Artist portrait by James Jenkins
Artist portrait by James Jenkins
Los Angeles based designer
Interview by James Jenkins
JAMES JENKINS: It is Saturday April 30, 2016 and I’m interviewing Henrik Andersson in his home in Los Angeles. Henrik, what do you think initially attracted you to graphic design?
HENRIK ANDERSSON: I can give you multiple answers to that. One is, I was on a six-week trip to find myself, to see how I would deal with myself traveling with no friend or anyone else to affect.
JENKINS: How old were you?
ANDERSSON: I was probably 20 something. I was like, “I’ll go to Thailand and I’ll just explore me, and see how long it takes me to get sick of myself.” I remember having a cell phone but no computer. It was so easy to live there. It was cheap. As an architect you need a whole crew. You have to have all this network around you to be able to pull a project together. As a graphic designer, it’s easier, I have my tools in my laptop and I can work from anywhere. It hit me when I was there. Wow, I could be in Thailand for six months out of the year, or I can be in Los Angeles and it won’t matter, because I’m not tied into these people and knowing where to go to get the best service for doing interior architecture.
JENKINS: Were you educated in graphic design?
ANDERSSON: Actually, never. In school I had art classes. There was this education where you can do all the regular stuff, like math, but you can also have creative classes. I had photography, I had drawing, I also had a lot of welding and those types of things, because I thought I wanted to be a builder, like my father. Eventually I ended up choosing to go for interior architecture, mostly because of my teachers. You can be really into blowing glass, because I thought I was going to be something crafty. She’s like, “Think about it. Are you wanting to do craft and have no salary at all? That’s what you’re looking at.” She was very direct, “Hey, think critically. How do you want to spend the rest of your life?” She got me to think, “Architect, that’s a better salary already.” I was very shape able at that point, so I just listened to her. Also, I was really interested in interiors. I remember as a kid bringing out the IKEA catalog and actually cutting out stuff, making little drawings and placing it in my room.
“When I started doing work in those areas, then all of a sudden, hey, I can do all these beautiful things, but I’m actually changing the lives of sometimes thousands of people. It was the change that I desperately needed”
JENKINS: Tell me a little bit about your design work now.
ANDERSSON: In this UCLA class, because my teacher is coming from a totally different direction, he’s more in this angle of do good in the world and change the world with whatever tool you have. He had clients in healthcare and education. When I started doing work in those areas, then all of a sudden, hey, I can do all these beautiful things, but I’m actually changing the lives of sometimes thousands of people. It was the change that I desperately needed, because I felt like I didn’t have a place in the world until I felt like I knew what gap I was filling. It was for me a very foundational shift in my career.
JENKINS: What does your practice of creativity involve? Can you talk about some specifics?
ANDERSSON: Can you give me an example?
JENKINS: For instance, some people start drawing. I tend to start with research.
ANDERSSON: Oh, I see what you mean. This is kind of interesting because I’m trying something a little bit different, especially in my latest projects. I’m handed a task by the client, if there isn’t a framework, I like to actually start with words. Just by talking about it, I can put down words on the paper and try to shape sentences or goals that I want to hit. I do more and more of that, and sometimes I even go back and do research on the “word cloud” I’ve created. These are usually just simple sentences of values that I want to hit with my design.
JENKINS: I love the idea of the “word cloud.” That’s very good.
ANDERSSON: You can do this exercise with a client, it’s super beneficial. You can say, “If you would describe your company with three words, what are those three words?” They usually reply, “What do you mean?” “Is it modern, is it honest?” “Your product is a milkshake, what is honest about your milkshake?” All of a sudden you can have these words, and it makes total sense.
“That’s the thing, am I an artist and I’m just putting out my work, and then people consume it whatever way they like or am I a graphic designer that actually has to please the client.”
JENKINS: You start to define the aesthetic of the project.
ANDERSSON: Yes, because that also saves you all this time later on.
JENKINS: Where do you look for creative inspiration?
