design for my final thesis project… Don’t want to let down Haglöfs (or my own hopes for myself). But I feel a little inspired after seeing great backpack designs online, and maybe I need to scale back my hopes to solve all the problems of the world / imaginable / of parents everywhere, and concentrate on making a beautiful and functional product.

The other night, Per and I watched “Modets offer” on SVT, a German produced documentary translated into Swedish about how the fashion industry is exposing people to hazardous chemicals used during the production of textiles. Of course there is no easy solution, unless we start growing and producing our own textiles and clothing under conditions where we can enforce the production methods (and pay accordingly and suitably). I have really believed in buying only quality footwear, because they last longer, are breathable, more comfortable, and look better. I think that producing, selling and buying cheap shoes made of leather are a waste of really good material. Though the documentary found that even expensive shoes could have traces of banned, hazardous chemicals, I think that consuming less, but better quality items is a step in the right direction. Cheaply produced clothing is also a waste of resources and puts workers’ health in developing nations at risk. I don’t shop for clothing very often – especially compared to the average woman – but the documentary definitely makes me rethink my consumption habits.