12 Questions: Meet Fred Kylander (Sweden)

This is the first in what will be a regular series in our blog where we’ll feature interviews with someone (a creative and/or a buyer) from the crowdSPRING community.

We’ll pick people who add value to our community – in the blog, in the forums, in the projects. Plainly – activities that make crowdSPRING a better community. Be professional, treat others with respect, help us build something very special, and we’ll take notice. Really.

We’re very proud to feature Fred Kylander (crowdSPRING username: fredK) today. Fred lives and works in Sweden.

1. Please tell us about yourself.

I’m 43 years old, going on 24 😉 Raised in a typical mid-70’s white middleclass suburb, the third of four kids (two sisters on either side, one older brother), imprinted with liberal ideals, learned to read and write at an early age, attended an English speaking kindergarten (not because I have English blood anywhere but because my mum and the proprietor of the school were good friends and my sister had gone there before me) and was fluent in English about the same time I was fluent in Swedish. Moved to the big city (Stockholm) around the age of 11. Did sports mostly at this time. Was an incredibly skilled left winger on the football pitch and did okay on the tennis courts. A bum knee put paid to any dreams I had of becoming the next great football pro. My favorite football team is, was and will always be Liverpool FC.

2. How did you start out as a designer?

Well, I’ve always messed with design one way or another but I never had any real plan to make a career out of it. Mostly because my brother is a great designer, much better than I am, so it seemed pointless to try and compete with him. But I’ve always messed with design one way or another and I’ve always had a passionate interest for typography, and little by little, via a number of office positions, I found myself doing graphic design part time while simultaneously working with customer service at Preem Petroleum, one of Sweden’s largest oil companies. Oddly enough, as large as the company is, it didn’t have any in-house marketing division until 1996 when I was hired along with one other artist. (Graphic design wasn’t really accepted as a profession in the Swedish industry world at the time, unless of course you worked for an ad agency. It’s improved since, but the situation still isn’t great, something that affects the freelance market.) I guess that’s where my ‘career’ as graphic designer began. I say ‘career’ because I still have a hard time seeing myself as a professional designer. It’s just something that I do. Like breathing.

I am self-taught, in graphics design. That may also have something to do with it.

3. What great design(s) have you seen recently that you love?

The latest design that made me stop and take notice – actually I oo’ed and laughed out loud the first time i saw it – is the Apple Macbook Air. It’s the only one that sticks in my mind right now. There’s the iPhone/iPod Touch as well of course, but the MacBook Air is the latest one.

4. Who/what are some of the biggest influences on your design work?

The single biggest influence? Pop culture, without a doubt. Record covers, T-shirts, posters. If I have to pick one, I’d say that the cover of David Bowie’s album “Low” from 1977 was one that really opened my eyes. Besides pop culture, I’m fairly heavily influnced by everyday items: street signs, billboards, food labels, things that we use and see all the time without really thinking too much about them. I think that one reason I’m influenced by these things is that they are usually type driven and, as I said, typography is my real passion in the area of design. I read a book, “Typically Typographic” by Swedish master typographer Bo Berndal, some time in the early 90’s, and it confirmed a number of things I thought I knew about letters and words and how they work. There are a couple of other books that have been important as well, but that one was essential to me.

Other big influences, if you want names, are artists like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andy Warhol, Giacometti, Matisse, Cezanne, Buñuel, Godard, Tati, Fellini, Orson Welles and others of that vein. Mostly though, I’m influenced by the slightly more anonymous art that accompany the works of film, literature, theatre and music artists. I’m pretty sure there are only a handful of people that can name the designer responsible for the “Low” cover, for example. I can’t. But I love it.

5. What’s the very first thing you do when approaching a new design?

The very first thing? It depends a little bit on the project, but generally speaking, the very first thing I do  other than listen closely to what the client says she (he) wants to see is research. I’ll check out the client’s competitors as much as I can, I will look at the intended context of the design and try to look at comparative products, to get a feel for what the trends are, what’s been done already, and what’s missing. Sometimes you can overdo the research and become crippled by it, but in general terms I find that the better I’ve researched a project, the more solid the end result will be. Once in a while you’ll get a project that you think you know inside out, and as long as you have a good concept it’ll work just fine. Doing fresh research of the area could stand that assumption on its head though and give you a whole set of new ideas. So: research.

6. Which of your designs are your favorites and why?

Oh, goodness. The next one, generally speaking. I’m never truly satisfied with my designs, there’s always some detail that can be improved on, or a nagging feeling that even though I might think that the work is great, it’s probably not. I did one design for a concept that would have been what is now FRDK (my brand), the working name was Pink Elephants (don’t ask why, it started as a mock brand for a website template I designed a couple of years ago) and the logo came out really nice. I liked it a lot. I haven’t kept a copy though and the concept is long since scrapped.

The logo design I created for the University of Cumbria Student Union (UCSU), that was shortlisted and almost selected, is another favorite. I think mostly because everyone around me said it wasn’t especially good, and then it came very close to being selected by the actual users. I like it. It’s in my cS portfolio.

