We had a little chat with Fredrik and Erik from Snask about working at their studio, AI, the metaverse and the »Why« of brands.
Swedish design studio Snask is famous for its crazy original branding work – and one of the most-applauded speakers at creative festivals (even without their rock band!). We spoke to the founders Fredrik Öst and Erik Kockum at Frontify’s Paradigms Festival 2022 in Barcelona and asked them how they keep up their edgy work – and how they stay positive in a world that’s on fire.
You call yourselves the »agency of misfit geniuses«. How do you stay that way?
Fredrik: We’re not misfits in a cool way. Growing up, we were never the popular kids. We might not be considered »normal« by some standards, but we are specialists in certain areas. Maybe you have to be a misfit in order to really become an expert in something.
Erik: Fitting in is something we’ve never been good at – or cared about. After a while you just embrace being different and it becomes your thing. And you find your people – it’s how we met.
Fredrik: The people at our studio have such interesting personalities! And they grow immensely when they stay with us for a while. Some couldn’t even say »hi« when they first came in! We’re a friendly place where people can just be themselves. And when you can be completely yourself, you get comfortable with not fitting in.
Working at Snask
What do you look for in the people you work with?
Fredrik: Personality is really important. You have to share our values and be open-minded and positive. That’s one half – the other half is being good at what you do. However, there are a lot of people who are good at something, but they’re assholes. We don’t want those.
Erik: You can’t judge people by their portfolios. Which doesn’t mean we don’t look at them! Especially when it comes to graphic design, we do take a good look. But we never look at the CV.
Fredrik: Studies have shown that what you have done in the past says almost nothing about what you can achieve in the future. And: The more diverse teams are, the better they perform.
How many people are at your studio?
Erik: We have a core team of 10 people, about 50:50 creative and project management roles. In some projects we go up to 20 people, who we bring in for certain tasks. We’re really flexible and always adapt to the current project.
Do you work remotely or at the studio?
Fredrik: Our code of conduct since Covid is that we’re at the office for at least 3 days a week. On Tuesday, we ask everybody to come in to make sure we still see each other regularly.
What kind of leaders would you say you are?
Fredrik: We’ve been doing this for a long time, and we’ve never questioned leadership until we kind of had to. We basically split the leadership between us two, and a lot of things fell through the cracks. We have a very clear ambition, but we also have the insight that we’re not the best leaders. We’re good at other stuff. We always try to hire people who are better than us.
Erik: We’re amazing recruiters!
Fredrik: Right now, we’re looking for somebody to fill this leadership position.
Erik: Leadership can be done in many different ways. Some people like to do stuff themselves and lead by example. Other people are good at lifting others up and inspiring them to do their best work. We like to give people a lot of independence and freedom to explore their ideas.
Fredrik: I think the best way is not to give orders, but to give people the opportunity to think for themselves. They are experts at what they do and usually already know the answer. We want people to have the confidence to make their own decisions and take responsibility for them. Maybe we haven’t made that clear enough in the past.
Erik: We’ve been lacking a structure for this. It’s something we’re working on.
Did you ever think about becoming a bigger studio?
Fredrik: We’re growing organically at the moment. I guess we’ll see how that evolves. If enough interesting projects come in, then we’ll grow.
Erik: What is growth, really? Is it the number of people? Bigger clients? Bigger budgets? We’re happy with being relatively small and flexible. It helps keep a certain edge. By setting up a structure we’re also building a foundation to grow the studio. But we don’t have any goals like internal revenues or stuff like that. At the same time, we’re not against becoming larger, either – if it makes us stronger.
Finding inspiration and humor
Looking at your work and listening to your talks, one gets the feeling that you have a lot of fun. How do keep up the fun and playfulness when the world is on fire?
Fredrik: It’s getting harder. We always try to insert humor into our work – not just to have fun while working, but also to insert humor into the design itself. That’s an important part of who we are. No one comes to us and asks for boring, conservative, traditional, no-risk work. If they did, we’d send them away.
