Vocabulary(003)

Ugly Money Art / Design

Bedow

It all started in 2002, when Perniclas Bedow lost his day job at an advertising agency. Trying to impress Stockholm’s design agencies with a lousy portfolio wasn’t the easiest task, and the industry’s neglect was the encouragement he needed to start his own studio — BEDOW. In 2011 — after juggling the ball alone for some years — Bedow took the opportunity to sign striker Anders Bollman. Midfielder Mattias Amnäs joined in 2014 and during 2016 fullback Kung Hiu Ching completed the squad. Occasionally, they take players on trial. The team resides in Stockholm.

bedow.se

The Interview took place in July 2018 between the IGV team IGV and Perniclas Bedow PB over emails, in Stockholm and Hamburg.  

Cultural context

IGV What is an inspiring place for you in Sweden/Stockholm? What makes this place special to you?

PB My house. It’s a small house in a lovely neighbourhood. Since we are a family of four people, I have to use every square meter wisely. And at the same time as I am frustrated over the limited space, I am also very inspired to find solutions for a good living.

IGV Let me enlarge the geographic scale. What about Stockholm in general? 
Why do you like to live here? Is it a good place for graphic design?

PB To be honest, I don’t love it. Originally I come from Gothenburg on the Swedish west coast and that’s where my heart is. Even though Stockholm is a lovely seaside city, you can’t compare it to the west coast where the sea is alive – clear water, seafood, fishes, waves, storms. When it comes to graphic design, it’s the opposite – Stockholm is the place where it’s happening, and it’s also where the money is. That said, I think Swedish design in general relies too much on what some people call, “Scandinavian design”. I think we could step out of that comfort zone more often and expand our visual communication.

IGV Would you say that Stockholm is a typical Swedish town?

PB In many ways yes, but in a small country like Sweden the capital often becomes a melting pot and that opens it up for a variety of cultures.

IGV What characteristics come to mind when speaking of Swedish mentality? 
What are the problems that Swedish society is struggling with?

PB I would say that the Swedes are organised and friendly, but not always open to new things, and we sometimes have to struggle with acceptance.

IGV Which of your culture’s values could we learn something from?

PB I don’t know. You tell me, haha

IGV What cultural influences – other than the Swedish ones – were important in your career?

PB Music. I was introduced to punk and indie music in the late 80s/early 90s and that influenced me a lot. I bought a lot of vinyl and used to play records in clubs and bars. Today I don’t really have the time to search for new music like I did then. Luckily, I have younger colleagues who help me out nowadays.

IGV How about Swedish pride?

PB I don’t know if we’re proud, someone from outside would probably be more able to tell. But we’re often ranked as a good country to live in and I assume that gives us a good self-confidence.  

IGV What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? Does beauty play an important role in your work?  

PB I never look for beautiful, I look for ugly. Beauty is just a temporary state — after a while it becomes standard, then it becomes boring and finally ugly and then it starts over. Ugly is the embryo of beautiful and I try to expose myself to as many ugly visual expressions as possible. That opens your mind. In my work, beauty is important because I have to understand what the client perceives as beautiful. Otherwise, I have a hard time convincing them to buy our work.

IGV How do you stay alert to the little miracles of everyday life?

PB I breathe slowly.

IGV What themes or ideas do you find particularly interesting/fascinating at the moment?

PB I’ve always been interested in psychology, in behaviour and in people. And I still am.

IGV What do you expect from life? What does life in Sweden expect from you?

PB My problem in life has always been high expectations, so I try not to expect anything. That way, I’m not disappointed.  

IGV As a child, what was (were) your dream career(s)? What was the most significant experience of your youth, and did it influence your choice of profession?

PB I wanted to be a carpenter. I built tree houses when I was a child. And when I grew older I continued to build tree houses with my younger siblings. Today I build tree houses with my kids and I still wanna be a carpenter.  

IGV In another interview, you said you find design more interesting than advertising. What do you consider to be the difference between design and advertising, and why are you more fascinated about design?  

PB Design often goes much deeper into an organisation because it needs to last longer. Every decision should be anchored in the company’s business model to achieve consistency throughout the brand.

IGV Where were you educated as a graphic designer?  

PB I never went to design school. I started with web design in the mid-90s and eventually started working in advertising. Everything I know about design and typography I’ve learned in antiquarian book shops or on Google.

IGV Are there other artistic or scientific disciplines that are important to you?

PB No, I like sports.

Working Life

IGV Could you describe your typical routine of a working day?

PB There’s not really a typical day when you run a small design studio, I do everything that needs to be done. Internal meetings, answering emails, client meetings, giving directions to designers, discussions with printers, writing quotes. Et cetera.  

IGV What do you do on in your holidays / free time?

PB I build tree houses with my children.

IGV Would you say that design is your dream job now?

PB No, not at all. But running a studio suits me very well. Graphic design is just something I bumped into by coincidence. I might just as well have been a chef and run a restaurant.

IGV Why do clients pick you out as a designer? What are the core aspects of your design expertise?

PB I think they see that we have fun at work. And companies want to be a part of that. They want to look good and differentiate themselves from their competitors.

IGV In your opinion, what are the qualities a good graphic designer needs?

