Fearless and wildly creative design duo Hjalti Karlsson and Jan Wilker—also known as karlssonwilker—are an independent and internationally-recognized creative force. When we met them, we were so charmed that we immediately wanted to introduce them to you, so we asked them to speak at Adobe MAX this year! Karlsson and Wilker’s topic, “Creativity, Technology, and karlssonwilker” speaks to their commitment, passion and creativity, as well as the equal importance they place on technology and play in their work.
Attend MAX. Attend their session. You’ll leave inspired. In the meantime, enjoy this candid Q&A (and their reinterpretation of the MAX logo) from these imaginative designers.
Adobe: You and Hjalti founded karlssonwilker in 2000, after working for Stefan Sagmeister, what was his advice to you when you told him you were opening your own studio?
karlssonwilker: There was no particular parting advice, although we surely asked him for advise many times, and still do from time to time. Back then it felt like a very natural transition. Stefan went on his sabbatical and so the two of us started, or were forced to start, our own “thing.” I remember the two of us showing Stefan the office space we were thinking about renting, and him saying it’s a great deal and that we should definitely take it. (We still are in the same space today.) The biggest thing, for me personally, was that he showed us—and everyone else—that a studio small in size could make hugely influential and relevant work, something quite uncommon back then.
As if opening a new studio during a recession wasn’t enough, you decided to write a book (tellmewhy: The First 24 Months of a New York Design Company) about those first two years in business. Why did you take that on at that time?
One part was frustration about our unpreparedness regarding the business side of our new enterprise. The other was the need we felt, at the time, for more honesty in the arena of shiny design monographs. The simple story of the humble beginnings of a studio should be told, not the idealized and romanticized look back on 20 years of a successful design career, where everyone seemed to be born a genius. That’s what we did and to this day we still get emails from around the world thanking us for doing this candid book and helping designers around the world not feel they are alone in being ill-prepared to properly run a studio right from the start. And of course Princeton Architectural Press deserves huge credit of course for working on it with us, as does Clare Jacobson for writing it so fantastically.
Your book offers a not-always-glamorous view of owning a design studio; do you think it’s important for students and young designers to know that the path to success is not always rosy?
Yes, of course. Its important to make clear that failing is part of the “fun” and an important part of the learning. Somehow this book led by example: if Hjalti and I can do it, anyone can. And that seemed to be empowering to many.
If tomorrow, you could no longer be a designer, what would you choose to do?
I would be a shoemaker. Hjalti would run a little store, or be “in real estate.”
Has Adobe’s Creative Cloud changed/altered your work and your process?
Adobe products have always had a huge influence on us and there are many examples in our work. One of our design approaches is rooted in play and experimentation; very early on we used Illustrator’s tools and filters to explore dense vector drawings, by spending lots of time with it to see where it would lead us (projects like Hattler, Skirl and, later, Mini/BMW). Also, the MAX key art we created for this year’s conference comes from formal experimentation with three or four different programs.
What do you most hope to be able to say about your work and your partnership 20 years from now?
Jan: That we constantly evolved, enjoyed life, and produced relevant work that inspired some to push harder.
Hjalti: That I’m still very proud of the work we did, that Jan and I are still on speaking terms and, who knows, that the company is still going strong in 20 years, with the two of us working two days a week and an army of people doing all the work.
You and Hjalti have both been design judges… Do you feel that the work submitted to design competitions encapsulates what’s going on in the industry at the time?
For me, that’s a clear no. It might have been that way many years ago, but nowadays competitions are indicators of who wants to appeal to the commercial mainstream. The design world is more colorful now, and only a small fraction wants or needs to be represented in design annuals. We ourselves stopped sending things in about eight years ago.
For your eleventh anniversary party you created a poster acknowledging all of the karlsssonwilker interns you’ve had over the years. How many were mentioned? And how many have been inspired, by working with you, to open their own studios?
We mentioned every single one of them—almost 40 interns have come through our little studio. About fifteen of them started their own studios more or less right after their time with us (I’m not sure that we inspired them to do that, I think they already came to us with that plan in mind).
Talent? Passion? Or education? Which is most important? Why?
Passion. For sure. A genuine interest in what you do is really all that matters.
