VIÐTAL

My service as a designer has gone a lot more into the strategic part of design
But funnily enough they are open towards design and to what design can do for them in a way I have rarely seen before
I’ve learnt many things from working with the farmers, people who have very different notions of how things work
it has made me clarify my vision in terms of what I want from design and the impact I want to capture
I love the fact that I was involved in two very different projects and the outcomes were stunning in their own peculiar ways

JORDI SERRA - GRAFÍSKUR HÖNNUÐUR

Eftir Súsönnu Gestsdóttur

Jordi Serra Vega was a part of the interdisciplinary team that worked on the product development with farmers from Erpsstaðir and Hali. Jordi is a Catalan graphic designer who lives and works in his hometown, Barcelona. Súsanna Gestsdóttir invited Jordi into her living room in Sólvallagata, Reykjavík, where he appeared vividly before her eyes on a computer screen.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your background? 

I am officially trained as a graphic communicator. I did graphic design in Barcelona at Elisava (Barcelona School of Design and Engineering). Following that I went to London to finish my master’s degree in the same field at Central Saint Martins. While I was studying I reconsidered my path both professionally and artistically. My service as a designer has gone a lot more into the strategic part of design, sort of managing perception. I work mostly with small to medium clients, where you don’t get to talk to marketing directors that have a real vision. So I’ve had to help clients defining their service, defining their project, their strategy, being more like a branding agent. I don’t do graphic design per se anymore. I work a lot more with the strategic part of design and help others do it.  

What brought you to Iceland? 

A desire to explore. I don’t want to go into the clichés but I guess I did meet someone. I was sitting on my comfortable Gaudinian bench in Barcelona and I met this Icelandic girl. And I mean why on earth would you even consider moving to Iceland? I was thinking about going to New York or Amsterdam. But I thought it was an interesting challenge both personally and professionally. I really needed to get out so that’s why I went to Iceland and it has ended up being perhaps the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I am very happy that Iceland got in my way. 

So you fell in love? 

I was what, 23 years old? I am constantly in love with everything. I fall in love with my coffee mug every morning. I mean, you can call it love, but you can also call it desire and spontaneity. I had a wonderful job here in Barcelona; I was experiencing the young guy’s dream, working for big brands, doing photo shoots with big stars. Then I got a job offer in Shanghai and everybody thought I was on my way to China, but I chose Iceland. People were really surprised. So it was because of the girl and also because I thought it was exciting. It felt right. It just felt like something I had to do. Before that I had been working for an advertising design studio and at that time I was mainly working for Nike, The Red Cross and the Barcelona City Council. Back then I was a junior copywriter. I was young and junior you know, I wasn’t the leading voice in anything, but I was involved in nice and interesting projects. 

Tell me about the farmers project.

It’s a project that interested me from the very beginning. I mean the whole idea of it; it’s just so fantastic considering the context, the Icelanders living and collaborating with people who have no background in working on projects like this. But funnily enough they are open towards design and to what design can do for them in a way I have rarely seen before. My opinion is that it’s because they’ve seen how much, for example, Vík Prjónsdóttir has done for Víkurprjón, how they have transformed something that they thought had only one possibility, the lopapeysa (Icelandic woolen sweater), into a piece for everything, for museums, for the regular home and also for the stage. The added value that they have given Víkurprjón, without it being the initial intention, has been enormous. Within the project I started as a graphic designer but Guðfinna and Brynhildur were design directors and I really respect people that take on the responsibility by directing everything. They have a vision of design that differs quite a lot from mine, in formal terms, so I think there has been a really nice dialogue in that area and we have come to a conclusion that I think they were happy with and I was personally also rather happy with. In the end I think I became more of a marketing guy, trying to make sure that what we were doing was sincere and something that the farms could really do and that it was credible; that it had a real background and that the market was there; that it could be viable, it could really have an economical value; and also that it was more than just a product that people would be using, that maybe it also had a social impact. The farms play a role. They are businesses, but they also have to be very much aware of their social role and the responsibility they have towards their community. When you define the problem really well you realise it’s a marketing issue and it’s a packaging issue. So it’s been less about graphic design and more about making the farmers aware that they are a brand, that they need to be consistent, they need to be credible, they need to think things through properly and they need to communicate in a way that is efficient but also sincere and honest. The project has been really interesting because it has made me reconsider many things about my practice. It has made me learn a lot of stuff from the way Iceland functions and deals with certain peculiarities. I’ve learnt many things from working with the farmers, people who have very different notions of how things work, and I’ve also been very surprised by how business-minded they sometimes are.  

