Hi Jessica, Ms. Walsh,
sorry to be emailing you out of the blue like this. And, while you’re travelling? So rude. Either way, feel free to disregard this missive if you are busy with other things.
Here’s the thing: I am editor of this magazine called The Reykjavík Grapevine, and we’re running somewhat extensive coverage on DesignMarch, where you will be speaking the day after tomorrow. For our latest print edition, I had arranged for an interview with yourself, an excellent addition to any magazine and especially handy for promoting the particular event where you’ll be speaking.
This for some reason fell through—I’m not sure why, maybe some elves were messing with us? We are a tiny and fairly anarchic operation and things like that somehow sometimes happen. It’s usually due to elfin intervention.
In any case, when I discovered (today) that we had no interview, I felt sad, as I am told you are one of the fanciest persons to attend DesignMarch this year. In an attempt to still reel you in to our publication, I am therefore enclosing a few questions that I sourced from some of the fancier parties to Iceland’s design community, in the hope that you might perhaps see fit to respond to one, some or all of them in a rather timely fashion.
If you do, then that’s great. I’ll just up and publish everything on our website tomorrow, adding that extra dash of hype to the event.
(and if not, then that’s fine too. I have no claims on your time).
Alright, thanks for reading this long email (if you did, lol). Here are Some Questions For Jessica Walsh Sourced From Some Of The Fancier Parties To Iceland’s Design Community (remember: you can just cherry pick which ones you want answer… hell, feel free to make up entirely new ones!).
Why are you a designer?
I am originally self-taught. My parents were entrepreneurs, and growing up I always figured I would follow their path and go into business school. When I was 11, I started coding and designing for websites. I started doing freelance web work for individuals and small businesses for a few years, before I had the idea to create an html help site that offered free graphic templates for other kids.
Google advertising had just launched at that time. I put one of the ads on the site and I started getting checks in the mail every month from Google. I was shocked that I could make money doing something that I truly loved and considered my hobby. I’ve aimed to do that ever since. Design and creativity constantly inspires and challenges me and until that changes, I will keep designing.
Is fame an aspiration for you, or a happy accident? Something you desire, or a neccesary evil?
First of all, “success” or “fame” are relative to the individual and their expectations and goals. Also, while I might be well known in creative communities, most people in the world don’t know who I am, which is great, because its nice to have some privacy in life.
Do I desire recognition for my work? A part of me, sure. I think as humans by nature we all seek security, acceptance, and love. Some of us find this in money, others in career, others in lovers or marriage or children, some in friends and family. I definitely have found acceptance through my creative work and I do like that.
However, “fame” was never a motive. Press and awards do not bring me any lasting joy or satisfaction; that is not what drives me. What drives me is to do good work that I am passionate about. Awards and press are helpful with that because it increases awareness of your work, and in turn helps get better jobs. When you have more jobs to choose from, you can be more picky with the kind of work and clients you take on. This means you can choose things that you are very passionate about, which in turn makes the work even better.
QUESTIONS REGARDING INSPIRATION
What was the last thing that really inspired you?
Jodorowsky’s Dune. The guy is totally crazy in an amazing and positive way, have you seen his film Holy Mountain? It’s awesome.
I am inspired by people who see the world so differently and make it their life mission to make others question reality or think about life from a new perspective.
Who do you look up to in your field?
I really believe you can learn something from almost anyone, and don’t look up to any one person within my field. No one person is perfect, and usually I’ve found when someone has exceptional capabilities in one aspect of their lives, other parts suffer. So I don’t like to idolize people.
However, I do look up to and admire certain qualities from all different kinds of people and personalities. A few off the top of my head: My mom. Salvador Dali. Albert Einstein. Walt Disney. Werner Herzog. David Lynch. John Stewart. My sister. My business partner Stefan Sagmeister. Jony Ive. Alain de Botton. Stephen Hawking. Tibor Kalman. Paula Scher. James Joyce. My cleaning lady. The list goes on and on.
QUESTIONS ABOUT GRAPHIC DESIGN
Appart from a computer, a desk and Adobe software, what do you need to work?
A Wacom tablet, markers and a sketchbook
What is, in you opinion, “design’s next big thing”?
3D printing and Oculus Rift really excite me for their future potential to change the design landscape, especially once they become better and more affordable.
What do you most hate about graphic design?
Sometimes the execution phase of the design process can be stressful and time consuming. It’s not my favourite part.
What do you love the most about your job?