We just saw your version of the new MAX logo on the MAX website. Was executing a logo redesign easier or harder than beginning from scratch?
We didn’t see it as logo redesign, but as a demonstration of “creativity,” with the MAX logo incorporated into it.
Be sure to come see karlssonwilker at Adobe MAX this year! Register at MAX.Adobe.com with promo code MXSM13 and save $300!
Prior to Adobe MAX, we wanted to give you an opportunity to ask him some questions, which is why we’re hosting a Twitter Chat with Aaron (@Draplin) on Monday, April 15, 2013 at 10AM PST (1PM EST). Follow our Adobe MAX Twitter channel (@AdobeMAX) for updates, and be sure to ask your questions then using the #AdobeMAX hashtag.
To get an inside look at Aaron, watch our video interview with him as he discusses his love for the creativity of signs on a #$%*! mini-tour of Portland, plus more in Part I of our Q&A with him.
Adobe: We’ve seen the memo book archive you’re building. Do you have a favorite? If not a (single) favorite, a favorite theme (or type)?
Aaron Draplin: There are just too many to pick from, but I do have a fondness for the ugly duckling stuff. Some are lavish, some are trying a little too hard and some, hell, just do the job and exist for their purpose. I love that sort of unpretentious singularity. Pure functionality is a beautiful thing.
Field Notes. Why 48 pages?
Thirty-six seemed too few, and 60 seemed a little bit too big. We split the difference. Plus, the “thickness” came into play. Forty-eight pages is a lot of real estate, yet still feels good in your hands. We’ve got your best interests scientifically considered, people. Trust us.
Where/when did the relationship between you and Coudal Partners begin?
I was a fan and reached out with some email slathering Jim with niceties, and he slathered right back. The next time I whipped through Chicago I stopped for a handshake. That would’ve been in early 2004. Buddies ever since. Thank you for so much, Jim!
You’re speaking at MAX (frankly, we can’t wait). Does your speaking topic “Tall Tales from A Large Man,” provide a lot of latitude… That is, can you change course if you come up with an idea just before you step on stage?
It depends on the crowd. If I recognize some faces before the gig, I’ll mix stuff up a bit. Otherwise, I stick to my presentation, and tell my whole story the best way I can. If people are into it, I’ll offer up a lot of side stories, but if they are stone-faced, I’ll whip through the stuff. Rarely, are they stone-faced. Every now and again someone will be sitting there, as still as the dead. That shit freaks me out. I mean, are they human?
What about Adobe made you decide to say “yes” when we invited you to speak at MAX?
I’ve been speaking at a lot of Interactive conferences and, frankly, I often find myself not knowing a damn thing about the coding stuff they’re talking about. It’s a different language. The idea that a bunch of Adobe nerds would be in one place? My kind of party! I live off this stuff and am super interested in seeing what kind of people show up for it. I mean, I hope to learn knew ways to use my programs, you know? So, I’m going as a fan, and as someone tasked with telling his story to the crowd. And I promise to LAY WASTE to all in attendance. You’ve been warned.
What’s the one skill you learned in design school that you would encourage young designers to hone?
Learn how to talk about the work. Don’t indulge in “liking” things or “unliking” things. Hold stuff to the criteria of whether or not the solution is successful for the problem at hand. Liking stuff is a little too subjective. Did it solve the problem? Is it as good as it could be? Did you get it done on time? Design school taught me how to be diplomatic when discussing work, and how to be constructive about how to make things better, instead of selfishly tearing them down. I loved that part of school. Thank you Santiago and Kali.
Also, join our Adobe MAX Twitter Sweepstakes from April 10–16, 2013. Use the hashtag #AdobeMAX for a chance to win some great prizes! Read the Adobe MAX Tweetaway Sweepstakes Official Rules for more details.
Vasava, founded by Bruno and Toni Selles in 1997, is the brainchild of an illustrator/graffiti artist (Bruno) and a graphic designer/advertising art director (Toni) who, tired of traditional studio methodologies, set out to create something different. Some fifteen years later, the team is comprised of eighteen designers each with a unique set of cross-media skills. (There are no administrative or account people.)
