Interview with Christina Magnussen of Gala, and Hans Christian Oren of Oh Yeah Studio

July 01 2016

For many years the two of you worked together as Oslo based design agency Oh Yeah Studio. Today, Hans Christian Øren continues to run Oh Yeah Studio, while Christina Magnussen has recently gone on to found design & illustration agency, Gala.

Cooper: Are you both from Oslo? Where are you living now? Is there a scene in Oslo?

CM: I’m from right outside Oslo where I grew up on a small island. I’ve been living in Oslo the past 15 years where I have my office and apartment. The design and illustration scene in Oslo is quite small, but very good. We have loads of good designers here, like Heydays, Non Format, Anti/Grand people, Bielke & Yang, Yokoland, The MVM and all the illustrators at byHands illustration agency. There’s always a design venue to go to, which is nice.

HC: I’m from the west coast In Norway and grew up in small industrial town called Høyanger. There it is only 2000 inhabitants. Very nice town, but I was very eager to see the world and the biggest town in Norway was Oslo. I live in Grunerløkka now. It is almost in the center and was by the way ranked one of the best neighborhoods to live in the world. It is absolutely a scene in Norway. I see both students and freelancers doing really good work now. It is more than just few companies in Oslo that deliver, but companies and freelancers all around Norway. And that is cool I think.

You both graduated from the acclaimed Central Saint Martins in London, right? What is the best thing or realization that you took away from your time there?

CM: I studied graphic design at Westerdals and illustration at Saint Martins. After finished school I stepped away from the mac for a year, not knowing what to do. I then started just playing around realizing that the two disciplines goes hand in hand.

HC: I also studied Graphic design in Oslo and Master in Visual communication. Me and Christina met at Westerdals, but it was only after a few years we started working together. One of the great things was of course Christina and number two was to find an occupation that I love. Westerdals was great, it was a school that focused on concepts, not only design. What was said was important. And I remember particularly one comment from my teacher and it was “good enough is not good enough”.

We have seen an exceptional quality of work flow from within the walls of Oh Yeah Studio since 2008. What made the two of you decide to divide and conquer? What were each of your reservations and motivations for doing so?

CM: We split up because we where a couple as well as partners. After working together for so many years we figured it was better not to have a design studio together. We do projects together still, from time-to-time.

HC: The truth is that she was really difficult and annoying :) No, there was no problem. It was just that we had different goals for the future. We respected each other’s opinions and are still best friends. Many people are impressed that we are still good friends. We’re both relaxed to such things, so it was entirely natural for us. We still help each other out when one of us have a problem, a question or just some comments on a work.

How did the two of you work through creative differences?

CM: Ha, let’s see, we had quite some differences when working together, but also the same urge to create the best we could. So somehow we worked it out, giving and taking.

HC: Everything was fine but it was not like a walk in the park. The conclusion is simple: It was fun, but at the same time exhausting. It was some differences and maybe we sometimes was to honest to each other and after a while it became a bit tiresome to bring a relationship into the various jobs / projects.

I can only imagine their was a high degree of trust, inspiration and positive tension between you, do you miss that dynamic?

CM: As I work alone now, I do miss a partner. It’s easier to work alone but you don’t have someone to back you up and give you feedback on things. I am on the lookout for a partner, but it has to be the right person with the same goals and passion.

HC: Perfect answer.

What would you want greats like El Lissitzky or Gunnar S. Gundersen to see in your work? How does the surrealism and abstract nature of your work translate to communications design?

HC: That would be awesome! I am not sure what they would say, but hopefully they say something like “They’re on to something”… It is not always we have the freedom to make this. We also have some clients that just want an identity or a layout. But sometimes it comes clients that have a brief, but just want our expression and we can do whatever we want. These are of course the jobs we want all the time.

Christina, please tell us about Gala? Did design and image making just get more personal for you? What are you currently working on?

CM: As Gala I still do both graphic design and illustration, not that different from when I worked at Oh Yeah Studio. But I have more freedom now to do other things. I did a lot of drawing before, it’s more graphics in my work now, which I really like to do. I just finished designing a book and a magazine, but I also do illustration projects for byHands, my illustration agency. Mostly for the commercial industry here in Norway.