So many things. I love the conceptual phase of a new project. I love working with fun, open, creative people every day who often make me laugh. I love seeing my work out in the world. Most of all, I love when my work touches someone or delights someone.
What do you do for fun?
Go to brunch, visit galleries and museums, travel, watch movies.
QUESTIONS WITH THE WORD ‘IMPORTANT’ IN THEM
Who is the most important person in design history, and why?
Hm, I don’t think you can credit any one person as the “most important”. When you really look into famous designers from the past and learn about their mentors or where their inspirations come from you can see how we all just building on discoveries and work that has come before us in some way.
Your achievements are manifold, and thoroughly documented. What are your goals from hereon?
To keep finding challenges. To continue to learn and grow as a designer and human. To do good work that touches people in some way. To do more self initiated work and content creation.
What do you believe to be the most important project you’ve participated in, and why?
Forty Days of Dating is a project I did with a good friend of mine, Timothy Goodman. We’ve been friends for four years and were always making fun of each other for our exact opposite relationship problems and relationship styles. We wanted to explore our habits and fears and learn more about the nature of relationships and love. We decided to date each other for forty days with specific boundaries as a way to take on that challenge. We journaled about our experience every day, as well as recording videos and making illustrations. After we did the experiment we read each other’s journal entries. We were fascinated with the different perspectives on the same situations. We decided to launch a blog where we released our journal entries to the public from each date, side by side.
Since the launch, we had over ten million visitors, and have received thousands of emails from people around the world. This was shocking to us, we had no idea it would go viral. Much of the mail we’ve received is about how our stories and struggles in love have touched people in some way. Some people say our story has forced them to reflect on their own relationships, and has been a catalyst to make positive change. One of the main goals I’ve had is to touch people in some way through my work, so receiving this feedback has been amazing and humbling. It’s why I consider it a success, and I want to do more work that involves a personal angle in the future.
It is not unusual for creative people to bring their lives into their work. Songwriters, filmmakers, journalists and artists have been doing that regularly for a very long time. Graphic designers tend to shy away from the personal or using design for expressive purposes. Designers have the skills and tools to communicate with a wide audience. I personally am most attracted to work that has a personal angle, and clearly comes from someone’s heart. To me, content creation and expression through design is just as (if not more) important than designing other people’s content. I want to continue to spend more time on more personal work like this.
QUESTIONS PERTAINING TO SAGMEISTER
Could you pick out the three best/your favourite projects Sagmeister & Walsh has made since day one (that is, including the pre- & Walsh days)
Before my time here I loved Stefan’s projects Things I have learned in my life so far and obsessions make my life worse but my work better. Since I’ve been working with Stefan, my favourite projects are Aizone and Fugue
How does your partnership with Sagmeister function? Like, are there meetings?
Sometimes, but I hate meetings so we keep them to a minimum. The process is rather organic based on our workloads, schedules, and interests on a project. On our larger branding projects, Stefan and I will work together on the conceptual phase. Sometimes we’ll have an idea right after an initial brief meeting with a client. Other times we’ll often work separately at first but after a few weeks we come together to share ideas. Sometimes it’s a merge of what were both thinking, and other times we’ll go with one direction or the other. We both oversee and art direct designers in our studio. On smaller projects sometimes its just one or the other person who takes charge.
NEW YORK IS NOT FOR EVERYONE AND JESSICA IS MARRIED
What do you think is the best place to live as a designer today? Does geographical location matter? Should everyone move to New York?
No. New York is amazing and wonderful and inspiring but also extremely expensive and tiring. It’s not for everyone. I don’t think location is as important as it used to be. If you are doing great work, you can use the internet as a tool to connect with people and share what you are doing, and promote yourself. I often commission freelance designers, artists, and illustrators who I find online or on Behance or from blogs. They live all over the world via email and Skype. They could live on a remote island somewhere and I would have no idea. Sometimes I fantasize about moving somewhere much cheaper.
One person also wanted us to ask if you were single. But preceded that question with the written equalivent of a nervous laugh. And then added, “no joke, it’s a relevant question, because of that ’40 days of dating’ project she did. You can credit me if you think it’s a weird question”.
I am actually married now 🙂
The following ‘fancy designers’ provided questions:
Hjalti Karlsson, of Karlssonwilker
Sveinbjörn Pálsson, Terrordisco, of Sveinbjörn.com
Anton Kaldal Ágústsson, of Tonik Ensemble and Iceland Academy of the Arts
Hörður Kristbjörnsson, of Reykjavík Grapevine and Döðlur Ehf.
Siggi Odds, of Siggiodds.com
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