We talk with Fredrik Öst founder of the world renowned Snask about turning up the volume, conservatism, fuckups, saying yes to life, love and getting back to nature p1
LIFE IS WITHOUT DOUBT LIVIDPINK IN the world of Fredrik Öst – self-proclaimed Dr of disturbance, disruption and disobedience and founder of Snask – who really know how to challenge the outdated idea of what a design studio could be in an unrelenting passion for making, craft and mischief. As well as working for clients like Spotify, they have their own beer, record label, signature pink bicycle, they put on rock shows rather than stale lectures, in 72 hours wrote an honest and amazing book Make Enemies & Gain Fans and have new a line of Merchandise anyone would die for! The new world order really is Snask. We met Freddie at Art School, Rebecca was a student and I was a tutor teaching the course Freddie was attending. Our collision happened in the weirdest of locations (CARLISLE) a place that was alien to Freddie and us. It was in this time that Snask and GRRR came to life; what else would they be but a shadow of the darkly–lit tragic comedy musical, with its bizarre ancient rituals and hilltop campus of the CIA. We caught up with Freddie to talk about life, creativity, conservatism, fuckups, love and death, and all things Pink.
INTERVIEW— Transcribed from an email conversation.
Glen: I feel lucky to be able to say that I have known you for some time, Freddie, we met in the city of Carlisle (a place described in the opening chapter of Make Enemies & Gain Fans as England’s arsehole) which, to be fair, is accurate. Like Snask, GRRR passed through the bowels of Carlisle and in some ways the underlying energy of not giving a fuck about what people might think has been a provocative catalyst for me. I’m going to be honest, at the time I was a newbie tutor and your influence (tbh all the Swedish students) provided a much-needed kick in the balls and has made me the tutor I am today.
I am keen to start in Carlisle because origin stories are important, I can’t believe it was 15 years ago – FUCK 🤯
Freddie: It warms my heart to read this start of our conversation. It makes me blush to get such fine words from a person I deeply respect and admire. You were my tutor and an inspiration during my student years. You were part of helping us lay those first bricks to what would become the foundation of the madhouse that is Snask.
We have indeed known each other for a great number of years and it feels cleansing to have travelled through the bowels of Carlisle together. It might seem that we resent that city but it’s not true at all. We love the people (not all, in fact far from all) living in it, walking in it and dwelling in it. But truth be told it’s not the most picturesque city on the British islands and the harsh climate (not the weather) made Snask what it is. If Carlisle hadn’t been this way during our years there, we wouldn’t have experienced the real England and we have drawn a lot of inspiration in the deepest soul of Snask from that world. 15 years ago. Fuck indeed.
Glen: I agree, Carlisle is filled with wonderful memories that remind us it’s who you’re with that makes life happen. I couldn’t wait to leave. I remember at Midsommar you, Jonas and Joanna asking me not to leave 🤩 some things are meant to be. With hindsight, I am aware I had a serious quantity of facial hair (see egg evidence) but I am still not sure being regularly taunted by kid-chavs for walking down the street minding my own business is acceptable conduct.
Freddie: Chavs. They are a species only existing on the British islands. Like Koalas in Australia but with farr more yapp and aggressiveness.
Glen: One of my favourite stories (analogue evidence provided) is being invited to Midsommar by Anders and discovering how many connections there are between our cultures (I am from Suffolk, a regular landing place for visitors). Seeing my first midsommarstång and små grodorna sort of awakened a memory (I have written an unpublished novel about it now) and ever since GRRR regularly celebrate festivals like the Summer Solstice with greater intention. What does Midsommar mean to you and how did you celebrate it this year?
Also, back then did you have a pair of lucky pants (underpants) and socks, and what did they look like? (Drawings are an acceptable answer.)
Freddie: Midsommar to me means to get together with the closest of friends and celebrate summer. I don’t really care about the hedonistic and pagan history of it all. It’s for sure fun and beautiful to build the midsommarstång and dance around it. But I don’t see it as putting my seed (nor others please) in the ground to fertilize. In the same way I don’t think about Jesus being born on Christmas, I was first blinded by all the gifts and now I’m blinded by the blissful enjoyment of spending time with close ones. I do think of Jesus dying and resurrecting on Easter. Not because I feel sorry for him, more because I either choose not to believe in the story, or I choose to believe that zombies are real.
