Looking back, Fred Heinsohn refers to himself as being the “arty teen in the snobby suburbs of Hamburg”. Born and raised in the German city, Fred would often venture out to take pictures of his environment, and he’d paint and sew scarfs out of old pillow cases – this, undoubtedly, made him feel “very cool”. The fact that he was able to nurture his creative side, advocate for non-conservative norms and pressures, and work on his visual expression as a child, helped him to find his feet in the years to come. That footing being a career in graphic design while working in the intersection of art, music, fashion and architecture.
With a firm grasp in the industry, Fred now works with various clients from all corners – be it Cashmere Radio, Calida, Deutscher Museumsrat, Eigenart Magazine, Kostas Murkudis, Lea Roesch, Protocol Magazine and many others. Of how he got to where he is today, there are a few pivotal moments that helped steer him in the right direction – besides the craft of scarf making, of course. He’d moved to Berlin in 2011 and into the “big wide world,” he tells It’s Nice That, where he'd started studying, working in a cafe and partying all week trying to figure things out. “I took every bumpy road I could get, overcame my biggest fears and lived my life as the cliché suburban hipster kid moving to a big city to study design.” Despite the typical tropes, Fred pursued his interests and after five years of “ups and downs, pros and cons” – plus deterring from his BA at the Berlin University of Applied Science and deciding to go for things on his own terms – he’d landed his first full-time role as an art director for a commercial production company. Exciting, no less, Fred decided to turn back to his studies and complete an MA at the University of Arts Berlin; a move that enabled Fred to build his own creative language and processes.
This form has been developed from three ideas inspired by queer and feminist theory, the key pillars throughout Fred’s design practice. This includes the change of perspective: “It is necessary to look at contents and topics from different perspectives,” he says. “Issues can be perceived subjectively due to different cultural, social or political influences.” Then there’s critical research – looking at dominant narratives, history and origins – then “making it visible”, the third idea that involves creating a space for those outside of the mainstream, and to “embed themes or people outside of the normative framework into projects.” This allows Fred to expand his practice into one that covers realms in culture and commerce, alongside dabbling in photography, editorial design, illustrative artworks and lettering.
While working on any project at hand, Fred always devotes plenty of time towards the research phase. This involves searching for media that ceases to exclude the obvious solutions. “My goal is to find a strong conceptual foundation,” ultimately leading him to an idea that can be interpreted in many different ways. One key aspect that he’s learned over the years, though, is not to start the project thinking that he’ll be making something new and original. He adds: “This mostly leads to depression. That’s why I like to start with the obvious and layer and push it forward until it becomes something fresh.” When doing so, alongside the typical digital tools, Fred will incorporate of all sorts of materials like charcoal, wax paint, watercolours, and basically anything else that he would have used as a child – “tools I feel comfortable with” – to give his work a playful, childish edge.
Fred’s MA project Desire Lines incorporates all of these particular elements into a succinct exploration into identity. As a result, the project reflects part of the designer’s personality, his path, changes and desires – analysing the notion of straightness conceived by Sara Ahmed in the Queer Phenomenology work. Straight lines have been used to symbolise normative paths, all the while examining the metaphor of “desire lines” that lead to the questioning of whether desire can best seen as a tool to understand an individual’s design language. “The project Desire Lines reflects on the meaning of desire and its potential in the context of design,” he adds, noting how the process began with research into everyday objects, such as razors and toothbrushes, in a quest to learn more about the shapes of desire.
In an additional project, Plus X, Fred seeks to provide an alternative platform for artists to gather and present work beyond the usual spaces – bringing together performance text and sound and letting artists decide their own formats. Metamorphosen/VFO is a further project that sees Fred redesign Metamorphosen Magazin, working on several illustrations on the topic of queerness. “The concept of the illustrations were a collaborative creation of the seen and the dissolving of shape,” he says, “creating something that would underline the written word but not stand in contrast or affect their meaning.”
All in all, Fred’s work is an analytical and experimental acquisition of hope for a new, diverse world filled with wonderful collaborations and meaningful design. When asked how he hopes his audience will respond to his creations, he concludes with a collection of thoughtful words: “happy, honest, sexy, fluffy, comfortable, weird, playful, soft and connection.” We hope you agree.
Fred Heinsohn: Metamorphosen Magazin, Queer, Published by Verbrecher Verlag. Design by Lena Hegger and Fred Heinsohn. (Copyright © Fred Heinsohn, 2019)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.