My favorites of the designs I’ve done at crowdSPRING are mostly the first versions. The first VectorRaptor concept; the first Staircase 3 concept; the initial Count Me In concept. Although the last version of thenetwork.net’s logo is also one of my favorites.

7. When designing a logo, what do you think are the biggest mistakes a designer can make?

Overloading it, using too much detail. Not that detail work should be excluded altogether, but a logo must be able to work without it. And it has to work up close as well as at a great distance. The very best logos around are perceived as incredibly simple, and can be modified quickly by adding or removing a detail without the overall aesthetics or meaning being lost. However, in my mind, the biggest mistake in logo creation is often made by the company behind it. The most common mistake is choosing a brand name that is too long or made up of too many parts to work well as a mark, or one that is really hard to illustrate with a simple icon. Again, the best logos around are simple word marks or icons that quickly bring out the brand name. Sun. IBM. Orange. Google. Schwarzkopf. Porsche. Jaguar. Simple, iconic names and words that work as typographic logos and/or easily interpreted illustrations. So even though a designer can botch up a logo completely, by overloading it for example, there are a number of other things of equal or greater importance to consider. Most of those even before we start designing it.

8. How has technology affected your work?

Ah, technology! It’s set me free! Seriously though, it has. Modern technology allows me to create stuff that would have required at least a team of two-three people to do in the old days. It allows me to work anywhere I want to – at the local coffee shop, on the beach, in bed, where ever I please – without losing any quality.

I use Apple Macintosh computers exclusively — an Intel iMac workstation and a PowerPC G4 Powerbook laptop. Both run Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard). Other hardware include a Wacom digitizer tablet and 2 digital SLR cameras (a Canon and a Konica Minolta). The software I use is mostly industry standard stuff – Adobe Creative Suite apps for image editing, illustration and page layout (CS2 and CS3), Coda by Panic for code work, Linotype Fontexplorer X for font management, MAMP for local database management, Skype and Adium for VoIP/IM communications, Paparazzi! for screengrabbing. The rest is handled with Apple software (Mail, Safari, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iTunes etc).

I should point out that I didn’t choose Apple because of the brand or current trends. I’ve been using Mac and Apple stuff since 1994 and I use it because of the attention to detail, the ease-of-use and the impressive interfaces. If Microsoft could match Apple I would just as well use their stuff. But I think they’ll always have a hard time doing that since Apple creates both hardware and software which makes them gel on a whole other level than Microsoft’s stuff. But that’s an aside.

I very much doubt that I would do the things I do now without my computers and my digital cameras. And thanks to the Internet, production costs are ridiculously low. I very seldom do sketches on paper these days, almost never have the need to print things thanks to the quality of today’s screens, and I can beam files all over the world, straight through the air. Technology has set me free. Hallelujah! 😉

9. When working online, how do you decide whether to participate in a project?

There are three questions that I ask myself, for any project, before deciding to jump in or not:1) Am I really interested in the project? 2) Do I have the time needed to do a good job? and 3) Is it worth the reward? The first question is obviously the only one that really matters – if I’m interested in a project I will usually find a way to make time for it and the reward becomes less important. Sometimes I’ll participate even though I’m not really that interested but I have the time and the reward is high enough to get my salivary glands going. Sometimes I pass up on a project initially but then an idea, a concept, stands up and demands to be submitted. That’s happened more than once.

I do have some ethical boundaries as well, things I won’t do no matter how big the reward is or how interesting the challenge. But mostly it’s down to the challenge, how much it wets my appetite.

10. What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being a graphic designer?

I think the most challenging part is to try and constantly come up with something fresh. Doesn’t have to be new, and in truth most things have already been done a thousand times over, but to find an angle or variation on a theme that makes it feel fresh and unused. That’s hard. But it’s also rewarding, when you feel like you’ve pulled it off. However, the biggest reward, for me, is when I’ve been able to really help someone out. Most of the time it’s work, we give the client what she wants, she pays us what we want, we’re happy. But every now and then we get to do something that solves a real problem for a client, a friend or even a total stranger that just happens to be in a pinch. Not long ago I was able to help a crowdSPRING user to recreate her business card. Not such a big deal you may think, and not really a big design challenge, but the gratitude that she showed me just for helping out and fixing the business card was truly extraordinary. It made me realize that on a good day we actually make a difference. And that feels good.

11. What advice would you give a young designer just starting out?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Believe in your abilities. Learn from your mistakes. Be prepared to take on any job, even if you think it’s too simple for your skills – you never know what you can learn on the way. Remember to step away from your work every once in a while and look at it from a distance. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Learn the rules so that you know which ones you can bend, and which ones you can break. Make time for friends and family. Always, always set aside a portion of your earnings for the rainy days. (They will come. They always do, to everyone.) And, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

12. What do you do with your free time?

There’s no such thing as free time, to misquote the old blonde. I try to spend as much of my spare time as possible with my friends and family. Taking walks through the city is also a nice pastime (I’m a city person, through and through). I’d like to be able to travel more than I am at the moment, but there’s a place and time for everything. I do spend a lot of time working, but mostly because I thoroughly enjoy it. So, work isn’t just work for me. It’s fun as well. Seriously. Lots of fun. 😉

Tack så mycket, Fred!