Erik: Being different and a bit crazy is actually hard work! The world is built in a way that makes you fall into categories and conform to how things are supposed to be done or to do what other people are doing. It’s so easy to fall into everyday business. You have to constantly remind yourself to do things differently. That’s why we try to not only work for big clients, but to mix it up with smaller clients and work we’re really passionate about.
What do you do to keep yourself from falling into a rut?
Fredrik: Never look at trends and stuff other people are doing! It’s all in the past, it has already happened. It’s much more interesting to look forward and ask yourself: What hasn’t been done before? Inspiration usually doesn’t come from the world of design. We spend time with loved ones, read the news, listen to music, watch films, look at art – all that gives us inspiration for what hasn’t been done yet. What’s happening in the world right now is heartbreaking – but you can find inspiration in that as well. Just look at Iran, for example!
Erik: Maybe it’s about finding energy. Just going out there. Look at this venue, for example. It’s crazy and so inspiring! (Note by the editor: Paradigms 2022 took place at the Xavier Corbero House in Barcelona)
Thoughts on the Metaverse and AI
What do you think about the metaverse?
Fredrik: It is interesting. The problem is that most of new technologies are built on what already exists, on what everybody is already doing. »Let’s create a new world that looks and works like our world!« But WHY? To put ads in your virtual home? Again: It’s much more interesting to look at what hasn’t been done yet. In this new world, everybody could have the same rights! Instead, it’s all about making money. But: It is interesting and it will solve some problems on the way.
Erik: Don’t let yourself be fooled into doing something in the metaverse just because everybody is doing it. I don’t think we know where we’re headed yet. But the copy-and-paste stuff happening right now is not it.
Have you played around this image-making AI, like DALL-E or Midjourney?
Erik: I was extremely amazed and played around with it for a whole day, completely immersed. And then I never used it again. I’m not sure why. It is interesting – and a little bit scary.
Fredrik: The problem with AI is that it only produces what people want. If you don’t like it you just keep making new versions. It will never create new ideas or new art. When you look at art historically, so much of it is provoking and people hated it when it first came out. But AI will always create what we have already seen – and people will regenerate the images until they like them. AI is created to please.
Erik: It would be interesting to use it to spark creativity – especially for people who don’t have the skills to produce art. It’s like having Picasso sitting next to you and telling him what to paint. AI can open people’s mind, I think. But I don’t know how we can use it professionally.
Looking into the future
What are your expectations for the coming months and years – for the creative industries in general and your agency specifically?
Erik: I think the world might be fucked. It feels like something is building up that can’t be stopped. It’s always one thing after the next. Nobody has the answer. I don’t know it will affect us.
Fredrik: I think the creative industry as a whole needs to fight even more for the »Why« of brands. Companies need to start caring – not just about making money, but about actual change. Patagonia sells clothes, but the main goal is not making money – it’s saving the world. These topics will become much more urgent in the next five years. The creative industry will need to do more.
Erik: As a design agency you’re a consultant, you work for clients. The majority of agencies don’t take a stand. They tend to do everything for everybody if the money is right. We’re no exception. As a brand, we can be political and take a stand, but when it comes to business it gets tricky. But if the world continues to go down the drain, we will need to do more. We can’t keep making cool logos for destructive companies.
Fredrik: It’s complicated. I mean, we’ve turned down tobacco companies – but worked for alcohol companies. Plus, it’s really hard to know who’s behind companies nowadays. It’s getting harder and harder to actually define green- and pinkwashing. Take Gillette for example: They did a campaign about toxic masculinity, up until then the men in their campaigns have been super macho. It’s good that they put a focus on the topic, but of course they’re making money with it as well. Where is the line? Do companies actually do something for real? Or do they say »Black lives matter« and keep up racist recruiting?
Erik: When we come into companies we do speak up and try to help them find a way to do and say things differently. Often, they listen. But you do wonder sometimes, if we really change things – or if we’re just putting lipstick on a pig.
Fredrik: We can make a message become great, but the clients are the ones who have to walk the talk. We do say these things, but it’s hard. The world needs to change.
Erik: Let’s check in again in a year and see where we stand.
Disclaimer: PAGE was invited to Paradigms 2022 by Frontify. Travel and hospitality expenses were paid by the company. Our coverage is not affected by this and remains independent.