“We don’t have to put ourselves inside boxes”: Helga Dögg on design experimentation

Always seeking new challenges, the Icelandic graphic designer works hard to take on new skills and processes.

Date
27 April 2021
Reading Time
4 minute read

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It’s often that we hear of a creative pursuing a different path, before realising how much their heart is set on the arts. Helga Dögg is one of those creatives, she grew up in Reykjavík on a small island where “everybody knows everybody”, she tells It’s Nice That. And even though she always knew she had an artistic streak, she decided to enrol in business school. “But there, I realised how art is my only way of living.”

After this awakening, Helga ended up getting accepted into the one and only art university in Iceland. It was here that she was first introduced to printed matter and shown what can be achieved with a layout (with special thanks to one of her teachers), meaning that her interests in graphic design started to blossom. “I found myself thriving on the strict rules of the layout, the beauty of typefaces in a black and white space, and how we preserve history through books,” she adds. Now, having graduated five years ago, not only has she had her first child, she also teaches a course at her old university and worked on countless dream projects. This includes commissions for Agnes Joy, Art Without Borders, Dunce magazine, Iceland Academy of the Arts, Reykjavík Art Book Fair and The New York Times.

It didn’t take Helga long to find her voice, but to get to where she is today; it wasn’t easy. For one, she experienced a moment of self-doubt, having engulfed the contents of social media and observed the “enchanting stream of creatives” from within her inner circle. Not knowing whether she had her own distinct language, she combatted this by giving herself the freedom to make the “weird stuff” – letting loose with her creativity and making whatever comes to mind. “I always try to be respectful of the rules but at times I try to challenge them as well.” This outlook becomes evident as you walk through her portfolio, where each piece has been riddled with an artistic sensibility and flair for experimentation. And let’s not forget the fact she adores working with analogue processes, adhering to a long-term love of printed matter and book design.

GalleryHelga Dögg: Dunce magazine (Copyright © Helga Dögg, 2021)

Having grown up in such a remote and magnificent part of the world, in time, Helga came across a small magazine scene in Iceland – which, of course, she was delighted to be a part of. During one of her lectures at the Iceland University of Arts, she met artist Sigurður Atli Sigurðson, and together, the two went on to teach a workshop focusing on art books and the “charms” of Riso printing. “I got to know Siggi and his affection and passion for his work, it inspired me a lot,” says Helga, who was later connected with his wife, a choreographer and editor named Sóley Frostadóttir. Sóley was in the midst of creating Dunce – a Risograph magazine lensing the topics of dance and art – and asked both Helga and Siggi to create the visuals.

A harmonious team, the three decided to centre the publication on the field of choreography and performance art through the eyes of dancers and visual artists alike. They realised how the subject of dance and art had never been previously explored in Iceland’s publishing industry. So they were more than thrilled to start delving into the topic, let alone start building new and experimental design possibilities and layouts. “The printing method was perfect for me,” adds Helga, who grew fond of the printer’s restrictive nature. “The printer and I could work very closely together and I learned a lot and fell in love with the beauty of the method.”

Within Dunce, the grainy textures, minimal colour palette and blocky segments of text shine through with precision and analogous character. It was one of Helga’s favourite projects to work on, and we can see why: “Working with a printing method that I’ve never used before forced me to develop as a designer,” she says, citing how she gained the trust of her team to run freely with the processes and illustration. Helga adores a challenge, and applies new techniques with everything that she creates. The first example being a project she embarked on after graduation, named Blæti Magazine – a book about fashion and culture in Iceland, published by photographer Saga Sig and stylist Erna Bergmann. “It was a great honour and opportunity for someone so new in the scene. It expanded my horizons and challenged me to find out who I was as a designer.”

Helga is working hard to keep herself from being pigeonholed in one medium or technique, which is something that she learned from the making of Dunce – which is now currently underway with its second edition. “We don’t have to put ourselves inside boxes, like ‘I’m just a graphic designer’ or the dancer is ‘just a dancer’,” she says. “One of the artists in Dunce, Ásta Fanney, talks about how we can be creative in so many ways, and we should allow ourselves to explore outside of the boundaries society puts us in.” And we couldn’t agree more.

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Helga Dögg: Dunce magazine (Copyright © Helga Dögg, 2021)

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Helga Dögg: Dunce magazine (Copyright © Helga Dögg, 2021)

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Helga Dögg: Dunce magazine (Copyright © Helga Dögg, 2021)

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Helga Dögg: Dunce magazine (Copyright © Helga Dögg, 2021)

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Helga Dögg: Dunce magazine (Copyright © Helga Dögg, 2021)

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Helga Dögg: Annam (Copyright © Helga Dögg, 2021)

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Helga Dögg: Annam (Copyright © Helga Dögg, 2021)

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Helga Dögg: Annam (Copyright © Helga Dögg, 2021)

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Helga Dögg: Annam (Copyright © Helga Dögg, 2021)

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Helga Dögg: Dunce magazine (Copyright © Helga Dögg, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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