View from Reykjavik: An Interview with Eythor Pall Eythorsson /

Simaskrain Phonebook (above); playing cards, front and back (below).

by Allison Gegan

This conversation with native Icelander Eythor Pall Eythorsson is one in a series of occasional profiles of designers working around the world. Eythorsson is a graphic designer, world traveler, and musician. Gegan interviewed him in a Reykjavik pub earlier this year.

How long have you been a designer?
I started playing around with making imagery on the computer when I was about 13 years old, after I went to Barcelona, Spain, on a family vacation. In Barcelona I saw the street artist make spacey images using basic shapes and spray-cans, working in layers. When I saw that, I figured out how layers in the software worked. I started using Corel Photo Paint, and only made space images using the same techniques. That was all at around 1997. After doing these images for a few years, I did my first print, which was a CD cover for the school marching band; I played the French horn.

Where did you go to school?
In high school I spent more time doing graphics than actual school work. After being there for 4-1/2 years (supposed to be 4, but I flunked a few things), I decided that this study was just a waste of time for me, so I applied for Iceland Academy of the Arts. I got in even though one of the demands of getting in is having that “student” degree.

Do you carry a sketchbook?
Depends. If I’m drawing a logo, I like to start out using a sketchbook, or just white sheets of paper. If I’m doing layouts or typefaces I like to go straight to the computer…

Do any designers influence your work in particular?
Not really. I do know of many famous designers, but I try not to look at too much online or in books. I like to make up my own mind when it comes to what I find sweet. Let’s say I don’t like to program my mind with what other people are doing—even though it’s nice to see—I don’t go to great lengths seeking for it.

What do you look for in an employer?
An employer that treats me with the same respect that I treat him/her. This goes for freelance as well as at a firm.

What do Icelandic employers value in their new hires?
I’m not exactly sure what they look for in designers, but from my experience it looks like it has been programmed into people that what they see in their heads is what it should be. For them I think it could be a bit frustrating, because they are usually not trained in design or arts of any kind, except maybe music, and never have a clear image of what they want. This goes for freelancing, too.

At ad agencies, I think they look for software skills, basic typography, and speed instead of a good designer. But if two individuals apply who have these qualities, the one with design skills has the upper hand. There aren’t that many design studios here worth mentioning…

Based on what you know of Canada and the U.S., how might practicing graphic design in Iceland be different from doing so in North America?
I’m not sure. Most graphic design in Iceland is a mixture of [styles from] different parts of the world, mostly a mixture between New York graphic design and the Swiss. I’m not sure if I’m an exception there.

How are Icelandic designers responding to the very difficult shift in the economy?
Some are working jobs they don’t like, some aren’t, some do both. Some do freelance now, and some have moved out of Iceland. But at this time the main investments are being made in the creative fields. So designers are trying, and should try, to get themselves out there. 

What is your idea of the perfect job?
My perfect job would be: freelancing online, whilst traveling the world, and no advertising. Designing books, and other publications. So that I have enough free time to make music on the side—that would be great. One can dream, but sometimes dreams do come true.

Tell us what you’re working on now.
I’m working on a few typefaces and a book on restaurants in Reykjavik, then some other small projects to make ends meet.

What are your hobbies?
Graphic design and making music. I know it probably sounds weird that my hobby is what I do for a living. But I think that’s exactly the way it should be: to get paid for what you love to do. 

Which countries have you traveled to so far?
Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, Andorra, Luxembourg, Holland, England, Canada, USA, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Australia, Japan. I think!

What is your idea of an important achievement?
Making the most out of what you want to do in life. Not to get stuck at some desk job that you don’t like—basically to follow what you want to do. That is, I think, maybe the only real achievement.    

What is your favorite font? Least favorite?
I don’t really have a favorite font. There are too many typefaces out there to decide on one. My least favorite is Helvetica, and it has nothing to do with the movie Helvetica. It’s everywhere. It’s like having pizza every day. First it’s good, then you just can’t eat any more.

If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?
I'd travel to a different galaxy, check out the graphics there, and see if other rules of physics apply…. Maybe the wavelengths of light are different and all colors and visual perception are totally different. I think it would be a wonderful experience.

Allison Gegan is the founder and creative director of Smashmint Design. She served on the AIGA Seattle Board from 2004-2007.

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