Since long before starting Mat Dolphin we’ve been hugely inspired by Non-Format. The two man studio is run by Jon Forss and Kjell Ekhorn and the work they produce is beautiful, interesting, boundary pushing and, at times, a bit weird. The pair have created a style that is both completely unique and instantly recognisable for a pretty impressive client list. Since establishing the company in London in 2000, the pair have gone on to work with the likes of Nike, Coca-Cola, K-Swiss, Gap, Sony, Adobe, EMI, Orange, Rick Owens, Nokia and The Economist as well as a number of small independent record labels – music packaging being one of the things for which they’re best known. Now based in Minneapolis (Jon) and his native Norway (Kjell), their incredible typography, design and art direction has spawned a host of imitators but by the time most people have caught on, they’re already two steps ahead.
They were kind enough to spend some time answering our Ten Questions. Here’s what they had to say.
1. How do you describe what you do?
Jon: We could try to list a great many individual activities, including art direction, image making and the creation of custom typefaces but it’s all just graphic design really.
Kjell: Whenever I’m compelled to declare my occupation, I just write Graphic Designer.
2. What made you want to do what you do?
Jon: My father is a sculptor, furniture designer and creator of automata. He was the one who first introduced me to the Letraset catalogue, back in the 1970s. I used to copy the most unusual of the typefaces onto my school exercise books. This led to a passion for typography and, eventually, I realised there was a way of turning this into a living.
Kjell: Ever since I was old enough to understand that I would one day grow up, I knew I wanted to work somewhere within the visual arts. I simply loved drawing more than anything else (even more than speed skating). How I ended up exactly where I am today is much more accidental. A million forks in the road leads from a small town in the arctic to meeting up with Jon in London and setting up Non-Format.
3. How would you describe your workplace?
Jon: We keep it simple, that’s for sure. One main room each is all we really need, apart from housing our collections of magazines and books. They take up quite a bit of extra space.
Kjell: Currently it’s ‘Scando-rustic’, modest, but effective. I love the thought of having a big studio space again to tumble about in, but in reality, I could just as easily do most of the work from within a wardrobe. At least as long as the internet is working.
4. What is your favourite colour?
Jon: As Non-Format? Black. No question. It’s forgiving and demanding in equal measure.
5. Who is your favourite artist or writer?
Jon: Yeah. We’re really not that good on ‘favourites’ questions. Apart from our favourite colour, of course. That one’s easy.
Kjell: Favourite? One above the rest? Impossible.
6. What was your previous job?
Jon: We were both working for the publishing industry. Is that vague enough for you? Before that we both worked for advertising and design agencies. Kjell was in Norway and I was in Bath, UK. The work we create as Non-Format is streets ahead of anything we ever did on our own.
7. Do you work within a team? If so, how many people do you work with?
Kjell: It’s just the two of us. We team up with others from time to time though, and work closely with photographers, like Jake Walters who’s been a close collaborator on many projects over the years.
8. Do you listen to music whilst working? If so, what do you listen to?
Jon: I certainly do. I can’t work in silence. At the moment I’m listening to the Seftel and Zoon van snooK albums, which we’re packaging right now. Also on heavy rotation is the new Villagers album, Twin Shadow and the 24-hour version of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. I’m also working my way through the Radiolab podcasts.
Kjell: I’m more on and off with regards to the choice of silence, podcasts or music. When I’m focused and in the moment I don’t pay attention to much else than the work itself. That said, if we’re packaging an album for someone, it’ll go on heavy rotation for sure.
9. Who inspires you to do what you’re doing?
Jon: It’s all about those priceless moments when we’re sure we’ve hit on something interesting. Something surprising. As Freddy Mercury said, once or twice, it’s a kind of magic.
Kjell: Creating something I really like gives me such a buzz. I know something’s good when I have to get up in the middle of the night just to take another look. Of course other artists inspires me greatly but nothing compares to the feeling of having contributed to the creation of something really good. That’s what get’s me up in the morning and what prevents me from going to bed at night.
10. Which advice has helped you the most?
Jon: “To suggest is to create; to describe is to destroy.” — Robert Doisneau
Kjell: “If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein
You can check out the rest of Non-Format’s brilliant work on their site, follow them on Twitter and pick up a copy of Lovesong – the excellent monograph which celebrates the first seven years of their work – here.
Massive thanks to Jon and Kjell for taking the time out to get involved. Much appreciated chaps.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this Ten Questions. If so, you can see the rest of the series here.
Thanks for reading
Phil and Tom