PB Someone who can find the narrative in a brand and is able to visualise it in a relevant way.

IGV How does your idea-finding process work?

PB We start with a workshop with the client. When we’re done with that, we know what to communicate, to whom and in what way. After that, it’s up to the designer to interpret our briefing, find the narrative and visualise it. We rarely work with mood boards, as they just encourage you to imitate what someone else did. We always aim to do something new.

IGV Are hierarchies important in your work and collaboration as a designer? 
What are these hierarchies?

PB In a small organisation you need to have someone who takes the final decisions, and that’s usually me. Often in dialogue with the designers, but since it’s my job to sell our work I need to have the last word. So I would say that we are hierarchical in one way, but on the other hand the designers have a lot of freedom and their work is of great importance. I never have a clue where we’re going. They’re the ones who come up with the solutions. My job is to advise them as to which direction to go in, and to convince the client as to why it’s a smart move.

IGV A compromise is always the result of a struggle. What are the typical conflicts that you have to fight with clients? And how do you handle such a conflict? What is the biggest compromise that you have ever had to accept?

PB The typical conflict with a client is how far we can go. We’re often leaning towards entropy and the client leans towards redundancy. A conflict like that takes patience, negotiation, and education. Some clients want to be generic. My opinion is that differentiation is usually better so I work hard to explain why we should go that way.

IGV What are the most encouraging and most annoying moments in the process?

PB By far the most annoying moment in a design process is when there are decision takers outside the team. It’s impossible to create something good if decisions are taken by people who are not involved in the process. If this happens, it takes a lot of time for both the client and us, and the result is often quite weak.

IGV Who do you get your feedback from? 
Do the studio team sometimes disagree with each other?

PB We give feedback on each other’s work and sometimes we agree and sometimes don’t. We are a democratic studio and respect each other’s opinions, but, as mentioned above, I am the one selling the work, so we need to present a solution that I can get behind.  

IGV Design process or product: what is more important to you?

PB Product. The process is important, but if the result isn’t good enough the process is totally uninteresting to me.

IGV What about “stealing” from other designers?

PB That is my biggest fear. As long as I can remember I’ve tried to do things my way. That has not always been positive for me personally, but professionally I think we’ve built something unique. With that said, we have access to all the world’s visual expressions today and it’s impossible not to be affected by our context. But if we realise that we’re close to someone else’s work we always try to move in another direction.  

IGV Can you make a lot of money in graphic design in Sweden?

PB You could probably make some money in this industry if you gave it a try, but money has never been something I strive for. There are so many different currencies in our industry, and money is just one of them.

IGV If you are asked to work on an advertising-based campaign, will you take it?

PB It depends on the company or product. I don’t have any problems with advertising per se, but if we do it we work with products and companies that we like.  

Attitude

IGV Who do you design for? For connoisseurs, or for everyone?

PB Both. We try to take a step forward every time we do something. But we have to understand when to take a big step and when to take a small step. First of all, I want to create something that the client can benefit from, but I also want it to be appreciated by our colleagues in the industry. It’s not always easy, but we try.

IGV In your opinion, which are the most important contemporary and historic movements in graphic design?

PB I am not very interested in graphic design and never studied design so I don’t have a good answer to this. But when I discovered graphic design in the mid-90s, David Carson and Designers Republic were eye-openers to me. Beyond that, I’ve tried to do my own work.

IGV Do you think there is such a thing as “Swedish Design”? What would its underlying attitude be, and do you feel part of this movement/attitude? Why?

PB Not a typically Swedish design perhaps, but some people say “Scandinavian design” which might be described as a humble version of the International Style. It has its strengths, but I don’t see us as a part of that.

IGV Does it bore you to see Western (European) graphic design dominating the mainstream? How do you see Eastern or non-European graphic design?

PB Not at all. To be honest, I don’t know what is mainstream or not. I enjoy all kinds of typography, especially things I haven’t seen before.  

IGV Could you share any experiences of working / communicating with a foreign culture? How do you overcome the differences and come to a solution with graphic design?  

PB Graphic design is global today and we all see the same things so we rarely bump into any difficulties when it comes to the design part. What differs more is the organisational culture. We always try to take on interns from countries we haven’t had before, it’s interesting to learn about them and their culture.

IGV What is the most hypocritical thing that graphic designers say? Why?

PB That they work with art. That’s a lie. In the end, a graphic design sells products or services. It can be very commercial or it can be very arty, but in the end it should sell something. Art asks questions, design answers questions.

IGV What is the worst thing about contemporary (Swedish) graphic design?

PB The same as everywhere else: trends.

IGV Big question: Is graphic design important? Why?

PB I’ve read an article recently that ranked graphic design as one of the least important jobs for the future. I don’t agree at all, I think design solves a lot of problems in our daily communication and is important in the communication society we live in today. As far as I am concerned, this is a job for the future.

IGV Another big one: Can graphic design change society?

PB Yes, definitely. Something like the small adjustment to the disability pictogram that was made a while ago is a fantastic example of how a huge group of people can be more included in society.

IGV Which illusion do you hold onto at all costs?

PB I believe in progression. I try to avoid repeating the work we do.  



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