Ragnar Freyr & Ragnheiður

Ragnheiður is a product designer that is driven by a mixture of play, naiveness and order. Ragnar Freyr is a graphic designer that has a passion for blogging about creativity. Despite similar names and interest in design, the interviewees have a different artistic view. We sat down with Ragnheiður and Ragnar Freyr on a rainy afternoon, in Reykjavík city, with a cup of Japanese tea and their pug dog.

First of all, what can you tell me about this dog sitting in your lap?

Ragnar Freyr: This is Panda, our little pug dog. She has been sleeping pretty much since she came to Iceland. She is turning six soon and doing well!
Ragnheiður: I think she has had a good life here, although it’s a little bit colder here in Iceland.

What kind of character is Panda? Does she have a influence on your life?

Ragnar Freyr: Yes, she is a jiggly bundle, but has a great need for sleep. She lowers our blood pressure.
Ragnheiður: She can be very disturbing, with her barking. But we love her dearly.

Bentey by Ragnheiður_Ösp

When did you two meet and when did you become a couple?

Ragnheiður: We met at the Icelandic Academy of Arts, we started studying there the same year. We were even in the same group for our first assignment.
Ragnar Freyr: Yeah, then we started to notice each other and started dating after a year of being classmates.

When was this?

Ragnheiður: This was maybe 2003, wasn’t it?
Ragnar Freyr: Yes, that’s right.

When did you move in to your current apartment?

Ragnar Freyr: We moved in here four years ago. We are very fortunate to have this view.
Ragnheiður: Yes, it’s great to experience the seasons through the window, it’s very cozy.

Notknot by Ragnheiður

Have you been doing projects together, after you graduated?

Ragnar Freyr: Yes, we have worked together but we have always wanted to do more. However, it’s hard to find the time for cooperation outside our daily work.
Ragnheiður: Well, we did posters together for a competition held by Designboom, were the theme was the environment.
Ragnar Freyr: Yeah, we did two posters and made the final round, the posters were shown at a poster show in Seoul and Tokyo.

“I’m focusing on small items and accessories for the home”

Do you discuss your other work with each other?

Ragnar Freyr: You could say that we are perpetually in some sort of cooperation, because we are always giving our opinions about each other’s projects.
Ragnheiður: We discuss ideas all the time and it doesn’t matter where or when.

Ragnheiður, what can you tell me about your design?

Right now, I’m focusing on small items and accessories for the home, designed under the name Umemi. I’m currently working with wool for pillows, and will continue to do so, especially for DesignMarch 2012. Wood is also a very exciting material for my design, as is the craft of woodturning.

What fascinates me is using materials in my design that lasts. Plastic is exciting but it is not an environmentally friendly material and the things designed out of plastic don’t necessarily last or have endurance. So all in all, I think natural materials are most exciting for me as a designer.

You don´t approve of using plastic in design?

Ragnheiður: Well, plastic is widely used in packaging and disposable items and it almost instantly becomes garbage. My mini-figures, the dolls that I collect, are made out of plastic. But those plastic figures have meaning, they are collectibles in an artistic sense. So how plastic is used in design and in what context is important.

Letterpress printed labels for Notknot by Ragnar Freyr

What can you tell me about your collections? What do you collect?

Ragnheiður: Well I mostly collect plastic figures and toys…
Ragnar Freyr: What does she NOT collect?
Ragnheiður: Hey, I have constrained myself on my collecting habits over the years. When I was younger I collected everything from pencils, erasers, napkins, candy wrappers and stones. Now I collect unique toys from Asia, mainly from Japan. Dolls that have large eyes fascinate me especially. I collect things that I find strange and interesting.

Have you ever been to Japan?

Ragnheiður: I’ve been there once. My sister is moving to Japan for a year and I’m going to visit her. I can’t wait!

“It can be very awarding to help those companies through the power of graphic design”

What about you Ragnar, do you collect things?

Ragnar Freyr: No, not really! When we became a couple her habit of collecting and my minimalistic nature was a stark contrast between us. I am what you may call a declutterer. I don’t like to have too much stuff around me. The only things I collect nowadays are books by Terry Pratchett that I have been reading for years.

Ragnar, what can you tell me about your business and graphic design?

