Back OlssønBarbieri: reshaping the future of design through beauty and purpose
OlssønBarbieri is an independent Oslo-based creative studio that believes there is a sustainable way to make products that empower mindful consumers. Today, we interview the founder and creative director, Erika Barbieri, who shares with us how they're planning on reshaping the future of design, and the story behind some of their recent projects.
Can you tell us a little bit about your studio?
OlssønBarbieri is an independent Oslo-based creative studio that believes there is a sustainable way to make products that empower mindful consumers. The studio was founded by me and my husband Henrik Olssøn. Since 2012 we’ve worked with small family companies and commercial clients, both locally and internationally. Our work is the manifestation of our Italian and Norwegian cultures. With one eye on history and tradition, and the other looking ahead.
What’s your area of expertise?
Our areas of both interest and expertise are in the world of food & drinks, wellbeing, hospitality and culture. We’re dedicated to helping our clients to define their ambition and potential and together manifest it in the world. We try to interpret how a product or a brand acts and belongs in the world – from a symbolic, historical, anthropological, emotional, environmental and ethical point of view, and how we can improve, communicate and make people connect with it.
I feel that our expertise is at it’s best use when we work with these kinds of projects and clients:
1) Creating future-oriented, progressive packaging designs and identity. We love when we’re involved from the beginning, with the positioning and strategy of a product and brands that are challenging their own category.
2) We love heritage brands that have maintained and protected their heritage and integrity over the years. Their advantage is their credibility, and our responsibility is to take care of it. A challenge is often to reconnect with today's audience and to stay relevant.
3) In addition, we would love to collaborate even more with different artists, designing books or experimental websites. It would also be exciting to create spacial experiences for brands, and we’re always on the lookout for innovative producers with whom we can test and experiment with new materials.
What motivates you and your team?
I recently heard Paola Antonelli say in an interview that “The opposite of beautiful is lazy, not ugly”, which resonated a lot with me. Strong ideas and craft solutions require time. I’m proud that our studio is design-driven and that the “quality” of what we do is the most important to us. We really care. We’re a small ambitious team with different strengths and backgrounds, with a common vision for the studio: Empower and create products and brands that do good and contribute to reshaping the future through beauty and purpose.
How did you come to setting up OlssønBarbieri?
Henrik and I met when we studied Communication and Industrial design together in Florence, moved to Oslo in 2005 and have worked together since then. In 2012 we started our new studio, OlssønBarbieri, with new goals and visions. We wanted to create beautiful and meaningful work and collaborate with progressive brands, visionary clients and other talented creatives.
Now, 8 years later, I’m happy to see that we have created a path that keeps us growing and engaged. By following our instincts and interests, I feel we are now in a position where we’re attracting clients with challenging and interesting missions, which are tuned to a growing desire for products and experiences that are long-lasting, beautiful and meaningful.
What’s your ambition in the future?
As humans, we’re going through the realisation that we need to become more responsible and critical, voicing the concern of the planet and acknowledge the interconnectedness of all the species, moving away from a vision where the Man is in the centre. This gives us as designers the possibility and responsibility of rethinking behaviours and redefining the success criteria of the brands of the future. To have the opportunity to partner with people, brands and companies who share these values is exciting and something we would like to continue to focus on.
What designs are you most proud and why?
We’re proud of all the projects we share, for different reasons. Here are a few of our more recent ones:
CF 18 Chocolatier
CF 18 Chocolatier represents a milestone – we created the brand identity, designed the custom packaging and explored the possibilities of new material (FibreForm), allowing us to avoid plastic. Wanting to give the packaging a second life, we dressed the boxed in textile with no glue to fix the inlays. This, together with deep blind embossing, tear-off opening, the foiled glassine paper with reference to the periodic table, the monochrome palette and typography represent CF18’s contemporary philosophy and a sense of modern luxury.
Gullmunn Spritfabrikk was founded by a female distiller in a male-dominated business. Inspired by the female vision (opposed to the Anthropocentric one) we portray an idea of nature where every being is equally important.
Himkok is the most sustainable bar-distillery in the world, located in Oslo. We collaborated with the Himkok team to develop their products with a custom bottle that reflects their empirical and creative counter-culture and feels like an extension of the bar itself.
The bottle is inspired by “shop furniture bottles”, glass containers used by drugstores as bulk containers that were permanently labelled by silkscreening enhancing their longevity. The bottles are spray-coated, the weight of the filled bottled is engraved in the glass together with the address of the bar/distillery, while the label is silk-screened with organic ink, making the bottle resilient and fit for reuse. The only perishable element is the paper seal.
Hellstrøm Sommer Aquavit
Hellstrøm Sommer Aquavit is our latest collaboration with Norwegian Michelin starred chef Eyvind Hellstrøm. We have collaborated on several projects. Here we got to collaborate with one of our favourite illustrators, Bendik Kaltenborn, and through his illustration, we rekindled the Scandinavian folklore of the Midsummer Night.
With Snåsa water, we were involved from the very beginning, when the company was nothing but a newfound source of water in the forest near the Snåsa lake. We were involved in giving shape to the brand identity, storytelling and bottle shape.
Backe i Grensen
Backe i Grensen is a family-owned department store and a heritage brand, the last department store of it’s kind in Oslo. We were challenged with the task of reconnecting the company’s history with a new generation of mindful and quality-focused consumers; this is an ongoing project and relationship we’re very proud of.
Nykr, is a natural, gender-neutral skincare brand, that is handmade in Oslo, challenging the beauty industry’s narrative of flawlessness and homogenisation. In parallel with the body acceptance movement, niche innovator brands like NYKR are connecting with a contrasting consumer desire for natural and inclusive beauty through organic formulas.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere. Every project comes with its own sources of inspiration, which are randomly mixed with our personal interests in art, fashion, movies and everyday life. From these seemingly disconnected inspirations, a path always emerges.
How do you build this into your designs?
We always do thorough research that informs the design and storytelling, and our inspirations are always a mix of the old and the new. For example, with Gullmunn Spritfabrikk we looked into the story of researcher Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) who, like the distiller herself, worked in a male-dominated profession. Her studies are today considered the very foundation of the term ecology.
The butterfly’s metamorphosis on the oak branch symbolises rebirth and change and is a metaphor to the process of distillation itself where the liquid turns to vapour, before reappearing again as a purified product. The illustration is made with the pointillism technique and silkscreened on the apothecary bottle with 7 colours. All collaborators in this project were women.
What challenges do you come across and how do you overcome them?
Time is often short and causes challenges especially in the production phase, and when you want to create something innovative – you need to push the limits of both materials and production processes. We’ve created valuable relations with different producers locally and internationally over the years. We find that know-how and good communication with experts in different fields allow us to push technical limits and exploring new possibilities.
For example with CF18 Chocolatier, we worked with Göteborgstryckeriet to experiment and test the limits of the paper, having to exclude thermoforming because of the production size, we explored the limits of debossing to be able to avoid plastic inlays. Limits can become opportunities. These things are small victories that make the extra headaches worth it.
Is there anything else that you would like to highlight?
I think material knowledge is becoming more and more important. There are no black & white answers to what defines a good material, it all depends on so many factors. No resource is endless, no matter how “green” it is. We need to know how it’s produced, where it’s coming from, its properties and choose the appropriate use for it. We see that our background as product designers have given us an additional dimension and expertise in creating the brands for the future.
Find out more about OlssønBarbieri by visiting: https://olssonbarbieri.com/