Interview with Johanne Lian Olsen

Johanne Lian Olsen is an internationally experienced graphic designer working within type design, editorial design and illustration. Additionally trained as a photographer, she focuses on both print and digital media. Her clients include such international brands as IKEA, NIKE, Whitechapel Gallery and Thames & Hudson Publishers.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a Norwegian Graphic Designer, educated at the Royal Academy of Arts’ Design School in Copenhagen. After finishing my degree I stayed in the city and worked at a studio for a few years. After that, I moved to London and worked both in a design studio and as a freelance. I work almost 50/50 between projects for the cultural sector and more corporate projects, but my passion is book - and type design.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the city of Trondheim, Norway.

Why and when did you move to London?

I feel a strong affiliation to the UK, it is like a second home country and I wanted to live in London and see if it was a fit. So I got a job at a studio and moved there mid. 2017.

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in graphic design?

Initially, I studied photography and did finish my bachelor, but while studying I found more excitement and interest in designing things around photography: process books, presentations and material. So I applied for a new degree at the Academy in Copenhagen and got in. Looking back I have always been interested in design - collecting magazines and album art, I just didn’t really know what a graphic designer was.

How would you describe your creative process?

For me it is really important to understand the material of the project - it being the artist, the product or the brand. I work from keywords agreed upon with the client and from there I develop several concepts that all connect to the material, but with slightly different directions. I enjoy collaborations and think the outcome gets better with inputs and investment from the client, and try to keep the processes quite organic.

Does your city and surroundings influence you as a creative and individual?

Absolutely. Especially art museums and galleries. I enjoy that this is for free in London.
I do not necessarily need to look at design to get inspired, better ideas come from art, sound or taste.

How is the current situation affecting you and your work as a designer/ creative living in London?

Ongoing projects within the cultural sector have all been postponed, but corporate projects are still going.

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that still evident in London?

I think so, but I am not sure about the status of the educations system, which I think is so important to the next generation of designers.

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the artist/creative to improve the quality of people's lives in their city?

Yes. Unfortunately, I have not been involved in any projects that have this side to it, but I do believe in the power of design.

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like London?

I found the commute in rush hour (when working at a studio) to be a horrible experience as my line was very busy, and this meant that I avoided taking the tube in my free time, also on weekends. This was a bit limiting, but going freelance made the time of transport more flexible.

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particularly excited about?

I am currently working on a really great project in connection with a big gallery in the city. I think this is the biggest project I have been trusted with so far in my career - and the team is fantastic.

If you could add or change something about London, what would that be?

Less people on the tube and more green initiatives in the city.

Describe the perfect day for you in London.

Start the day with a coffee at Brixton Market, and then head into central London to visit a museum or gallery. Lunch at Ozone near Old Street, and then in the evening just hang around the Truman Brewery area for a drink.

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why?

Working with artists within other media than yourself is exciting. Maybe an artist or a musician?

What do you do to switch off?

Either go for a stroll, go out to eat - or nerd a bit with my type designs (although that can be a bit too similar to working sometimes).

What does home mean to you?

I have lived in a lot of places, sometimes for a short period, and I realise that for me it's not things that make a home, it's the people. I had my belongings stored in Copenhagen for nearly three years, just living out of suitcases, and I still felt like home in the places I lived.

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does London evoke a personal smell to you?

Well... London doesn't have the most flattering smell. More like fries and dust combined, but it does feel quite ‘London’..

What is your favourite time of the day?

I love the night, especially working into the night. Things seem to flow better then.

If you weren’t living in London and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

I love Amsterdam and would love to live there. People are friendly, relaxed, and the city is not too big. Just need to learn the language first...

London by Johanne Lian Olsen

A selection of places in London - recommended by graphic designer Johanne Lian Olsen. See all of Johanne's favourite places here

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