photo © Gerhard Kasnner

Hjalti showed a picture of their small design studio, not unlike any other small design studio, a small white room, with people staring at Mac screens, clicking mouses. “This is what I like, the less I’m disturbed the happier I am.” (slightly paraphrased).

He wasn’t here to talk about that, instead he wanted to talk about what happens when you go out, leave the Mac and studio, what happens then? With karlssonwilker, A LOT.

It started with a call from a new client in Serbia, asking them to produce a calendar for their country. After realising it would be ‘lame’ to sit at their computers and google a country they knew absolutely nothing about, they put forward an idea. They asked if they could visit Serbia for twelve days, and design everything while they were there. Budget approved, they flew over ready to start work. However, their hope of being left alone to gently soak up the culture, was rudely shattered following their arrival at Belgrade airport.

They had billboards with their faces on, a media frenzy of interviews each day, and a whirlwind tour of every aspect of Serbian culture that could be crammed into those days. Ultimately of course, this would be Serbian culture percolated through the minds of an Icelander and German living in New York. I liked the concept behind February’s page: in reaction to  being told that asking a typical Serbian “How are you?” will get the pessimistic response of “Better than tomorrow”, they flipped it to a more optimistic tone of “Better than yesterday”. They hoped with the continual exposure over the month would encourage a little more positive feeling amongst the Serbian people (the results aren’t in yet).

This project led to another 10 days in South Africa to produce 10 posters, and later 12 days in Jerusalem to produce 12 posters. Then with a sigh of envy from some of the audience, he showed the trip paid for by Matter Magazine and Mini to promote their new sporty coupé. They drove from Munich to Istanbul with a producer, photographer and videographer to document their adventures. The photography and films spilled out into a section of the magazine, a short film and a website, where the car itself was almost incidental. The client understood that you don’t need to bash people round the head with nice pictures of the shiny car, instead show people actually enjoying it!

Back in New York they were commissioned by Creative Time Inc. to produce a book celebrating 33 years of producing public art in New York, usually ephemeral in nature.

Instead of sticking to the brief and just producing a simple book, they proposed the ideas of an ‘Urban Visual Recording Machine’ that would feedback information from the city and create content they could use for the book. As the Creative Time had put so many works out into the city, it was time for the city to give back, and contribute to this new piece. Sadly, their idea of building an actual giant robot to roam around the city wasn’t realised (this surely would have been terrifying). Instead working with Show+Tell they adapted a van with a transparent back section, and covered it with sensors and filled it with devices to output the information. The UVRM drove around the city and visited all the places Creative Time had installed artworks and every 30 seconds it printed out a visual interpretation of all that abstract information. These different graphic interpretations of the city appeared on different covers – each one documenting the exact location, time and date.

So, leaving the studio can certainly lead to more interesting projects, and not simply because they were lucky. Having the courage to follow an idea (especially when you don’t know how it will end up) and thinking beyond the restrictions that are imposed naturally by the client, or even ourselves. With the Creative Time brief, the book expanded beyond a simple art book, to something a whole city could feel they had some involvement – self-generating it’s own publicity as part of the process. And, okay, they are lucky bastards, too.

By Ian Moore (@ian1pm)