For sure I must have had lucky underpants and socks but I can’t really remember them. They tend to wear out, understandingly. But since I was a student back then I didn’t wear Prada or Maserati briefs. So it was probably Topman or Debenhams slightly washed out and in a spectacular color combination. I was experimenting a lot with clothes back then and hadn’t really found out that less can be more. When it comes to socks I’ve been mostly wearing black socks during my entire adult life.
So happy to have started this and I would like to ask you a question as well. What was your honest opinion or view on me, Petter and Magnus? I’ve heard from Tony Peart (one of our other tutors) that we were mischiefs and that there was a love and hate relationship with us from his side. That we were talented but spent more time organising club nights and concerts than schoolwork! Hahaha!
HON, 1966 – Niki de saint Phalle
Glen: I only have positive things to say – I was sad for Magnus and his dispute with the course leader, Rebecca remembers sitting outside at Brampton Road consoling him. I thought Magnus was a committed disciple of normcore fashion and probably a pioneer in this regard. His Manatee music packaging for Motive Sounds was an amazing piece of print and design. Petter was a genius and two things stick in my mind; those marble wash skinny jeans and the time he ripped someone to shreds in a group crit (in the small room next to the office) because of their lack of ethics. Nikes were mentioned. Petter’s project was about the artist Niki de Saint Phalle. Petter was imaginative and I loved his illustrations. Freddie, I remember white skinny jeans probably with studded belts and how you always had the ability to slip a fuck or fucking into most sentences or projects, the editorial about Handlebar Moustache’s pull quote ‘Fuck you you fucking fuck’ for example. Lost Systems was another lovely piece of print for Motive Sounds, that collaboration always produced great design work.
Freddie: Hahaha amazing. I love the idea that Magnus was an early instigator to normcore fashion. Yepp, that’s Petter for sure, still today. WHAT haha, did I wear white jeans? How the hell did I pull that off? I probably didn’t, I don’t remember. Denial, it’s a beautiful thing. Yeah, fuck for some reason was just a way for me to put emphasis on something. I realised later that I must have come across as a teenage dirtbag. So happy to have started this and I would like to ask you a question as well. What was your honest opinion or view on me, Petter and Magnus? I’ve heard from Tony Peart (one of our other tutors) that we were mischiefs and that there was a love and hate relationship with us from his side. That we were talented but spent more time organising club nights and concerts than schoolwork! Hahaha!
Glen: I think we can quote Prince here: ‘If you didn’t come to party don’t bother knocking on my door’ if you’re not organising parties, especially when a student, or for that matter going to parties, then there is something really wrong. We have (in the past mostly) had some epic house parties and I bet you did too. Sally (poster above) was a practice run and I don’t see it as not studying – that would imply it was easy to organise a club night (in Carlisle), or help rebuild a caravan and drive it around Sweden! Be honest, what was the work slash party spilt? I think while I was at art college it was 50/50 but always in favour of party.
The Caravan Project – Peter Johanson
Freddie: Work vs Party, hmmm. I think it was around 50/50 yeah. But when do you have time to have fun and be free if not in your student years eh? I can miss times when things weren’t that serious (only setting the foundation of your own career for the rest of your life probably).
Glen: Ultimately we get what we put into any situation. I personally love it when students make it happen for themselves (combine creativity and passion) to scare people with their sheer beauty. For me the education you gained in Carlisle was partly learning about design and part happening, do you think it’s the side of your brain where ideas come from?
Freddie: Perhaps, I strongly think that education, at least how it’s built up today, is only a part of your profession. So much has to do with social skills, pedagogy, rhetoric, empathy, teamwork, etc. Very few individualists ever make it in our industry.
