Originally from Norway and graduating from Newcastle University, in Australia (2006), the 37 year old Hallgeir Homstvedt, runs his own studio based in Oslo and has built a strong career in furniture and product design. I recently caught up with him and began our interview by asking him the obvious question:
You are a former professional snowboarder. What brought you to Newcastle and the sweltering climate of Australia to study?
My girlfriend at the time was doing graphic design and she had a two-year exchange between Newcastle University and her university in Norway. I was intending to study engineering … and applied for a place at Newcastle University – mainly so I could be with my girlfriend but also because I wanted to experience living somewhere so completely different to Norway….Anyway, it turned out I didn’t like engineering – it was a bit like being back in high school – just all physics and maths, so I transferred to industrial design…I jumped right in at the start of the second semester and loved it.
After graduating you went back to Norway and worked for ‘Norway Says’. Were you well equipped for that job?
Here in Australia the internship thing was sorely lacking as the companies who used industrial designers were few and far between. On the plus side there were some good lecturers at the University of Newcastle. Graham Pavers, the senior design lecturer in particular but also Nick Etorovic who took car design and model making. We learnt a lot about the engineering side things so the course was quite technical. It was sort of an engineering meets design degree actually! It wasn’t at all dreamy but it ended up that it was my technical ability that probably got me the internship at Norway Says.
How important is an internship to the young graduate designer?
Very. I probably could have saved myself a good few years had I started working for a studio sooner but when I got back to Norway I had to re-establish all my contacts again. I had no idea whether I was going to be a car designer or a product designer and it was really the internship with Norway Says that made my mind up for me. Internships give you real life scenarios to deal with cost and time constraints…You don’t really learn all you need to know about how to be a designer while you are at university. That whole world of designer furniture was very new to me. Take the ‘I’m Boo’ water carafe we designed for Muuto for example. The project was all about how to approach a vessel for water in a different way that would make it original and interesting to the end user.
I worked for Norway Says as an intern for about six months until they employed me. Unfortunately the studio split up in 2009 and I made the decision to go out on my own.
Was it difficult setting up on your own?
My initial step was to show in Milan with friends – Staffan Holm and Daniel Rybakkan – at SaloneSatellite at the Milan Fair in 2010. Daniel was also an intern at Norway Says and I had met Staffan along the way. Daniel was already working on his ‘Colour’ light while still an intern at Norway Says and had lots of other ideas in various stages of completion. It was Daniel who suggested I exhibit in Milan. I had the ‘Topp’ lamp fairly resolved by this stage (‘Topp’ is now part of the Established & Sons collection) and I was also showing some mirrors – the ‘Tunnel mirror’ and the ‘OHH mirror’ – as I was working a lot with the idea of illusions at the time…
What new products do you have coming out in the near future?
I am working for the Swedish brand Offecct at the moment, on a chair called ‘Lui’ that was commissioned by the University of Bergen. It’s the second or third biggest university in Norway. I won a competition against a selection of other designers including my old bosses from Norway Says – which was funny. Offecct are supplying 700 of the chairs for the university’s assembly hall. It’s an upholstered stacking design that can stack very compactly and is very versatile. The reference for the chair came from looking at the assembly hall and interpreting the building’s arched windows. Essentially an arch is made up of a semi-circle and a rectangle and I just extrapolated that concept and came up with a chair that uses a circle and a square – one for the seat and one for the back. I have also just completed my first project with the Danish brand New Works. It’s a collaboration with Lars Tornøe on a slip-cast porcelain pendant light called ‘Juliet’.
Have you ever worked on a project like this before?
It’s a very prestigious project so I’m really happy to be involved. It’s not a common thing to get a job like this I can assure you. I think the Bouroullecs have done something similar for a school in Copenhagen that has now been put into production by Hay as a retail product. I’m not comparing my work to theirs, it’s just to illustrate that very few designers get this opportunity.
How have you managed to achieve your profile?
It’s not easy when you have a name like mine that doesn’t roll off the tongue! I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a few good exhibitions over the years. And these have helped tremendously. Norwegian Prototypes was an event that I was invited to participate in held in London in 2009 and it gave me my first international start. The organiser, Amy Hunting is half Norwegian, half British and based in London and she wanted to create a platform for Norwegian design. She did the Norwegian Prototypes show from 2009 until 2013 when she started working with 100% Norway – another Norwegian design exhibition.
I was also involved in a great series of 8 films documenting the designer’s process called Little Scraps of Paper.
Being associated with some good people and well known brands – Norway Says, Established & Sons, Muuto, One Nordic and now Menu does wonders to raise your personal profile.
How did you afford to exhibit at these international events?
“Norwegian designers have been fortunate that our government has payed for the venue and also provided some grants for those designers who attend. Up until recently you could apply four times a year to the Department of Foreign Affairs seeking funding to exhibit at fairs like Milan, London or Maison & Objet. This might change with the new conservative government being voted in but it’s been incredibly helpful up until now.
In your opinion, which is the best fair for a young designer to show their work?
London is great for press but it’s not so good if you are mainly looking for a manufacturer. If you want a company to pick up one of your designs and produce it, Milan or Stockholm are a better option. The problem with Milan is that it is so big that lots of good things go unnoticed. It’s definitely hard to get any real traction there but it is still possible to be discovered if you show somewhere like SaloneSatellite or Ventura Lambrate. The talent scouts are always there, so if you’re good and a little lucky, one of your designs can be picked up by an established brand.
Any other tips to give young designers just starting out?
It’s a hard life being a designer – especially when you are first starting out. What I didn’t learn while I was at university here in Australia was how to present products professionally. We learnt how to do formal presentations to a client but not how to market ourselves and our designs to the world at large – we didn’t learn how to get press coverage for our studio or products for example. Designers need to use all the means that they have at their disposal: videos, animation, instagram, emailed newsletters, twitter – everything.
What’s the most important thing to help get attention do you think?
Photography. Good photography is really vital. If you don’t get a product picked up while showing at a design fair but have done good shots of your work, you can still send these off to blogs and magazines and build your profile. You also need to put some decent thought into how to make your booth stand out when showing at a fair or some other trade event. It doesn’t have to be fancy it just has to look well considered. It has to reflect your products and you have to communicate the idea really effectively.
It’s not enough to design a great product, choose the right materials and make it really well, you need to market it in some way too, whether it is directly to a manufacturer or to the general public. Part of being a designer is therefore about being a good communicator in every sense.