Design Ecosystem in Iceland

 { 🇮🇸 } – Iceland: Small, Yet Unfluential

A glimpse of Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital. Photo by Evelyn Paris.

Iceland, a tiny island nation located in the North Atlantic Ocean, isn’t a country that makes headlines often – a small, extremely peaceful and relative remote place, it doesn’t really attract much attention. But despite its size and insularity, this Nordic nation is managing to leave its mark on the global design scene. Let’s find out how.

Iceland: Tiny and Remote, but Influential Nonetheless

The population of Iceland isn’t exactly big: at short of 350.000 people, the number of people living in Iceland is comparable to that of some minor cities in mainland Europe. Nevertheless, its limited population hasn’t prevented Iceland to produce a number of influential people — including in the field of design.

Above all, Icelandic design is innovative and individual, and it strives to be one with nature. Most Icelanders feel a deep connection with nature — the country is home to some of the most remarkable geographical sceneries the world over, and people from all over the globe have been flocking to this tiny island nation to witness and enjoy them.

Back in 2008, Iceland was hit hard by a financial crisis, so much so that all three major commercial banks operating in the country defaulted, which caused the economy to collapse. Eventually, thanks partly to the growing tourist industry, Iceland managed to get back on its feet, but Icelanders have definitely learned from this event, and have embraced change to make the most of it.

Icelanders — similarly to their fellow Nordic cousins in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland — see the need for design that is above all sustainable, organic, and ultimately respectful towards nature and people.

Iceland isn’t just reacting to change, it is at the forefront of it.

Iceland’s State of Design

Despite its size, small size and remote location — it is roughly halfway between continental Europe and North America — Iceland and Icelanders have definitely more of a voice than countries and nations of similar size. That statement is even more true when one looks at what the Íslendingar (as they call themselves in their language) have achieved in the field of design over the years.

Icelandic design’s individuality has come across in a number of projects, particularly in the field of graphic design, for both digital and print formats. A number of people have cemented Icelandic graphic design’s position in the world, while also helping to shape its direction.

In recent years, one of the most recognisable artists to come out of Iceland is Siggi Eggertsson, an illustrator that has seduced the likes of Nike, The New Yorker, Coca Cola and GQ, just to name a few, with his unique illustrative style.

Aerial view of central Reykjavík. Photo by Ji Seongkwang.

Typographic design has also been on the agenda of Icelandic designers in recent years, most notably on that of Guðmundur Úlfarsson and Mads Freund Brunse, an Icelandic-Danish design duo who founded the online type foundry Or Type in 2013.

In the words of its founders, their typefaces “aim at challenging the conventions found in typographic traditions and contemporary values”, something which is clearly visible when browsing through Or Type’s growing font catalogue.

The nation’s attention towards its design industry is proved by the existence of initiatives such as Iceland Design and Architecture / Miðstöð hönnunar og arkitektúrs, AKA HA, a resource where one can learn about events, organisations, and institutions related to the world of design which are present in the country.

Another important resource for those interested in learning more about Icelandic design is the dual-language, biannual publication HA, which focuses on design and architecture and is published by Iceland Design and Architecture (HA).

Design Education in Reykjavík

Design education — just like almost anything else in the country – is centered in Reykjavík, its political, cultural, economic and educational heart. For a city of its size (273 kilometers sq and a little over 130.000 people), Iceland’s capital boasts quite a few universities and academies where one can pursue an education in the various design fields.

Among these institutions, the one enjoying the best reputation is undoubtedly the Iceland University of the Arts / Listaháskóli Íslands, or IUA in short, established in 1998. IUA’s Design Department has been where many of the most influential names in Icelandic design have studied, and it is generally considered to be the best place to obtain an education in design in the country.

Where to Work from in Reykjavík?

There’s certainly no shortage of places where to work from in Iceland’s picture-perfect capital. This is true for both co-working spaces, an increasingly-popular choice for many people, and laptop-friendly cafés.

In the first category, it is worth mentioning MINØR Coworking, a co-working space founded by photographers Íris Ann Sigurðardóttir and Ragnar Visage. In addition to being a photographer, Ragnar is also a graphic designer, and their co-working is often frequented by creatives. MINØR regularly hosts design workshops and other events, such as concerts and markets.

The most popular go-to cafés for getting some work done is Reykjavik Roasters, which has three addresses in the city — on Kárastígur 1, Brautarholt 2 and Freyjugata 41. I would say that their Brautarholt location is the best one for the purpose of working as it’s more spacious, but hey, someone might prefer their joint on Kárastígur as it’s cosier. Whichever one you choose, you won’t be disappointed.

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Gianmarco Caprio / Content & Community Manager @ Phase

Content creator, editor and community manager at Phase.