Glen: Freddie I have a very visual memory and can picture the time you shocked year 1 students (as year 2 students) with your choreographed welcome address — which means I have the mental image of your pelvic thrust – how long did that routine take to perfect? Your ability to make life more performance was joyful. Do you think people like Sagmeister paved the way for the kind of hybrid design thinking Snask plays with today (where you become an actor and play a part in the design outcome) or does it have Swedish origins? When you started making films it made complete sense – I watch OFFF Lille quite often! What’s your role in the creative process?
Freddie: My God. I didn’t know you had such a good memory, Glen. I kind of regret this now haha. I guess I had been practising those moves during my 13 weeks on the Greek island Cos. Nothing from that trip ever makes it into my CV for some reason. Sagmeister might have paved the way in some sense and I do think that the designers before us that put 110% of themselves and their own engagement into their work have influenced us a lot. It definitely has nothing to do with Sweden, that’s for certain.
Amazing, I love the OFFF Lille film. We had so many ideas that we didn’t know what to do. In the end, we found an amazing location and let it put the framework for the entire story. I’m more strategic and in the idea and concept phase. I see myself less and less in the execution phase. Probably a consequence of running your own company.
Glen: Happy Friday 🥳 Freddie. My year 3 students had an assessment deadline today (on Friday the 13th). Do you have any wise 🧙 words for them you can share?
Freddie: Nice! Friday the 13th, big day for sure. Well, since they are graduating in the worst times ever and we’re in a very depressing time of the year (when everything dies and it’s just getting darker, colder and more and more “upside-down-world”. Wise words would be, work on your portfolio. You won’t have time as soon as you get a job. You will be happy at first getting a salary and start of your career, but you will soon realise that you very seldom produce things you want to put in your portfolio. You will wake up 10 years later, dependent on a salary, and with a portfolio that you either don’t want to show or that your boss won’t allow you to show. I know so many designers that wish they had worked on their portfolio before their first big career move. You will have, pardon my French, “all the time in the world”, to do this since the job market looks pretty harsh right now. So in order to see your glass as half-full instead of half-empty, you should see this as a chance to do self-initiated projects where you are your own client, and that way have total creative freedom and push your portfolio.
This way you might not have to take the career stairs once you get your first job but rather take the elevator because your portfolio is much better.
Glen: I like the Batman reference in the Chapter Make Enemies, It’s Great, I also think the villains are so much more tangible. I saw a clip of Affleck saying his superpower was being rich. I think even Ben wanted a villain to slap him with a wet fish at that point. Enemies give us purpose but it’s important they don’t overpower our true nature. I’m not talking about forgiveness. Fuck that. I am keeping count though. Ben Affleck, not Batman (that has to be stressed). We’ve made enemies of the chav, but you’ve dealt them a blow with the As Cozy as Kitten’s film which flips their bulldog image on its tail. I loved that film being a cat person (there are talking cats in my book). We’ve also called out the son of god and Sagmeister.
Freddie: Ben haha, my lord. Yepp, I agree. There are very few worse Batmans. Yeah, it’s true. You should never let the enemies overpower you or let hate take you over. Enemies will help you project yourself towards the opposite, and finding that opposite of your enemy will be your vision and goal. It will take you as far away as your arch enemy’s value as possible.
Glen: I also enjoyed watching your lecture when you talked about making enemies. Are you still making enemies or have you mellowed? and are there people you wouldn’t let Snask work with or for, following the G incident? Next time you will kick them out when it happens but it’s worth realising you evolved just like with the chavs (a grown man should never ever, ever ride a child’s bike in Carlisle).
Freddie: We are still making enemies. We still hate conservatism and we strongly believe that change isn’t optional anymore, but a constant you need to get used to. We fight conservatism in every meeting and every situation. We think it’s fucked up that there hasn’t been a #meetoo in our industry when all we hear from conferences is that so many old men that are called “genius” and “design gurus” openly demand “new girls in my room every day”. Some conferences choose then to never book them, and it makes us wonder what the conferences that do book them promise them. We know that parts of our industry is very hierarchical, and in those hierarchies, it’s mostly men that are called “creative geniuses” and women become their assistants. There must be so many #meetoo’s out there and I wish that one day we will be able to open that door and call out and throw out everything that’s rotten.
