Original Interview: January 2017

Jens Marklund

TDK Awards 16′ winner, Jens Marklund, originally from Sweden, moved to San Francisco and then to NYC where he stayed put and started doing awesome things. He tells us about that one time he cut Helvetica letterforms out of meat for a project (I’m not sure how I feel about that) and what it’s like being a typography teaching assistant at SVA.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?
I started out doing advertising at a school in Sweden called Berghs. A part of that program was to continue it abroad with collaborating schools. I ended up moving to San Francisco, and within that process I switched my major to graphic design as it was supposed to be the stronger program at this school. After a year and a half in San Francisco — me and a friend started getting fed up with the program and how it was run. He took the next step and applied to SVA in New York instead, a school we both admired, and I ended up following along. Since then I’ve spent three semesters here, and I’m currently interning at Sunday Afternoon.

Are you involved in any mentoring/teaching/workshops and if and how it shapes your practice?
The past five months I’ve been a teaching assistant to Jon Newman’s sophomore typography class at SVA — where we’re just now starting off the second semester. It has definitely given me a lot more than I expected, as I’m learning just as much as the students are by critiquing their work and giving feedback. I have found It’s one thing to always think about design and another one to talk about it. Because when you talk about it you have to think ”why does that not work?” and then find a way to explain it — rather than just moving on to the next piece. I have also done some panels through the school and gotten to present my work to crowds which is always fun.

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What have been some of your biggest disasters and how have you learnt from it?
I once spent 6+ hours cutting Helvetica letterforms out of meat for a project I was working on. Came in the next day with everything printed and realized that even though it was printed fairly big — you could barely see it was done in meat, and it just looked like a wonky hand-cut Helvetica in red. After that I realized it was probably a good idea to do a few tests at the start of a project instead of wasting an entire night on something that would never work. It did make for a delicious dinner though.

What is the design landscape like on your city and where do you fit in?
What I love about New York is that it’s such a big city while at the same time having this design community that comes off as one big family. Everyone seems to know everyone — and if they don’t, they at least know their work. The pace here is completely different from the west coast. People never seem to stop working. Hopefully because they love what they do, but there’s also that ”if I stop and everyone else keeps working, they’ll get more done than me” mentality. I have found the pace to have a positive effect on me however. At the end of last year I was at a point where every day of the week was packed — which to me just made me way more efficient when I was actually working. I knew I didn’t have time to get stuck on details at the exploration stages of a project, so I didn’t. A few weeks ago me and a friend were walking around the garment district searching for fabrics when I looked up and said ”Wait, is that the Empire State building?”. We both had this touristy moment even though we’ve been living here for a year and a half, as we never had time just to walk around the city really.

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What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
1. To be self critical in the way I’m thinking. It’s easy to get in a defensive mode, especially about ones work, but if you are always right then you never learn anything new.
2. I have never really cared what others thought of me, and I think that’s important to state here too. A friend of mine actually started negative rumors about himself just so that people wouldn’t see him as a threat and try to copy his work path.
3. Another lesson is to do what you want to do. Design is a very small and specific field — if I wanted to play it safe I would have studied economy or engineering back in Sweden like everyone else, so why try and play it safe now?
4. Do your research when it comes to teachers. Every school has bad teachers, and every school has brilliant ones. I try and talk to students, teachers and anyone with information. The teachers who people either hate or love are usually a good bet.
5. Not doing the work because you disagree with the teacher/assignment is not a statement. Doing twice the work is.

What advice would you give students starting out?
There seems to be a lot of students panicking over how their peers are performing relative to them. This behavior does way more harm than good, as people are then even less likely to take risks in their work. Instead they play it safe and/or copy what others have done because they feel like the pressure too high and they can’t afford to fail. This then leads to stress that eventually ends up with them staring at a screen for hours and hours without exploring anything new. A lot of students also put a lot of value on something they spent hours on, when the sketch they did five minutes before class might be a way better solution. Last advice I would give someone is to incorporate whatever else you’re good at into your work. It could be painting, photography, chess or just looking at birds. If you do so, your work immediately stands out from all your classmates — as most of them probably have a very set way of how they think design should look (stop looking at blogs).

Instagram: @jens.marklund
Website: Jens.work

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