I was initially drawn to Oh Yeah Studio for the underlying aesthetic, only to become a believer after quickly realizing that you’re willing to bring your work to most any design discipline. Hans, is there any medium that you haven’t tamed, and what might we expect to see from you next?

HC: I’m not sure really, but I will still have the philosophy, aim to seduce, inspire and create emotional responses to all visual projects. Still do projects that is for the greater good, like helping organizations and donate work for a good cause.

I’ve worked with you guys on a number of projects now for IdN, adidas and Society6 Minutes, always a great experience and a pleasure. How does collaboration fit into your ideological expression and how did you convince James Martin of Vim & Vigor to work on the motion graphics for your S6 Minutes piece?

CM: Collabs are always fun to do, working with- and getting to know other creatives. If you have a good progress and communication, the outcome is always interesting. When we worked with James Martin, we all ready knew him through his website and other social medias. He actually wanted to come to Norway and work, he lived in Finland at that time. So he was very keen on doing something with us, he actually moved here a couple of years ago and got a job. So we meet from time to time and, yeah, this collab was very fruitful.

HC: Good answer:)

What might you be doing if you weren’t making art?

CM: Hard to say, but when I grew up I wanted to be a vet, so maybe living outside the city working with animals. No deadlines or projects gone bad :)

HC: I don’t know. I think i would work with charity organizations or other activities serving the common good. Design is absolutely my dream job and hobby, so it is difficult to pick another occupation. So it is perfect to contribute design or illustration to charity organizations sometimes.

Are you particular about the conditions of your surroundings when you are creating?

CM: It comes quite naturally, after a while you have a set of tools you use, but I try to develop these things from project to project so I don’t keep making the same stuff. But clients often have an idea of what they want, after seeing my work, so it’s not always easy to do new things, especially when deadlines tend to be tight.

HC: Good answer. Just want to add the workflow. I don’t think we have a workflow that we follow every time. But personally I am kind of everywhere and try to get a picture of the feeling I want to give. And then i just follow the intuition. I always think about the possibilities even the unrealistic ones and do a lot of research, maybe too much. After this I have a brainstorm and try to find a concept. While I am trying to come up with a good Idea I have to visualize them at once to see if the the idea has the potential to be visualized in an unique way.

Hans, can you tell us about THIS IS NOW, what inspired this exhibition?

HC: The exhibition THIS IS NOW started first with a funny thought, and that we may have thought was unrealistic. After a while it was enough considering and I decided simply to do it.

The exhibition was named “THIS IS NOW” to indicate the relevance they represent in our current time. All are experts in their respective creative fields, and have left a deep impact in the industry’s recent years. These leading creators have staked out the future directions and trends and their work is described as iconic. 

THIS IS NOW was a poster exhibition which initially was to showcase some of the best creative in design, illustration and motion in the world. The aim of the exhibition was to both inspire the creatives and students who want to work in this field in the future. We chose 15 creative people and agencies that we thought would inspire designers to date. The set I chose was Jasper Goodall, Jesse Auersalo, Hvass & Hannibal, Sawdust, Ice Cream for Free, Dvein, Deanne Cheuk, NAM, Vasava, Hey, Sam Green, HelloMe, Serial Cut, Hort, and Non Format. There are of course many more out there, but maybe it comes 15 new this year?

Another thing that was important. The idea that this was an art project that was not reserved for the upper class. Good art doesn’t have to be expensive so prices were at a reasonable level. It is also how to say that visual boundaries have never been closer to each other. I’m not trying to create discord between the institutionalized art world and the rest of the creative sphere. This is what our young generation are interested in. According to the textbook is the difference between an artist and a designer that a designer gets paid. But it’s wrong. Art is very much a commercial product. Artists also live to get paid for the work they do. Not that this is so very important, but it has annoyed me a bit for a long time.

What is your relationship with music as it relates to art making?

CM: I like music, but I don’t have a certain relationship towards it. Of course I listen to a lot to music, when working. It can bring you up and give you energy to work, but I also listen a lot to radio shows, like Radioresepsjonen and Radiolab.

Hc: I agree.

Interview by Justin Cooper © 2013