Glen: It upsets me greatly to hear about design gurus requesting “new girls in my room every day” and it sounds like a #metoo moment is on the horizon. History has seen many artists and designers who are women being marginalised in the story of our subject. A great example is surrealism which is dominated by the likes of Salvador Dali (creator of the Chupa Chup Brand), but female surrealist artists like Dorothea Tanning have a greater depth and soul. Search surrealism and you will nearly always see male artists work on blog posts — a change is necessary in all ways. It’s part of our GRRR. I try really hard to see both sides but men tend to fuck it up and not in a good way and sometimes it seems intentional and sometimes not. Going full circle on my mention of Sagmeister, which was an innocent question, is exactly the fuck up I am speaking of. Fuck! 😭
When you talk about conservatism what do you mean?
I come from a pretty conservative country and time. I wasn’t allowed to wear earrings and then only in certain ears and not both. Rules! Being eighties I had a blue teddy bear earring that my school teacher demanded I remove. If we are talking about it in the design industry old standards like not paying interns is still an area that needs constant vigilance. Or working late or not sleeping until you bleed type for the client. I have experienced this side of the industry and don’t recommend it. Now I am more likely to suggest Gremlins as essential graphic design research than an all-nighter.
Freddie: Yes, there is still so much rot we need to get rid of in this world. Unbelievable really. Lack of empathy being one. Men calling out women for being drama queens because they have “too much emotions” while men incapable of showing or communicating emotions are probably one of the biggest threats to our society and planet.
Conservatism in regards to everything that refuses change for the sake of it. If you want to keep something “the way it’s always been” I think you need to choose a date in history. Without a precise date and year, it’s hard to know what anyone means with that statement of conservatism. Should we decide that everyone who came to the British Islands before the 1200th century is full-on British? Or should we say before christ was born? Is “American” also the history of the native Indians living there before the Europeans crossed the ocean? Or is America what the Europeans decided? Or is America what it is today at this very second this sentence is read? Can you really say that one moment in history was so good that we need to conserve the way it was when all we see is that change is constant and development is a result of change.
When it comes to our industry I hate everything conservative. We need to stay on top of change and understand that it’s not optional. Overtime and working late is conservative. One of the biggest regrets of people laying on their deathbed is having worked too much and not having spent enough time with loved ones. This is not something new and thus having a rich private life full of friends and loved ones and giving them your full presence should not even be considered as “new”. It’s natural.
Glen: Art schools are required to measure success in narrow margins like the number of zeroes on a pay-check. I have raised thoughts that success might be measured with new metrics that the graduates decide (it’s their life) – support for ideas like this are sometimes stifled. You talk about redefining what success might be in the chapter When you die: Deathbed should be fun. How would you measure success as Dr. Öst?
Hierarchy, it’s all I talk about some weeks, I mean type hierarchy but you’re right we really shouldn’t go there. I do get to indulge that urge as a tutor which is funny because I can’t stand hierarchy in life and I really hope my students see that!
Freddie: Yeah, success is completely subjective. And it can also change with you as you develop through life. But it’s almost never any of these three: money, power and titles. Those three are toxic and will only make your judgement cloudy until you go blind and turn into a monster. Follow your heart is probably the easiest but also most true advice you can give yourself.
Freddie: Tell me about what you think of our book. Are there more parts than the chapter about Carlisle that you recognize from our student years?
Glen: I can see you saying yes to fun rather than no as a student more than Magnus. I don’t doubt Mr. Crayon instigated and was a bad arse. Do you still practice the principle of saying yes today and does everyone at Snask? I have noticed you tattoo interns and have a ‘V’ society, are you allowed to explain?
