Award-winning art director and designer Jens Nilsson’s work can be found on anything from a rock band’s album cover, ice cream containers, an eyewear store’s branding, and has even been featured on the Today show. The Stockholm-based designer’s ability to conform to any style might be related to where he first found his love for design.
“When I was young, I was really into making my own amateur horror movies together with my friends,” Jens tells Shaping Design. “All of the movies needed posters, so that's sort of how I started playing around with type, photos, and color, and what led me to a media, film, and graphic design program in high school.”
Understanding how Nilsson got started contextualizes his work and passion. While his services range from web design to photography, he finds himself drawn most to custom-made typography, a skill at which he excels. Nilsson’s typography is so vivid and tailored to each project, that no commonalities can be found between his different works. There’s no sign to suggest they were created by the same person, save for their high quality.
Nilsson’s focus on typography, a notoriously difficult area of design, stems from his willingness to put in the time and not take the easy way out by relying on available resources. Reflecting on his path as a designer, he comments, “I would say that the first 10 to 15 years were very challenging. It took a long time to figure out what I liked and what I wanted to do.”
"A lot of clients come to me wanting to look like someone else, so I say that's the exact opposite of the way we should go."
When fearlessness meets function in branding
Nilsson is a staunch believer in “fearless and distinct branding,” striving for the most honest and unique direction, even if it’s not the easiest one. He elaborates: “A lot of clients come to me wanting to look like someone else, so I say that's the exact opposite of the way we should go. Even though it's human nature to want to ‘fit in’ and be like everyone else, I don't really think that's something that should be the foundation of a good brand identity.”
In other words, while positioning yourself in relation to others is a natural instinct, a truly unique brand identity has to start from scratch and examine the building blocks that make your brand what it is.
A great example of Nilsson’s work is a rebrand of the Danish ice cream Wauw. Their old packaging used a handwritten font on a white background, an inoffensive container that had a hard time standing out from others on the shelf. Nilsson reimagined the packaging to both stand out and better represent the brand.
Wauw’s new container already draws attention by use of a black background. Completing the look, Nilsson’s bold, custom-made font gives the product a sense of excitement and offsets the sense of luxury that the black background creates.
The side of the container exclaims in bold, friendly letters, “Hey you! There’s no added sugar in this ice cream.” Looking at Wauw’s new ice cream immediately conveys the most important things about it: honesty, health, and taste.
“The challenge is to find a good mix of being fearless and functional, I think,” Nilsson states. “It's still branding and not art we are doing here. Legibility, contrasts, and coherent design systems should still be of high importance.”
The hunt for inspiration
When looking for design inspiration, Nilsson reveals it’s a constant process of attuning his views and taste in regards to new work. “Every single day is like: ‘I kind of like that, but I don't like that; that would have been great if they only did that,” he explains. It's also a constant hunt for nice color combinations and new typefaces that possibly could be of use on Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest, Are.na, books, magazines, and so on.”
Nilsson’s rebranding of the Norwegian eyewear company KAIBOSH exemplifies his approach to design. The company felt that its branding had become stale and wanted a more expressive and exciting identity. Through the use of an eye-catching custom typeface and expressive colors and layout, the KAIBOSH store’s out-of-the-box design makes it hard to miss when walking by.
Nilsson may have accomplished a lot already, but he has no interest in slowing down anytime soon.
“I have some exciting things in the making indeed,” he shares. “A typeface release, a bunch of new beer packaging, as well as some other things I really can't talk about yet. I have a bunch of things on my bucket list that I would like to tick off. Right now I would say a hotel branding is on top of the list.”