Ragnar Freyr: I run an international graphic and digital product design studio, under my own name in downtown Reykjavík. I try to offer quality work for print, the web and mobile platforms. I think it is best to be as well rounded as possible in terms of design. I mainly work for small or middle-sized companies. Lately I’ve been focusing on helping start-up companies. In the environment of start-up companies everything happens fast and it’s a very dynamic field. It can be very awarding to help those companies through the power of graphic design. It’s fun to be a part of their journey from the start.

What can you tell me about compromising, is it hard to mediate your artistic ideas to accompany the clients ideas?

Ragnar Freyr: There is always a fine line combining different ideas, and it is sometimes very difficult not to compromise. I’m getting better at this through my experience in the business. Of course I’m selling my service, but the service is in the form of expertise. So the client is buying not only design, but also knowledge. That has to be considered in the process.

Posters for Breakbeat.is by Ragnar Freyr

What is your favorite assignment up until now?

Ragnar Freyr: My all time favorite project is Breakbeat.is, which I have been designing for the past 9 years. I’ve done around 40 posters and flyers for them.

What about you Ragnheiður? Who are your clients?

Ragnheiður: Well, I think it’s a little bit different in the product design world. The business model is not about the clients ordering works from you. You just have to think about your target market when you design. You have to be familiar with marketing in business and find the right people to work with, so you can focus on the design itself. My target group is mainly women, because research has shown that there are mainly women that decorate homes.

In Iceland, it is very common that product designers do everything in their business, from designing and producing, to marketing and selling their products. So I am very focused on for whom I’m designing for and so on.

Createmake.com by Ragnar Freyr

Ragnar, I heard that you’ve been blogging about interesting things?

Ragnar Freyr: Yep, I am the writer of Createmake, a blog about the ideas, process and products of brilliant creators and makers from all over the world. I also run a site called Inspivids, which is a regularly updated collection of videos that inspire thoughts and social action. I love posting videos of designers and their process on how they work and what makes the design and so forth. I’ve gotten very positive feedback and I have a few hundred readers on daily basis.

Ragnheiður, you also have a blog? What is it about?

Ragnheiður: Well, I’m not very active on it now. I started blogging when I was working on my master’s thesis. My research project was cuteness in Japan and the plan was to create a database about cute things. Then I mostly wrote about my design process.

How do you define cuteness?

Ragnheiður: There are many scientific things that have been used to define cuteness. For example large eyes and fat cheeks, small limbs and things that can be connected to children. Things that trigger  maternal instinct and, basically raising certain feelings of motherhood. Now this has evolved, many other things are considered cute today. Cuteness in Japan can be especially bizarre, for example teenagers that dresses up in costumes, doll costumes. If somebody would do that here in Iceland, it would be considered very strange.

Sykur by Ragnheiður

Do you think that you two are strange?

Ragnheiður: I think everybody is a little bit strange.
Ragnar Freyr: Yes, actually I think it´s necessary to be a little strange.

” I love meditation and Buddhism”

What is your passion in life, other than arts and design?

Ragnheiður: I love meditation and Buddhism, and this has to do with the changes in our lifestyles that we made over the last couple of years by changing our eating habits for example. Meditation is actually something I think should be taught in school!
Ragnar Freyr: I’ve been interested in mountain biking lately. I can’t wait to ride this summer.

You both try to live healthy lifestyles. What can you tell me about that?

Ragnar Freyr: I’ve been a vegetarian over a year now and I think it suits me very well. I’m very compassionate towards animals and I think the variety in vegetarian food is great.
Ragnheiður: I try to follow him. We prepare healthy vegetarian meals on weekdays but on weekends, I like to have meat! We try to buy Icelandic products, mostly, I like my Icelandic lamb now and again.

Last, but not the least, what does the future hold for the two of you?

Ragnheiður: I think for me it’s about designing for markets abroad. Even though Icelanders are very interested in design, the Icelandic market isn’t that large. I would like to add people to my team, and aim to increase cooperation with others that have expertise in other fields.

Ragnar Freyr: I think I will develop my own digital products in the future. Web applications, for example. I also have a few side projects. For instance, I run Tvinna.is, with two of my friends, where companies can advertise open job positions for the creative and IT fields.

We leave with a memory of dolls with large eyes, the snoring pug dog and the healthy smoothie Ragnar made for us, wishing the designer couple a long lasting carrier and great opportunities in the future.

Ragnar Freyr


Ragnheiður Ösp


Interview: Ása Baldursdóttir
Photographs: Nanna Dís