ANDERSSON: I see it all around me. I think as a designer you cannot shut that off, it’s a constant stream. You get this from just looking at your own home environment. By that I mean not just your house. For example, I bike to work every day, I see new things constantly. Going somewhere in a familiar environment, you block things out. All of a sudden, they start popping up.
I am a sucker for typography, and I see it everywhere. If something is off, I notice. It’s almost like I’m looking for the errors rather than the beauty. Sometime, yes, you will see that one thing that’s like, “Oh my God, I wish I was part of that,” but more often it’s like, “Oh my God, that’s totally an intern.” You have all these fake scenarios of how that happened. I’m also trying to be forgiving, so I’m like, “It’s probably that bitchy art director.” I know now, the design you hand off to the people down the row, it’s going to be shaped by so many people’s opinions. You’ve got to have this sense of letting go.
JENKINS: Do you record your ideas for projects?
ANDERSSON: This is something that I’ve had to learn to do for myself. As soon as I recognize something that has interest, it may not be shaped in anyway, and it’s online or my phone, I just screen shot it. Then I have folders that I put different things in. One folder could be all typography driven. Others could be interesting materials or textures. I have, over time built an entire library of a lot of different stuff. I tend to go back and visit
those folders and use those in many, many different projects. It’s weird, I started this maybe eight years ago, and there’s still stuff I can reference today, because they have a certain quality that I love.
JENKINS: What sorts of things feed and sustain your creativity?
ANDERSSON: Definitely people. Nothing inspires me more than people that are passionate about something. When I come across pure passion, it’s direct fuel to my fire. I think a lot of designers can recognize the feeling, the wheels are rotating, you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, but you’re not getting that exciting moment. Then you meet a person out in real life, and it doesn’t even have to be someone in your field, it can be someone like, “Hey, I’m totally becoming a Buddhist now.” I’m not religious at all, but when you see passion, it is so pure and so honest, it doesn’t really matter where it is or what they’re focusing on. It’s still inspiring to me.
JENKINS: Is there any role of chance or accident in your creative process?
ANDERSSON: All the time, that is my best weapon. The power of iteration is the best thing you can do. As soon as you start sketching and putting whatever it is on that blank piece of paper or your computer, something happens. It’s either a choice of either I hate this or I love this. You can now have all these feelings to relate to. Just start and you’ll figure it out. I don’t get to something good until I have rounds and rounds of revisions for myself. Eventually, I’m like, “I’m comfortable with this now.” Have the time to make multiple sketches in different directions, and then you curate and pick what you think is best. Then just go from there.
JENKINS: Is the creative process ever a struggle?
ANDERSSON: Oh my God, all the time. I was laughing and pausing for a second because I know very well this feeling. That is the challenge. I love a good challenge. If people say, “This is going to be really hard. This timeline is really tight,” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m in it for this challenge.” It’s an adventure for me. The worst struggle is when you are feeling really, really strongly about something, because I’ve learned to really trust my gut feeling, and the client is not getting it. That’s the thing, am I an artist and I’m just putting out my work, and then people consume it whatever way they like or am I a graphic designer that actually has to please the client. That is probably the number one struggle, when you’re so convinced that this is really, really good, and the client is not feeling it.
JENKINS: Do you have any sort of tricks to persuade, to maybe try to convince them?
ANDERSSON: Oh yeah, for sure. I’m a good convincer. If you are really emotional around your design, and really just explain the way you were thinking, most people respond to that, especially if you can show them that you carefully listen to their needs. I feel today a lot of design studios, they’re doing projects because they also want to accelerate, they want to have better clients and so on, so they sometimes say, “This is the style that we want to do now, and it’s not super fitted to that client.” I think being able to say, “Hey, this is not about me.” As soon as you understand that, you’re more willing to let go of your personal needs. You get your stimulation by, “Look, I solved this problem.”
