Johanne Lian Olsen is a freelance graphic designer who realised during her studies in fine art that she loved the process of making the project presentation books more than the actual art pieces. This led the Norwegian designer to embark on a whole new degree in Visual Communication where she realised her skills as a pragmatic designer rather than a stylistic one.
Speaking to It’s Nice That, Johanne explains how “when I signed for a type design course at school, I fell in love with how technical it was and how there are rules to follow”. Having carved a successful career within type design, editorial design and branding with clients including Nike, IKEA and the Whitechapel Gallery, this graphic designer’s output is positively decisive in its commandingly crisp aesthetic.
Johanne strongly believes in ideas-driven design and the importance of personal projects. “This industry can be so serious sometimes, personal projects are a way to have fun with graphic design”, says the designer. “Everything I design should be adding to the story, giving the client an ownership over something they can communicate onwards.” Johanne never leans on being a ‘talented designer’ like those who can whip up a design out of thin air, instead she characterises herself “as someone who focuses purely on persistence, discipline and good old hard work”. This is evident in Johanne’s sophisticated and highly-considered design output.
Backside of the Strip documents Johanne’s photographs of Las Vegas’ The Strip, focusing on the open, bare spaces in one of America’s most popular tourist attractions. By chance, Johanne came across the back of one of the many large casinos located on the Las Vegas strip which showed a different side to the “bling and colourful fronts”. The backs feel “sparse and naked”, offering a contrast to the immediate connotations of Las Vegas. The photographic project “acts as an alternative to the glossy tourist postcards” reflected in the design which flips the cover design so the back cover is front and vice versa. Furthermore, the overall design of the publication is minimal to mirror the composition of the images and “the cover typography replicates the angles and shapes within the photographs.”
Another personal project titled Break. is a series of generic looking newspapers influenced by the stressful experiences of travelling daily on the London Underground. The newspapers “can be used a kind of shield in confined spaces where you need a little of personal space like on the tube or bus”. What is more, where the conventional newspapers are mainly full of depressing news, these papers contain a series of landscape photos, offering the viewer a relaxing break from their crammed reality and “creating mindful moments”. The series features four papers which all use generic and minimal headlines and text to contrast with the impactful full-bleed inside spreads.
As Johanne previously mentions, graphic design can take itself extremely seriously. The graphic designer injects a sense of humour and light-heartedness with the next two projects Due Display and The Nosey Issue. Firstly, Due Display is a custom typeface that Johanne designed for a former employee at Studio Claus Due as a parting gift. “It was far from an easy talk for a man who seemingly has everything”, says Johanne, “so I decided to design him a font based on himself.” The font is as tall and thin as the man himself, as well as being “round on the outside and angled on the inside”, consisting of four weights and alternate numbers to play around with, this one-of-a-kind present is a fine example of how design can truly be multi-functional.
Alternatively, The Nosey Issue is a publication all about noses in both physical and cultural form. “I find noses interesting”, says Johanne, “they add to a character, and since so much of the news we see everyday is full of bad things or weird opinions, I wanted to make a newspaper about something that can unite everyone and hopefully make us smile.”
Johanne draws from artists that value simplicity in their aesthetics like Ellsworth Kelly and John Baldessari; citing their influence as a contribution to her minimal aesthetic. Additionally, the many different countries the designer has lived in greatly inform her aesthetic as each place has its own design history and visual sense of values. “These different places also makes me re-evaluate myself as a designer where I have learnt so much from colleagues”, says Johanne, “this is my most important source of inspiration.”
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.