Oslo-based graphic design agency Bleed has attracted clients and admirers far beyond the fjords and mountains of Norway. With Pepsi, Diesel, Deutsche Bank and IKEA among a growing list of clients, Nick Spence discovers the rewards of working at the cutting edge.
Surrounded by spectacular green hills and mountains, and home to 40 islands and 343 lakes, Oslo is a world away from the hustle and grime of London life. Yet like London, Oslo attracts its fair share of creative talent including Bleed, a graphic design agency established in June 2000. Founded on a manifesto that includes the need to be different, take chances, share ideas, have fun and collaborate, the studio has attracted many fans and awards.
Long regarded as the political, cultural and economic heart of Norway, Oslo is the perfect setting for those seeking inspiration and a good work/life balance. "Today you can run your business from anywhere, but I would much rather breathe clean Norwegian air, go snowboarding in our steep hills, and enjoy the Scandinavian lifestyle than be anywhere else," enthuses Bleed's creative director and partner Kjetil Wold.
The firm's success in building a portfolio that combines the best of local and international clients shows that its perceived geographical isolation has actually worked to its advantage. Wold says, "I think being Norwegian makes our company much more exotic than just another London design office."
The internet has helped Bleed gain this strong international client base and raised its visibility beyond local horizons. An English-language website has also shown that the agency is open for business. "Norwegians are well-skilled in English, and have a very international approach to the way we handle client relationships," says Wold. "We do travel when necessary, but communicating through new media channels has never been easier." It's also opened Bleed up to a world of possibilities, new ideas and sources of inspiration that both stimulate and challenge ways of working. "There is new, amazing work popping up all over, all the time. So we have to improve and experiment."
Bleed employs 14 full-time staff covering a range of skills, including project managers, art directors, Flash developers and graphic designers. For a studio that likes to embrace just about everything, from pure graphic design to art projects and exhibitions, good housekeeping is essential. "We have two project managers who keep control of the projects and also a strategic consultant that helps us out on managing the processes in an optimal way," explains Wold.
Increasingly, clients require cross-media solutions that cover print, web and motion graphics, and this needs a high level of creative planning. "Projects are discussed on arrival and a team with the best-fitted skills are set to solve the task. It could be a group of eight or just a designer, depending on the complexity of the mission," says Wold. "We also have to see what kind of people have the time and if someone is really craving a type of job we let them take the lead. It's always good to have energy and excitement in projects. We have amazing staff that we couldn't be without."
The studio itself is divided into two distinct areas. "The staff are in a large room where they work, listen to music, and can wander off to get inspiration from each other, from magazines or whatever," explains Wold. "We also have a quiet room if you need to concentrate on something on your own. Project managers and business management have a quieter area."
Typically for a busy office, the hours can be long. But Bleed staff practise good time management and take a great deal of pleasure from a job well done. "There are no nine-to-five days, but we love what we do and are lucky to be able to create new and fantastic communication that reaches out to people."
To avoid work always being stamped with the same house style, collaboration is key, and Bleed involves other designers, illustrators, the client and even the target audience. A campaign for Pepsi Max, for example, encouraged participants to design T-shirts online, while other companies pitched in too.
"With Pepsi Max we worked across several platforms, setting the overall illustration style and identity of the project first. Then we needed to involve a production company who could film against a green screen and then apply all this together with the tech developer and Flash designer." Bleed found itself trying to adapt one medium to another. "The client liked our style and specific elements very much and suddenly it needed to be adapted to printed surfaces. Recreating a complex web illustration into high-res posters is not done in a day."
Generally Bleed tries to push clients' preconceptions and encourage them to think visually and experiment. "Once we know how to best communicate, we challenge our clients with new and existing visual languages fitted to the task," explains Wold. "Our work is inspired by our art, projects that always keep us pushing the limits of graphic design and finding new ways of approaching the solution."
2008 promises more great adventures for the agency with plans to tackle some ambitious projects and further develop the Bleed brand. "We would like to expand our portfolio with even more international clients, working with daring and brave clients that believe in challenging the norm, both in web projects and print," Wold says. "And we are also looking into creating more products and Bleed-branded projects that could live their lives on their own, such as jeans, magazines and furniture." A case of today Oslo, tomorrow the world?