Freddie: Haha yes that was probably the case, at least when we started out. Yes was a big thing for me, but it was also a way for me to get affirmation and acknowledgement. To be there for others and jump on every opportunity. It has for sure been valuable for me. But the problem was that I’ve always had a hard time asking others for help. So while I was always being available for others, feeling needed, I never asked others for help which deprived them of feeling needed by me. I learned this too late, unfortunately. But when it comes to saying yes to everyday situations, or tattoos, I’m all for it. And I think everyone at Snask feels the same, even though we all have our own boundaries. Yes, we tattoo interns haha. It’s a very fun tradition. When it comes to the V-society we were a bunch of nice people hanging out in Australia for a week. We really got to know each other and at the end of the week, we decided that we would all five get the same tattoo, a V for Five (we became six in the end but who cares).
Glen: One of the people that changed my life was half Swedish, probably Swenglish, he called out one of England’s other arseholes ‘Lowestoft’ for what it was and I escaped its grip by saying yes to something I would have said no to, probably. What was the last thing you said yes to that hit the spot like a dream and the last time it was a total fuck up? For me saying yes led to a total fuck up and that fuck up eventually led me to Rebecca. Now we are GRRR 🌈
Freddie: Last time I said yes to something that was like a dream was to move to Gnesta, which is a tiny village 35-60 min out from Stockholm (sounds crazy to Londoners but it’s far for us Swede’s). It’s in the countryside and at the end of the train line. My girlfriend grew up here and she wanted to move back. At first, I was very hesitant. Gnesta isn’t even considered a suburb of Stockholm. This is something I’ve come to realise is part of its charm. Most suburbs become dead because no one stays there to wine, dine and socialise. They all go into the city instead, leaving the suburban centre dead. Gnesta is far enough so people stay here, meaning that you run into people all the time and you quickly get to know everyone and become part of the community. But, I had gotten used to preaching that I wanted to live in the neon lights of a city where everything happens all the time. So it took me some time to realise that it made me stressed and what I actually needed was a place where nothing happened and that I could choose to go where things happen if I need to. But my home is in the nothingness and close to nature. So my friends ask me, “Gnesta? WTF happens in Gnesta?”. And the answer is nothing, and that’s what’s brilliant.
When it comes to the last time I said yes and it went to hell is every time I say yes to that last beer when you already decided to go home. It’s so fucking stupid and it won’t help at all the next day and it’s not even enjoyable. We all know that the first beer is the best and the last should never be had.
NICE! Yes, fuckups lead to good things. A life that is perfect and goes according to plan is a boring life that no one would want to hear a story about. Life is full of mistakes, fuckups and breakups. And it’s called life. Life’s twists and turns are what make it everything else than a boring story. Who wants to read a book about a person’s life when everything went great all the time? Fuckups are essential.
Glen: I think it’s funny that we haven’t talked about graphic design.
Freddie: Graphic Design, it doesn’t have to be central I think. Talking about typography, colors, composition, etc has never made me hot. There are so many other things to speak about with another human being that is far more interesting. Imagine comparing two conversations over a beer. One is about Helvetica, the other about someone’s mistake or recent fuckup. One is so fucking boring that you would go and check the branches if they were thick enough for your weight with a rope in your hand, the other sparks joy and energy.
Glen: Snask seems to have a different way of thinking about work-life balance, was this a painful lesson and what advice do you have?
Freddie: It wasn’t painful for us to realise this. But we started when we were young and single and had no one else to think about than ourselves. And we worked for ourselves so we didn’t have a boss. Which made it easier to work some evenings. But life soon hit us and we understood that life isn’t to work or have an agency. Life is life, just like Opus said it. Keep it simple stupid.
Glen: You have a strong group of people at the moment. People cross borders to work with you and Erik – I remember reading you were voted number 1 destination for interns and you have a 2-year waiting list. What do you think sits at the heart of this love for you?
Freddie: Yes I love our people. They are the ones that make everything happen here. The reason why people would love to work for us is partly because we have a decent portfolio, without it, people would only see us as clowns. But because of it, we can then have a very playful brand and company culture that resonates with people. We also voice our opinions loudly and we hate the conservative world. Most agencies don’t even dare to speak up for Black Lives Matter or the environment. That means they are afraid and spineless and believe that if they stood up for something in their life people would dislike them or their company and it would be bad for business. As you can read it’s all BS and this is why they will be left behind as long as they don’t realise that change isn’t optional but inevitable.