When Vasava said “yes” to our invitation to speak at Adobe MAX, we wanted people to get to know them better. Partner Enric Godes took time out of a crazy-busy schedule to talk to us about revelation and inspiration, personal projects, the man behind the Vasava ski mask (on the speaker page) and which Adobe product he couldn’t work without.
Adobe: You reinterpreted our Adobe MAX logo. What was the inspiration/concept behind your design?
Vasava: The idea behind the logo interpretation of Max 2013 was to dissect a vision of graphic coolness into a classic logo. We’ve put different layers of graphic languages into a single piece to represent the many things going on at MAX—as a symbol of all the things going on. The main challenge was to have multiple styles and voices together in the same place, in harmony and acting as a unique new style. The main character, the red bird, is the creative spark that changes everything; the inspiration wave that comes after a revelation. What’s behind the bird’s trail is awakening from a long sleep and the new challenges the phoenix is facing. We see it as a nice metaphor of the transformative power of the creative conference.
Two years ago you made a limited-edition toy for street wear brand 55DSL? What was it like to make Plastic Señor Blanco? Was he modeled after someone you know?
Señor Blanco’s original shape was modeled by the very talented Julian Pastorino and Cecilia Suarez for Atom Plastic; it was part of a custom series celebrating 55DSL’s 15th anniversary using a 100% Italian vinyl toy. The brief was to represent the core values of the brand and their style into a toy to be distributed worldwide to selected stores and trendsetters in the fashion and street wear world. We customized him using the allover graphic we developed for the brand for this project. Also we designed an ambigram for his belly to show the ambiguity of the character.
You’ve mastered multiple media in a way that many studios have not; when you bring new creatives into Vasava are you careful to bring in people with varied skillsets?
It’s in Vasava’s DNA to try to have as much variety and eclectic influence as possible. For us, the important thing is not to stick to a certain style or approach but to evolve in a natural way. We try to follow a path that investigates a commitment to creativity and different ways of producing our craft. Skills are so important and everyone has a different set. What we manage to do with all this possible combinations is what can make a difference and what we enjoy the most: Embrace randomness, try the happy accident, and identify when something unexpected can be a good solution to a problem.
In one word describe the studio environment at Vasava.
You do quite a lot of work for fashion (and fashion sports) brands. Is it because Barcelona is becoming more noted as a fashion capital or is it Vasava’s design aesthetic that attracts them?
Yes, we’re involved in a bunch of fashion and sport brands, and not sure how this has happened; it never has been a part of a planned strategy but things happened this way and we are vey pleased and proud to be taking part in projects in these fields. Fashion capitals are well identified and Barcelona, although a very cool city, still has quite a way to go to be one of them. There’s a lot to do to really reclaim our role as trendsetters, but that’s less something related to creative potential than to institutional and political support.
Do you foresee opening an office in the US?
Yes, why not, it’s not a crazy idea. We have an agent in the US, Bernstein & Andriulli, and we’re producing projects for the states on a daily basis, so it’s not impossible to foresee it in the near future.
If you had to give up all but one Adobe software product, which one would you keep? Why?
That’s a tough question. We, as creative, are linked so much to the entire collection; they are the tools we use everyday and are our weapons of mass creation. Obviously all of them are important, but if had to face the choice: Illustrator or Photoshop.
It could be anyone from Vasava; it could be no one: Who’s the man behind the ski mask on the MAX speaker page?
Hahaha, that’s funny. We as Vasava, always like to be there as a collective, a team of creatives behind a name. The guy behind the mask is the super talented Albin Holmqvist. He spent three years with us but he wanted to go back to his beloved Stockholm. He’s still a great friend and a Vasavian at heart.
Personal projects are hugely important for creative expression, experimentation and learning new skills, but how does a small studio find the time to devote to them when you’re so busy with client work?
The answer is actually the contrary of the question: How would we be busy with client work if we wouldn’t do personal projects? When Toni and Bruno started Vasava thirteen years ago, we were nothing, nobody knew about us. It was through personal projects that we came to be known by people and got onto the map. And, to this day, it’s something we never skip; it’s very important for us to still be doing our things, to engage in our passions, to create for the commissions and be able to find entertainment in creativity outside of the commercial frame. We produce films, objects, projects, typography and projects only for the joy of doing it. Vasava is not just about the business, it’s our lifestyle.
