A chat with Hvass&Hannibal
Interview | Sara Maragotto / Studio Fludd
Can you recap the story of Hvass&Hannibal so far?
We (Sofie Hannibal & Nan Na Hvass) met as teenagers at high school, and already back then we did an evening design class together. After finishing high school and before deciding on what to study, we did lots of little projects together, which we were very busy with and quite concentrated about, although they were quite silly projects, like for instance sewing strange costumes and dressing up and taking photos of each other. That’s where we started.
We both got in to the design school in 2007, and approximately one year into our studies we started to do illustration projects together. We got a good job, which led to another, and that way it slowly took off. Because we had friends in the music business we did many music-related jobs, like album covers, posters or flyers for events and also murals at venues. We landed some big international jobs and we were on the cover of Computer Arts magazine, and all of a sudden we found ourselves working more than studying, so we took several long breaks away from school to focus on work. It wasn’t until 2012 that we finally finished our MA in visual communication, and by then we were already an established studio with a lot of experience.
What are the main values that shape your creative practice?
Hard work, creative freedom and not fearing vulnerability, but taking responsibility to keep our practice challenging and fresh by accepting situations that are difficult, learning new things and keeping the job at the edge of what we think is possible. In other words, to not become lazy or fall back on old tricks. We also want to stay close to our work, which is why we have never had employees but remained the two of us, sometimes with an intern but mostly not.
I suspect that for some studios it’s a lot about finding or claiming a tone of voice, and deciding on a visual continuity – or struggling to. For us, the projects come first and we really focus on giving the projects their own individual voice. Then stepping back only to find that everything really looks very much like ‘our style’ just goes to show, that a style or tone of voice, or brand even, isn’t something you put on like a sweater, it’s what happens while being true to your own process and dedicating yourself to the work. Focusing too much on one’s brand as a design studio seems speculative to me, and naïve as it may sound, I wish there was less of this around. Less trend, and more personality, adding to the visual richness of the world.
What do you get from your Danish / Scandinavian visual heritage?
Many people ask this question and we find it a little hard to answer. There is of course that most well known aspect of Scandinavian visuality which is very simplistic – less is more. This may apply to some of our graphic design in connection with our illustration, where we always use very pure simple graphic design, but for the most part of our work, it really hasn’t got much to do with what we stand for. To the contrary, we have always celebrated ornament, and all the wonderful colours that exist, and perhaps our work relates more to a part of Danish culture that is not so design-oriented but more related to fantasy, fairytales and folklore. We were both very inspired by Tivoli (an amusement park in Copenhagen) with its beautiful visual landscape, which actually originates from a time of orientalism – and perhaps this “exoticizing” of the unknown, is also something we do in our work, dream about what it’s like somewhere else, and make up a picture of it, like an inner journey. Or like Rousseau who had actually never set foot in a jungle. We like Rousseau’s paintings very much, by the way.
Tell us about one of the most satisfying and substantial projects you have been involved.
The Conference in Malmö, for which we designed the visual identity + event design for the past years has been an amazing project for us. It’s without doubt one of the hardest and perhaps therefore most rewarding projects we’ve done. It’s a multifaceted design challenge; a dream task for a studio like ours, who wants to be a part of every aspect of the design process. It has involved all kinds of design tasks – from pure graphic design to signage, interior, stage design, visuals… the list is long. The challenge here is to design an identity that sums up what the conference stands for and to create an atmosphere that reflects this, to surround all these people that are gathered for a couple of days, but with a very small budget for materials.
In projects like this it also depends a lot on the client and how visionary or brave they are, and I feel in a sense, that the client and the designer ideally should be mentoring each other. So that at the end of the project the designer can say: had the client not seen this or that potential in the collaboration and steered the project into this or that direction, then the outcome would not have been as good – and vice versa, that the client can experience that the designer really helps them get to the core of what they want to express, and ideally even helps them to understand what this core is.
This is perhaps why working with other artists (eg musicians) is very rewarding, because they understand this aspect. Especially working with Efterklang has brought us places where we could not have come on our own.
The more you respect the client the better the outcome will be.
What are you looking for when you create an illustration?
With illustration there is much more gut feeling involved, and less of a methodic process compared to working with an identity or a larger scale project – after all it is about personal expression. I think we strive to create illustrations that live next to what they illustrate with equal strength and justification, more than to just echo or transmit the content of what they illustrate, if that makes sense. I think that’s why I sometimes dislike the word illustration, for what we do at least, because to me illustration sounds like you are ‘illustrating something else’ and that this something else (eg a text or an ad or whatever) is the main actor. When we illustrate we are not just showing what it says in a text, we are creating something that exists in its own right, in partnership with whatever it ‘illustrates’.
What do you want to be known for?
I like all the strange flavours. My most favorite is pine nut. Then come licorice, mint, lemon… and many more. When I see someone order two scoops of vanilla ice cream I’m always really surprised. But it’s good we are all different.