Vis-Ed: Siggi Eggertsson—A Basketball-Loving Icelandic Designer Humbly Rewrites the Rule Book.
- Words: Phillip Nessen
A review of rising design star Siggi Eggertsson's work reveals a creeping interest in sports—portraits of athletes, a mosaic of basketball cards, a quilt bearing the likeness of Michael Jordan. Perhaps this is the Icelandic designer's secret—like an athlete, Eggertsson trains for originality.
Eggertsson carefully navigates the internet to avoid the influence of contemporaries, and takes annual sabbaticals to work in isolation. With only the basic system fonts on his computer, the 26-year-old designer creates specific type for each project he undertakes—whether it be for Urban Outfitters or designing the last Gnarls Barkley cover. His work strictly features muted, colorful geometrical shapes on a grid, but it's so engaging and original that it didn't take long for Eggertsson's growing list of clients—the likes of Coca Cola, the New York Times, and H&M—to notice. Here, we talk about rip-offs, the value of design, and obeying rules.
XLR8R: You are from Iceland. What about you is particularly Icelandic?
Siggi Eggertsson: Blond hair, blue eyes, and a silly accent.
You had to travel quite a bit before you ended up in Berlin, where you currently reside. Where have you been?
I spent 18 years of my life in Akureyri, my hometown, until I got sick of it and had to escape the small community. So I moved to Reykjavik to study graphic design, but it didn't take me long to get sick of that place, too. So I moved to New York to do an internship with [Hjalti Karlsson and Jan Wilker's design studio] Karlssonwilker for a couple of months. Then I had to move back to Reykjavik to continue my studies, but I was sick of my school, so I went to Berlin as an exchange student for one semester, and fell in love with the city. But I had to go back to Reykjavik to graduate, and then decided to move to London to focus on my illustration career. I was there for a year and a half, made a lot of great contacts, and worked a lot, but wasn't really happy with my life, so I moved to Tálknafjörður, a random fishing village on the West Fjords of Iceland, population 200. I spent the summer there, thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, and realized I wanted to live in Berlin. It's great, and I'm not planning to move from there anytime soon.
Were you searching for something?
Not really, but now I have realized that the location isn't everything. A desk, my computer, and a good internet connection is pretty much everything I need to be happy.
What is the most beautiful thing you have ever experienced?
Coming back to Iceland after my internship in New York was kind of crazy. I was blown away by the nature, something I never cared for. I guess I had to move away from it to learn how to appreciate it.
How does your day begin?
I force myself out of bed, go to the kitchen, make some Earl Grey tea with way too much sugar, go to the studio, smoke, read some soccer gossip, and check if there is anything I need to be stressed about in my inbox. Then I drink more tea, with less sugar, open the documents from yesterday, and start working.
Control and Chelsea Girls
You recently compiled 400 pieces of work into an animation called A Growing Pile of Work, which received a lot of attention on the internet. In retrospect, how do you feel about your pile of work so far?
I think it's great; makes me happy. Getting paid to do what I enjoy the most is such a privilege.
When people describe your work, they often talk about a strict adherence to rules. What do you think they mean?
Well, I think they are pretty much spot on. I use a lot of rules in my work, a bit like recipes. I have no idea why I work like this, but I've always been obsessed with simplifying, so working with rules and geometry comes quite naturally.
Do you ever just want to abandon those rules and do something different?
Not really, but my work is always evolving. I love discovering new ways to produce work, bending my own rules, but still staying within my grid.
You've just got a new commission. What do you do first?
I read over the brief and try to figure out what the client is after. Then I try to see it visually in my head—if I can make it work and look nice.
What if nothing comes to you right away?
It depends on the projects. If it's something I really want to do, but nothing is coming to my head, I either just sit and wait, force myself to come up with something, look in my sketchbooks, see if there is something old there that would make sense for the project. If that also fails, I start thinking if I should actually be doing the project.
Is there a recent project you would like to talk about? I'm wondering about how much you have to work with other people to bring these projects to completion.
Not really. I'm not that good at talking about my commercial projects. I usually get the most enjoyment working on my own self-initiated projects. Working with other people can be good and sometimes it leads to very good results, things I would never have done if I was just working on my own. But I've also burned myself on that, when working with too many people with different ideas. And having to make too many compromises, it can result in a bad work.
What music have you been listening to?
Yeasayer, Björk, Dan Deacon, Salem, Lil Wayne, Skream, Zombie Nation, Kanye West, Burial, Grizzly Bear, Pulp, Slagsmålsklubben, and Leatherface, but usually I just listen to The Beatles.
A shirt you designed for H&M was blatantly ripped off by an Australian company called T-Bar. What would you like to say to whoever is responsible for that?
You're in Australia. Go to the beach, have a beer, go to the zoo, check out some kangaroos. That's what I would do if I was having a hard time coming up with ideas. But maybe the designer just had a stupid boss that told him to steal it. But it's crazy how far people will actually go.
Did they do a good job?
I've only seen a photo of it, but it looks like they spent a lot of time tracing it.
What value do designers bring to society?
I think it really depends on the designer, what field he works in, and what he cares about. But in general, I think they bring order and chaos.
Digital media is overtaking traditional print media. How do you think an increasingly digital future will affect you as a person and as a designer?
I kind of grew up with the internet, and owe a lot to it. Without digital media and the internet, I would definitely not be where I am today. Being able to present your work digitally is just a really great thing, and it gives so many people a chance that they didn't have before. It has and will continue to affect and inspire me as a person and designer. Instead of crying over the death of print, we should embrace digital media and see where it takes us.
What's a question you don't like to be asked in interviews?
You'd be amazed how many times I've been asked to explain how I do my work, technically.
Other than design, what can you do?
I used to play a lot of basketball when I was a kid, and I think I was quite good, probably due to my height, but when I started this design thing, it kind of took over my life and everything has been on hold since then.
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