Design should be considered a cultural investment as much as an economic one. products and brands reflect societies’ beliefs, values, craft, and industry. They tell stories and have the potential of touching and inspiring people.
These are the beliefs of Henrik Olssøn and Erika Barbieri, the partner duo and couple behind award-winning, oslo-based Olssøn Barbieri, a multi-disciplinary design agency specializing in brand identity and packaging design with particular focus on wine and spirits, fashion, culture, and art industries.
“We started our own studio straight out of school. We both loved ‘the beautiful product on the shelf’ and the thought of one day contributing to that was so alluring. This discipline has changed a lot in the last decade and even though it falls in the category of graphic design, we always felt it belongs just as much to product design. We think our background as product designers is what gives our work solid foundation and sense of multi-layered storytelling,” says Olssøn.
He and Italian Erika Barbieri met in 1999, when both attended the school for product design and communication ISIA in Florence, then considered the best school for design in Italy. “Italy still held a very strong position as a design nation in those years. I did not feel like Norway held the answers I was after at the time and looking back, moving to Italy was one of the best decisions I ever made,” recounts Olssøn. Today he and Barbieri are back in oslo though, where they have witnessed the immense recent changes to the Norwegian design scene in the last decade.
“Large agencies used to rule and were entrusted with most of the bigger brands, while now many talented people have broken free and started their own agencies. clients also shop for intangible services in a different way today, and we are often approached by larger brands with exciting assignments. This is positive for both the client and the creative studios; it is like a return to the relationship between the patron and the artist or craftsman, based on mutual appreciation and respect. good work is often the result of this,” says Barbieri.
According to the couple there is an entrepreneurial boost in society as a counter reaction to the power of big corporate brands. Now quality products with real stories, personality, and awareness about sustainability are in vogue.
“These types of products and services are tapping into the rich cultural heritage that the country has to offer,” says Olssøn and tells how many trades today has made Norwegians look to the roots and rediscover beauty in their culture.
“There is an established common denominator for Scandinavian aesthetics, but what we see today is a contemporary interpretation of those values. It’s a fresh new language in furniture, graphic design, and fashion,” tells Barbieri.
But why has it taken so comparatively long for Norwegian design to blossom like this?
“Norway lost a bit of pride and confidence in its own history and heritage, probably sometime after the Second World War. In the 60s everything new was considered better than the old, be that in connection with city planning, architecture, products, or even food. This attitude is still strong in Norway, but as consumers are becoming more critical and curious about our own culture, new doors are opening to a more nuanced understanding of the design discipline that people can relate to. It’s an exciting time for the creative arts in Norway right now,” says Olssøn.