We couldn’t do a digital publishing feature without speaking to Freunde von Freunden. Their venture has been a printed magazine masquerading as a website for years, and follows one enticing, addictive format: visiting the carefully decorated habitats of artists and creatives, photographing it, and interviewing them about their lifestyle and work. Frederik Frede is the man behind this simple, beautiful publishing enterprise, and here speaks of why FvF works so well online, the importance of collaboration, and FvF’s new shared apartment where they hold meetings, dinner parties and sleepovers with lucky clients.
What was your house like when you were growing up?
I remember it was nice and cosy. Nothing fancy, super modern or traditional. More a classic middle class household in the south of Germany.
Tell us about your background – where you are from, what you love, what your career has been like so far…
I grew up very close to the Lake of Constance with the Austrian and Swiss Alps as the backdrop. Next to school I spent most of the time with music, snowboarding and skating. Before design took over, music actually played the biggest role in my life. It made me leave my home town and move to Cologne where I started a record label with friends and which was where I did my apprenticeship as a media designer. I also love travelling and getting out of my comfort zone and in 2002 I ended up as an art director in Shanghai. In 2003 I moved to Berlin started freelancing and founded NoMoreSleep together with Torsten Bergler in 2006.
Tell us about how FvF was born?
After losing two major clients accounts at NoMoreSleep in 2009 following the global crisis we decided to immerse ourselves in other projects. We wanted to do something for ourselves with fun and having a personal reference as goal. We looked at what was happening with fashion blogs and interiors, the changes in those digital environments and storytelling online. And as Facebook was popping up in Germany in 2009 too, we somehow immediately knew we should do a website where we tell the stories of our creative friends in Berlin and show how they live. And then we started interviewing the people around us. We got Timmi Seifert on board and then we took it from there.
FvF is a beautiful site. Can you tell us a little about the process of building it?
When we started FvF it was just a simple wordpress blog and we were doing the interviews via email. But from the beginning we always wanted to get the design right as it should be a reference to our agency work and represent our aesthetics. We also believe a lot in white space and letting content breathe and giving it enough space. We were big fans of The Boston Big Picture at that time and they were doing an awesome job in telling stories and documentaries with scrolling. Now we are ten people and have our own editorial team, video production, online-shop, graphic designer, our own apartment and more than 150 contributors and freelancers worldwide.
"There is enough space in the internet for everyone. And we do lifestyle different and mainly work with timeless content without doing celebrities or news."Frederik Frede
More and more websites are concentrating on lifestyle – do you feel you need to work hard to keep FvF ahead of the game?
There is enough space in the internet for everyone. And we do lifestyle different and mainly work with timeless content without doing celebrities or news. Of course we are optimising it every day and it is hard work to improve the quality of the content.
Do you think websites that churn out art and design and lifestyle content can last?
Sure – but you got to have a strong brand and the content should matter.
You’ve just brought out a book which looks fantastic, but why do you think FvF worked so well online?
Thanks for the compliment. We are happy our second book is finally out. FvF works so well because we put a lot of passion and work into it and constantly continue to develop it further which our audience sees and recognises. What started as a blog is now a global creative community and online shop which everybody uses and perceives differently. With the imminent design update we will also cover more inspiring and creative topics next to our friends and the articles surrounding interior, work, food and travel.
Tell us about the FvF apartment
The FvF Apartment is a physical expression of our online publication – a multi-faceted space for friends and partners to gather and express their creativity. It is in the same house as our office and we use for it many occasions. It is a regular apartment with everything you need and you could move in right away. Everything in the apartment is meant to get used and we don’t see it as a showroom. It is more the vision of how we see living in that kind of size and area of Berlin. It all came together through our partnership with Swiss manufacturer Vitra. and the many friends, local and international brands and partners we involved.
We wanted to make sure to create a “gemütlich” (cosy and homely) atmosphere where everyone would feel comfortable instantly and wouldn’t want to leave. We use it for team lunches, cooking or meetings and presentations. If we do long hours team members sleep there, too. Friends can crash and clients use it as their home while in Berlin. Many of our partners do photoshoots or client meetings and use it as reference of their products in use. We have regular bookings for presentations, coachings, dinner, shootings, showroom and sleepovers.
"Freunde von Freunden wouldn’t be possible without the internet because we could just try and instantly test what we had in mind without losing any money."Frederik Frede
What other websites do you admire and visit?
What do you think is the key to a successful website?
Good quality and original content. Not much different to anything else in life.
How has the internet changed your life?
It is easier to communicate and stay up to date with things happening in the world and with your friends, family and team. Also it made it easier to work from anywhere and chose the work you want really want to do. FvF wouldn’t be possible without the internet because we could just try and instantly test what we had in mind without losing money. That’s it.
Behind the Screens
The “golden era” of independent publishing has seen an awful lot written about magazines; their enduring influence as well as the challenges facing the industry. Sometimes those discussions have overlooked the amazing things happening in online publishing so in November, we plan to rectify that. For the next few weeks we’ll be speaking to the people who have been beavering away at making the internet a very pleasant and addictive place to visit, finding out their secrets and asking them why they do what they do.