We dropped by studio Hnoss in Toppstöðin, where we met two sparkling designers, illustrators and best friends, Droplaug Benediktsdóttir and Sísí Ingólfsdóttir. Founded in 2011, they aim for creating beautiful illustrations and transforming them into all kinds of products. Their wrapping paper and gift cards have been very popular and soon they plan on heading in the direction of product design for children, made out of wood.
Where does the name Hnoss come from?
Sísí: When we started the process, we wanted to design something nostalgic together and we discovered this beautiful Icelandic name from mythology. The word means “precious” in Icelandic, we just felt it was fitting. And even though it’s Icelandic, it works well abroad even though it can be maybe a little hard to pronounce.
Droplaug: We also wanted to have the name short and easy to remember, we have noticed that the elderly people here really like it.
Sísí: Of course we Googled the name and we were a little bit bummed out that there URL hnoss.com had already been bought by a Japanese/Korean/Asian guy, and it costs a lot of money to buy it back. The URL hnoss.is was also occupied. But of course we registered the brand, and the categories that we wanted to design in.
You are best friends I hear, how did this idea come up to start a design company?
Droplaug: Sísi had just arrived back home from her honeymoon in Thailand and yeah, I had newly finished my studies when we started, what I can say it wasn’t planned it just happened. We run a small business in a sense, the process is that we design smaller things that we can easily even out our budgets by selling, and we always try to keep the expensive s in a way that we can afford the next thing that we want to produce.
We originally planned to design children’s toys made out of Icelandic wood but that turned out to be too expensive. We then scaled down, and started designing gift paper. Today we have already designed six types of gift papers and many types of gift cards which we have on offer in five to six various stores in Reykjavík, so we are back to our original plan of designing children’s toys.
How has the combined design process been between the two of you?
Sísi: Well, it’s often like that one of us comes up with a design that the other one comments on, and has affects for example on the colour or the size of the design. We always both approve things before we send them out.
How do you describe your style?
Droplaug: I am very fascinated by graffiti, street art and figures, but we both have similar kinds of styles so we connect very well when it comes to our sketches and designs. We have similar styles in a way, which I think is very interesting.
“We call our different designs; bábyljur, which means playfulness”
Sísi: We decided on our colour palette for our first Christmas gift papers production, 2 years back, that we couldn’t use strong colours because we were using this environmentally friendly paper. We want things to fit, and we always decide on these things together. We call our different designs; bábyljur, which means playfulness, which is perfect for our gift papers designs because we want to remind us that we are freely designing this and that, without having serious consequences if things are not working.
So, is the paper itself nature friendly?
Droplaug: We looked in to various printing companies, but we were immediately very fond of Guðjón Ó because he runs an ecological printers company here in Iceland. He introduced us to this recycled paper that we then decided to use for our designs. We liked the texture of this paper, and also for our concept in designing gift paper, that usually is disposable in a way. People wrap gifts in, and then they throw the paper away so we are happy to use this paper.
Sísi: But we are not necessarily going to print our designs here in Iceland, if we get a better deal abroad then of course we will. It is not good for a start-up like us to prize our products too high, just because we are paying for an inland service.
What inspires you as designers?
Droplaug: I really like figurative elements, especially when I lived in London; I was very fascinated by street art and graffiti there. I remember a particular exhibition held by Tate Modern Museum that was all over the city that was very inspirational to me. I also intended to write my BA thesis about a stop-motion graffiti artist from Argentina that was very interesting and devoted in what he was doing. (here) He created so many great things, for example he made spiders crawl in to people´s houses and stuff like that. So basically this artist combined my two interest zones of drawing and animation into one. My teacher on the other hand didn’t like this idea as much, so I did something else for my BA thesis.
“I am a part of the Simpson generation”
But yes, this culture is not very visible here in Reykjavík; my friend came up with this idea that could make the city different in a way, he wanted to paint all the hydrants red with white dots, so we would have mushrooms in our city landscape all over the place. That would be interesting! It would also be refreshing to see more new ideas like this and of course graffiti, real graffiti, not tags. The tags annoy me in a way, but I’m not going to talk about that!
Sísi: I am a part of the Simpson generation; I had a dream to be one of their drawers actually when I was younger. I was a student in an acting school, but soon I found out that that didn’t suit me well enough. I was drawn to draw and design, me and Droplaug have that in common. It is different though when you are designing or drawing, that you keep in mind that you are producing a product that is to be sold. Me and Droplaug have sometimes illustrated or drawn something’s that are not appropriate, in relations to societal limits. But in our designs for our clients we are very appropriate.
Droplaug: Yes, we were thinking about opening an exhibition someday, to showcase our inappropriate art. This exhibition would be called in- appropriate, to refer both to the duality of the word, oh.. is this appropriate or if it’s just inappropriate in general.
How are you received in the open market?
Sísi: We enjoy very much to participate in shows like Handverk og hönnun, Hrafnagil or Pop-Up markets, because then we can talk to our clients and they often express their opinions about our products. They often give us ideas about what they want us to design. For example they want us to design wallpapers, but that is a bigger production.
Droplaug: Yes, and also, its different to have a pattern permanently on or wall versus having a more complex art piece illustrated on the wall paper print. I think our prints, from our gift papers, would work more as wall stickers.
“I’ve heard it’s a very good meditation for people with ADHD”
I am drawn to your Origami that is all around us, do you sell those as well?
Droplaug: We sold a couple of those Origami’s before Christmas, but I love doing them. It’s so relaxing to make them, for example in front of the TV; it’s so repetitive and calm.
Sísí: I’ve heard it’s a very good meditation for people with ADHD.
Droplaug: We wanted to create lights or something out of this Origami´s. I learned how to make them on YouTube.
How do you like to be a start- up here in Iceland?
Droplaug: We are so lucky to have so many good people around us, to advice us to run this business. But we are also taking things slow, so that has helped us a lot.
Sísí: We also have regular customers, other than our mothers! Sometimes people also drop by to our studio here in Toppstöðin, for a coffee and a chat. We sometimes also host open workshops that we advertise.
So finally, how is life outside work, do you spend a lot of time together?
Droplaug: Yes, we are together all the time! No, just kidding, we have the same group of friends though and we often spend quality time together.
Sísí: My children idolize Droplaug and her boyfriend, and we really think that is great.
We wish the Hnoss team the best in the future, hoping to see their designs pop up in different kinds of mediums.
Interview: Ása Baldursdóttir
Photos: Nanna Dís