The complicated path to simplicity

Imagine an artisan who is actually a cutting-edge, prize-winning creative director; a modern designer who doesn’t use a computer for design; a workhorse who admits to trying to do as little as possible for a very long time. Inspire met Henrik Nygren in his studio in Stockholm, for a talk about his approach to the creative process.

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THIS CONTENT IS ALSO AVAILABLE IN INSPIRE ISSUE 44 FROM 2013 

Swedish creative director Henrik Nygren is per­haps best known internationally for his simple, clean, modern approach to design. His assignments are mainly analysis and strategy for clients, but they also include the design and production of books, magazines, packa­ging, corporate identities, advertising campaigns and exhibitions.

Henrik Nygren Design is his studio, located in a former factory in Stockholm. The studio space looks as if it has come straight out of a coffee table book that Nygren might design for a client: filled with mid-20th-century modern furniture, it’s a clean, organised space featuring a tasteful palette of black, white and grey. 

“I spend a lot of time with architects, and I love archi­tecture,” Nygren says. “I think this interest shows not only in my studio but in my work.”

Before accepting new assignments from prospective clients, he says he asks himself a couple of key questions: Are we right for each other? Should we do something together? If the answer to both questions is yes, he then spends time discovering what he calls the “soul of the project”.

“Starting up a new project is a lot like falling in love for me,” he says. “It’s crucial for me to have a connection with each project and with the client.”

Nygren visits the client’s office and spends about a week assembling what he calls “a 360-degree view of reality, with 20 degrees from Henrik”. This consists of opening drawers, seeing what’s in them and how it’s used, reading bulletin boards, interviewing people who work in the office, and collecting as much and as varied information about the client as possible.

“I write letters and draw storyboards after spending time with clients on their turf,” he says. “The project develops organically using these tools. When I started working as a designer more than 25 years ago, there were no computers, and I still don’t use them. I have a group of very talented people in the office that have all the skills that we need as a team to get the job done.

“There is a consistency in my work, because everything I do is grounded in research and investigation,” he explains. “It’s not superficial. It’s a holistic approach that I always use, and it’s one of the cornerstones of my work.

“My goal is always to produce clean, bold, simple work that is easy to understand and use, even though simple is often complicated to produce.” 

TEXT: TSEMAYE OPUBOR HAMBRAEUS  PHOTO: MAURO RONGIONE

Painting Abstraction: New Elements in Abstract Painting, commissioned by Phaidon Press, London. 80 contemporary artists within abstract art. Silkscreen printing and embossed foil cover.

Identity for the Stockholm Museum of Modern Art’s 2004 rededication. Logotype (original letter­ed by Robert Rauschenberg in 1983), specially designed typeface, indoor and outdoor display system, books, printed matter, packaging, sales products, etc.

Portraits, a book on fashion photographer Carl Bengtsson. Published by Arena in 2011. Wrapped and bound book with framed images (two variants) on the cover.

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