I heard this early: “Kill your darlings.” It’s not a careful little baby that you need to nourish. You can rip an idea apart and then pick some good pieces. That’s also a good starting point. If you’re getting totally, “I hate this,” then you’ve got to go in and pinpoint what is it that’s not working. If you’ve done a whole exploration, it can’t be that
bad. There’s always going to be qualities, and you can build off of those, and kind of save some of that time at least to go into some new direction.
JENKINS: Is it easy for you to recognize a good idea?
ANDERSSON: Being a good designer is all about being confident in that what you’re suggesting or what you’re finding and putting out there is good. It’s so tightly connected to your gut feeling. When you truly believe something, you can feel it. That’s how you recognize something good. It might not be super polished yet, but you just grab onto that thing and then go with it. I don’t believe that design has to be this constipated thing that you have to push out. It’s something that can be so-
ANDERSSON: Direct and immediate. I think that’s a big difference from being a designer in Sweden and here. Here, people are more like, “I’m amazing, I’m fabulous, I’m a designer, it’s perfect.” In Sweden it’s more like, if it’s not a struggle then is it really good? They need to feel it was hard to do it, and I don’t believe that at all. I think design, when it’s right, it can be done in two minutes. Then, of course, the execution …that doesn’t take two minutes.
“I think being a creative person, it’s a constant search for reinventing and finding where to apply your designs. It’s an unstoppable force.”
JENKINS: How do you know when a project is finished?
ANDERSSON: It’s never finished. That’s also a little bit trying to be in control. I’ve been super, super anal and pixel perfect, and really spending way, way, way too much time when it’s already done. Over time you just learn that somebody has to pay for this. Even if you have your own business, you’re a freelancer, and you’re like, “Hey, I want to up my level, I want to over-deliver,” you’ve just got to recognize that this is a change that only I will see. Fine, sometimes you need to make that change just to feel good. Advice is, if you’re feeling like you’re 95% there, you’ve been there for a while. It’s good enough.
JENKINS: Do you consider history or contemporary trends when you’re creating?
ANDERSSON: I went to The University of London in Sweden. I had the best art history teachers. One teacher in particular was a fantastic storyteller, and she was going through art history from the very beginning. I feel what you learn by studying that type of progression is, what is style? It’s really all these things built together. Even if you don’t like the style, you can learn the tools.
For me, looking at what’s been done already, that is learning. There are so many amazing people before me. You just got to understand when you’re copying people, because that’s not always obviously.
JENKINS: Are you satisfied creatively?
ANDERSSON: Yes. When you’re a creative person, it’s not something you choose. It just is. I have to do these things, I didn’t choose this. You can call it a curse or a blessing. I think being a creative person, it’s a constant search for reinventing and finding where to apply your designs. It’s an unstoppable force.
JENKINS: Do you ever hit a creative wall and how do you break through it?
ANDERSSON: I hit lots of walls. What I’ve come to learn is don’t panic. The only time it’s reasonable to panic is like, hey, it’s now 3:00 AM, my eyes cannot be open anymore, and the client is looking at this tomorrow at 9:00 AM. That’s when you feel panic. Otherwise, just believe in yourself.
Usually, if you do your work, which I talked about earlier. If you do the research before you start designing, so you know what you’re designing toward, you know your goals, you can’t get lost. You just go back to those documents, whatever they are. If they’re word clouds, if they’re your own mood board, something on your wall in your office, go back and you will find the answers there. Really paint the path that you want to go and set the goals for yourself. If you hit that wall, really try to recognize where it went wrong and just go a little bit back. That’s worked for me. I haven’t ever hit a wall I couldn’t get passed, so to speak.
JENKINS: What advice would you give to young designers and artists?
ANDERSSON: For me, school is great because I had access to so many workshops and so many different ways to explore my creativity. Pick a place that is not the fanciest school or whatever, but a place where you can really sense there’s all these other people around you that are also super interesting. I like schools that have multiple disciplines, because nobody can understand where inspiration is going to come from. Just pick that place and go from there.
More about Henrik Andersson can be viewed at: linkedin.com/in/henrik-andersson
Article edit by Mark Daybell
THE PRACTICE OF CREATIVITY
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