Skip to main content

Our latest interview is with the Norwegian graphic designer and illustrator Magnus Voll Mathiassen. We love some of the portrait work Magnus has done of various celebrities and also his work for global brands such as Microsoft, Adidas, ESPN, Intel and Nike amongst many others. Here's what he had to say ...  

Hi Magnus, thanks for agreeing to speak with us, love your designs - how did you get started in graphic design? 

It has been some sort of random route. I applied for art academy - visual communication, without really knowing what the studies involved. Actually I didn't know what graphic design was at the age of twenty, though I had been doing graphic design for years, designing record covers for friends as well as designing record covers for imaginary bands. So, this led me to team up with two fellow students, and eventually founding the design studio Grandpeople in 2005. It's been both an accidental and strategic path so far.

How has your style evolved over the years? 

I find a lot of the same references in my earlier work in today's work. But in general the work I do now is more centered around sticking to a few simple guidelines: The work is either based on a theme dictated by the client or the subject of the project, or based on my own personal philosophy.

To me, design should be based on a foundation that will dictate all possible visual elements, and the outcome should be easily understood, meaning it should be easy to see what the core foundation is. Secondly, a lot of my work is leaning towards the minimal spectrum, visually. This is both because I personally find "busy" work sometimes hiding the message, and more importantly living in a country with nature that just makes all things human made fade in contrast. Also, nature is a constant part of your consciousness and subconsciousness, therefore the more minimal looking work is a counterpart to just that. As a Norwegian at least. But I feel it is hard to be true to all this, and luckily some work turns out very, very differently. And I do love all sorts of work because it would be extremely boring of everyone just did the same as me.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"5019","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image image-style-none image-style-none image-style-none image-style-none","height":"1000","width":"1656"}}]]

Who are some of your design heroes? 

I really don't have any design heroes. I find reading about design quite boring, except for the plain fact parts about design theory that is more of "universal" truths. Though, "truths", some of them seem rubbish to me. Everything with a grain of salt. Fine arts and literature is my cup of tea, though no heroes there either. In general, I love see what people with strong personal "voices" are doing.

Design and all types of creative practice should be something personal and therefore, trends in any aspects are pretty boring to me.

When you are commissioned, what is your process, how do you get together ideas and how much planning do you like to do? 

Every project is different to the other, but generally the client will have a few ideas they hand over or I get carte blanche. Usually it is about getting to the core of the subject, eliminating any ideas or themes that make the foundation unclear. The simpler, the better. It should be so simple and clear that I see the final product before I have started the design process. In terms of planning, it can take one hour or it can take weeks. I usually don't start visualizing anything before I know I am ready. I use notes and mostly just sit and think. It probably just looks like I am not working.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"5020","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image image-style-none image-style-none image-style-none image-style-none","height":"540","width":"960"}}]]

You seem to work across a number of different mediums, do you have a preference? 

Not really. I do love art directing, but need to do the design work myself, and that limits the range a little bit. But if I can, I bring on photographers etc. But these days, especially the music industry, don't work with real good budgets, so I often decline offers. I just do music design if I see a good final product, as well as liking the music and the artist. Sad, but I find parts of the current music business not that sexy anymore. But hopefully it'll change. Money is spent a bit wrong nowadays. Graphic designers should be in more control, oversee that whole production, thinking like a creative director, rather than just be a third party included late in the process.

What are your career highlights to date? Which projects have you enjoyed working on? 

I just wrapped up my first solo show 'Hybrido', a quite big and extensive show, displaying new and old, personal and commercial work. Had been planning it for years, and it was both visited by many and gave me a boost to see all the work together. It felt like I was onto something. And made me see what to do, and what not to do! Not a project in terms of client-designer relation, but still I had to work like that with all the curating and planning and people involved. Would love to do more exhibitions.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"5021","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image image-style-none image-style-none image-style-none image-style-none","height":"1135","width":"960"}}]]

You done a fair amount of work in the music space already, are there any music artists or labels you would love to work with?

Hmmm, I do have some faves, but in general I have always envied designers who creates a long term relationship with artists. The best work emerges with relationships like that. Just need to find someone. Or they need to find me! 

Whats next for you, are you able to tell us about any projects or work you have coming up? 

Right now I am working with the fantastic Susanna Wallumrød and her re-press of an album she made as part of Susanna & the Magical Orchestra. A photographer friend helped me with some fantastic abstract photography, and hopefully it will materialize as somewhat complex and beautiful vinyl packaging. Other than that, I am doing editorial illustrations for international magazines, graphic profiles and packaging design for some start-ups. And some secret projects. Everyone got those. No secrets, no fun.

Finally Magnus, what is the secret to good design?

Hard work and have the nose up in the sky, and actually watch the wonders of the clouds. But… mainly hard work. Nothing comes cheap. Also, anything I say, take that with a pinch of salt as well. Can't sum up everything in the world of design in a few words. I'll put the kettle on once you are ready.