So you see a lot of opportunities?

I joined the project because of the interest and the opportunities for myself. I was going to be collaborating with Icelandic designers that I admired, I was going to be collaborating with enthusiastic opinion leaders and people that have a vision of their country’s design like Sigríður Sigurjónsdóttir, there were going to be students involved, and I love working with students. It was a real project and to me it had everything. In the end it has had more then I initially thought. I am actually giving a talk tomorrow evening in Barcelona to foreign designers where I will be speaking about these projects. So, yeah, I see a lot of interest design wise, and absolutely all the opportunities in the world.

Have you ever worked on a similar project before?

I mean, obviously all design processes have a similarity and in the end we are really doing something that is common to many of the projects. But I haven’t before worked on a project where you’re working with somebody so new to the design process and with students involved. 

How did you experience Erpsstaðir and Hali? 

Every time I return to Reykjavík from the country I always say the same thing to myself: “Why are you coming back to Reykjavík?” I mean when you enter Reykjavík you get this down moment; it’s like two stones being placed in between your lungs. Obviously you get the overwhelming natural impact in the countryside and the sense of abrupt freedom and it’s very intense. But if you’re thinking about how the atmosphere influenced me I would say that there’s a whole atmosphere that has to do with the intensity of the farmers and how intensely they live and what they do and how passionate they were about the project. 

So the farmers were a big inspiration as well?

Yeah, I think working with them is very different from working with anybody else. Particularly with Erpsstaðir, the farmers were really happy that we were working for them and they were really enthusiastic about the project and the dialogue. They were extremely grateful. Everything we did was really welcomed. I probably shouldn’t say it but with Hali they were a bit more cautious, they were a bit more in control of things, they were very aware of what they wanted. They were really nice as well. I mean it’s their life. I wouldn’t let anybody just step into my life and tell me how to do things. Working with farmers has been very rewarding and inspiring thing. It has also made me realize what kind of people I want to work with or for in the future and it has made me clarify my vision in terms of what I want from design and the impact I want to capture.

What about collaboration between Spanish designers and farmers? Does that exist?

It must exist, but because of the nature of our country there is a bit more of a distance between designers and farmers and I think it has to do with the size but also with the fact that Spanish designers have aspirations more related to MTV and the big magazines. I think that the farming sector in Iceland is so relevant and so big and such a daily discussion that designers and the general public are more aware of what’s happening. Icelanders have a bigger passion for nature and they have a bigger passion for what’s really theirs and what they love. Icelandic design is less urban; nature is a big part of it. Here in Spain a project between farmers and designers would be very unusual. It’s still very unusual in Iceland, and revolutionary in many ways, but I think it’s easier to understand. It doesn’t seem as surprising perhaps. 

What do you think about the products, Skyrkonfekt from Erpsstaðir and Rúlluterta and Snúðar from Hali?

Obviously all of them are fantastic. And I’ll tell you what; first of all they are very different. One is a sort of an innovation issue, because skyr is a very traditional thing, and we realized there was no real skyr in the market. The skyr that’s being sold these days is just not skyr according to tradition. So what we were trying to do was to use this conventional dairy product to make something new, fresh and exciting, you know? It’s white assorted chocolate with skyr on the inside – it’s fun and it’s supposed to be high quality, traditional candy. It had a lot of experimentations and trials. As for Hali, we went back into recipes that had been forgotten and weren’t being used anymore. So we discovered something that was not being done anymore. I guess the product for Erpsstaðir is more about the future and the products for Hali are more about looking at the past. They both are about doing something on a very high quality level. Like the Rúllutertur (Swiss rolls) and the Snúðar (cinnamon rolls), the format is without any innovation; we were working with a very traditional format. I love the fact that I was involved in two very different projects and the outcomes were stunning in their own peculiar ways.