How has working in Adobe’s Creative Cloud changed the workflow for your studio and with the freelancers with whom you work?
It’s helped us keep things tight. It’s easier to keep an eye on everything and be able to explore iterations and versions knowing that everyone on the team is connected and using the same tools. It provides a great control and helps everyone not to be worried about the technology focus on the project. I mean, before it was a nightmare to work in different places different OSs or versions and share documents. We’ve gotten rid of all those distractions and can focus on our craft and projects.
To go see Vasava speak on the “Designing for International Fashion and Sports Brands” at Adobe MAX this year, visit MAX.Adobe.com. Be sure to use promo code MXSM13 when you register and save $300.
Whew! Our 24-hour live stream of the reinterpretation of the Adobe MAX logo has officially come to a close. Thanks to the amazing (and endurable) creative team lead by Jessica Walsh and Stefan Sagmeister of Sagmeister & Walsh, we have a new jaw-dropping Adobe MAX logo – which is as seen above!
From inserting nearly 7,000 pencils into Styrofoam cutouts of the M-A-X letters, to launching paint balloons off of roofs, to jumping off of trampolines into crash pads, the team did not miss a creative beat. During the creation (or play as they call it), we were able to watch every step of the process and allowed viewers to tweet their questions to the Jessica and Stefan using the #AdobeMAX on Twitter. The entire live stream was even being broadcasted on a Times Square billboard in New York City.
Did you miss the event? Not a problem – we have a time-lapse video below that recaps the entire process:
Don’t forget: To hear Jessica speak on the “Importance of Play in Innovation” at Adobe MAX this year, visit MAX.Adobe.com. Be sure to use promo code MXSM13 when you register and save $300.
What would you do with Adobe Creative Cloud, an empty studio space, and 24 hours? The possibilities are endless, but Jessica Walsh and Stefan Sagmeister of Sagmeister & Walsh have decided to reinterpret our Adobe MAX logo in a 24-hour creative session that will be live streamed, which they’re endearingly calling “play” (sounds like hard-work to us).
The 24-hour creative session will be live streamed on a Times Square billboard in New York City and our Adobe Creative Cloud Create Now Facebook app. Be sure to tune in, the live stream starts Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 9:45 a.m. ET (6:45 a.m. PT).
To learn more about Jessica prior to the 24-hour live creative session, we had the opportunity to interview her to get the full scoop on how Adobe Creative Cloud helps her workflow, what inspired Sagmeister & Walsh, and more.
For details, read our full Q&A below.
Adobe: You’re reinterpreting Adobe’s MAX logo. What made you decide to video blog the design process of that?
Jessica: The heart of much of our work is discovery through experimentation. Often the best ideas come out of spontaneous play. We liked the idea of dedicating 24 hours straight to play with a few basic tactile tools—pencils, rope, tape and the Adobe Creative Cloud—to create the MAX typography. The final result could be anything from a photographic collage to a giant installation. We often expose the process of our work in the final result; we’re taking it a step further this time and exposing the entire creative process for the world to view via live stream on a Times Square billboard and online on the Adobe website. It will be an intense, but fun, 24 hours.
While we’re on the subject of, well, creation… What inspired the much-publicized Sagmeister & Walsh Adam & Eve-esque studio portrait? When Stefan first launched the studio nineteen years ago he sent out a nude postcard of himself. Our announcement for the partnership played off the original postcard.
Even with prior prep, 24-hours doesn’t seem like it offers much time between inspiration and execution. How did you determine it to be a generous-enough amount of time?
Working for 24-hours-straight confined to a photo studio space is an interesting creative constraint that will produce new and interesting results that we wouldn’t try on a normal workday. I do believe, however, where there’s a will, there’s a way. We will make it work!
Do you feel like your best ideas come when you’re under-pressure or working with extreme limitations?
Often the best work comes out of having limitations, whether that is time, materials or budget. When a project is too open ended, it’s hard to focus in on the idea. Creativity thrives off constraints.
Does working in the Adobe Creative Cloud help the process along (especially when you’re pushed for time)? Yes! The Adobe tools are extremely powerful and having them in the Adobe Creative Cloud makes it all the more effective and powerful. We would not be able to accomplish all the things we want to in this experiment without it.
If you could have only one book in your “library,” which book would it be? Le Petit Prince, a French children’s book I read when I was younger. I fell in love with the book and the underlying message—to hold on to the inquisitive and open-minded perspective of a child. Adults can get too bogged down by pragmatic matters like money or power and forget to focus on imagination, beauty, love and emotion.
In the spirit of six-word memoirs, what can you say about the Sagmeister & Walsh partnership in a single (short) sentence?
We want to touch people emotionally.
Will you be sticking around after you speak at Adobe MAX? Aside from speaking, what are you most looking forward to at MAX?
I will be in Los Angeles the weekend of the Adobe MAX conference, and I can’t wait to meet and hear all the other speakers at the event. I really enjoy going to creative conferences where there’s a wide variety of speakers across creative disciplines—it can provide a fresh perspective that can improve your own work.
Design(ers) can change the world. Yes? No? Why?
Yes. Our job is to understand how to communicate with people effectively and many of us (designers) have the skill sets and tools to publish print or digital media that can speak to large audiences. We are in a very powerful position in that regard, and I do believe we can use these skills to help people or touch people in some way.
Stefan Sagmeister’s year-long creative sabbaticals are legendary in the design world. What do you do to keep your head clear and your work fresh?
I play and experiment within my work constantly, so I don’t feel the need for a sabbatical at the moment. I have many personal projects going on as well which are great creative outlets and inspire ideas that feed our client work. When I do really need to clear my head, you’ll find me on a beach for a week with a bunch of books drinking pina coladas. (It’s been over a year since my last break, so perhaps I’ll be booking that beach vacation soon.)
To hear Jessica speak on the “Importance of Play in Innovation” at Adobe MAX this year, visit MAX.Adobe.com. Be sure to use promo code MXSM13 when you register and save $300.
Interested in winning a full Adobe MAX conference pass, a complimentary annual subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud and VIP seating at our MAX Bash? Here’s your chance! Join our Adobe MAX Speaker Challenge on Twitter and weigh in on which one of these two sessions you’d prefer to attend at MAX this year; Terry White’s session Creating an Engaging Web Design with Adobe Muse or Kevin Hoyt’s session, Animating the Web with HTML – to vote for Terry’s session use #TerryandMuse and to vote or Kevin’s session use #KevinandWeb. For more information on how to enter, check out our full MAX Speaker Challenge Sweepstakes official rules.
For details on our Adobe MAX conference, visit MAX.Adobe.com and be sure to use promo code MXSM13 to get a $300 discount when you register.
We’re making Adobe MAX (May 4-8) bigger and better this year. For those who are wondering, “What’s MAX?” – it is THE conference for creative pros. It’s an opportunity for designers, developers, video professionals, photographers, and more to come together to learn about the latest technologies, techniques, and strategies for delivering your best creative work – not to mention the idea exchange and networking opportunities that exist. And it doesn’t stop there.
We have an agenda packed full of amazing speakers, tracks, sneak peeks (yes – you don’t want to miss this!) and more. Choose from over 300 sessions and labs taught by industry leaders and Adobe experts to maximize your creative experience, and even customize your MAX agenda by mixing and matching sessions from all five MAX tracks:
If that’s not enticing enough, we’re throwing a cherry (or two) on top to get you to L.A. Register today using this special promo code: MXSM13, to receive $300 off AND get your hands on a free 1-year Creative Cloud membership.
We’re bringing you the ultimate creativity conference, Adobe MAX, taking place in Los Angeles, California on May 4-8, 2013. If you’re new to MAX, it’s a conference that is all about creativity and expressiveness. MAX brings together designers, developers, video professionals, photographers, and more to exchange creative ideas and inspiration. So if you create, you won’t want to miss MAX. When you’re there, you’ll be amongst industry pros and visionaries, and will learn about the latest technologies, techniques, and strategies for delivering your best creative work.
The icing on the cake? Buy a full conference pass, and you’ll get an annual Adobe Creative Cloud membership!
Be sure to check out the top ten reasons why you should attend Adobe MAX. We hope to see you all there!