Olssøn Barbieri’s design contributions aim to raise further awareness of food production
Working across packaging, identity and product design, Henrik Olssøn and Erika Barbieri’s studio stems from a passion for the culture surrounding food.
- Lucy Bourton
- 2 October 2020
While studying communication and industrial design in Florence, Henrik Olssøn and Erika Barbieri’s days often centred around a trip to the supermarket, making lunch together before heading back to class in the afternoon. It’s this routine the pair now point to as the beginning of a common interest in packaging, a love of food and, of course, a passion for design. Moving to Oslo from Florence back in 2005, the pair established their studio OlssønBarbieri in 2012, which, eight years on, still combines Henrik and Erika’s fondness for a good lunch.
Largely working with independent companies both locally and internationally, Erika describes the studio’s approach as “the manifestation of our Italian and Norwegian cultures”. In this sense, each of the studio’s projects is well-researched and considered, “with one eye on history and tradition,” but in its visual execution is often “looking ahead”. Although not defined by one aesthetic, Erika explains that OlssønBarbieri’s work does tend to fall across one of three categories: identity design, working with heritage brands to “revitalise and clarify their story,” and product design.
It’s within each of these categories that Henrik and Erika’s love of food comes back into play. “Passion for food (a borderline obsession!) is a natural trait of Italian culture,” the pair explains. A passion which has filtered down as a personal interest for the wider studio, OlssønBarbieri has worked on identity and packaging projects for a chocolatier, a winery and a cheesemonger in the past year alone. “Food connects people, it’s how we express love, it’s our cultural heritage and everyday life,” says Henrik. “We hope our contributions through design are helping to shape new habits and raise awareness, about food production and consumption, and in this way be part of the future of food and drinks.”
An example of this approach and passion in action is OlssønBarbieri’s identity and packaging design for Ambijus, a non-alcoholic wine alternative. Originally working with the brand while it was still developing recipes, the studio’s identity sits comfortably in the growing market of non-alcoholic products, where “consumers are expecting more grown-up and interesting flavours,” Henrik points out.
Describing Ambijus’ flavours as “complex, intertwined and indistinguishable from one another – opening up different interpretations,” the wine is made from a specific and secret fermentation process. Visualising how “fermentation improves everything” and is a “time-honoured process,” the studio’s identity touches illustration, animation, typography and packaging. Each “communicating both the emotional and chemical side of flavours,” a central example of this is OlssønBarbieri’s commissioning of illustrator Alexis Jamet whose “grainy texture that is both tactile and poetic” sets the tone of the brand immediately on its label.
Illustration plays a regular role in OlssønBarbieri’s visual approach, both in its work for Ambijus but also recently in the packaging design for Norwegian cheesemaker Stavanger Ysteri, and its work for handmade and ecological skincare brand Nkyr. Finding illustration an apt medium to display the studio’s storytelling approach to brands, this stylistic attribute of its work is one Erika puts down to the studio's research process, “exploring the historical and cultural context of a product or a brand and its symbolism,” as she puts it. Additionally, the pair point out that illustration allows them to have a point of difference. Discussing the industry in general, the pair add: “The need to differentiate independent, progressive and challenging brands has created a need for a language that signals a more personal, characterful and honest point of view.”
A definite go-to studio for a conceptual approach to branding that remains open to a wide audience, OlssønBarbieri remains busy in this field. Currently working on its second Indian drink start-up project, continuing its work with Stavanger Ysteri, as well as collaborating with a château in Bordeaux and another farm in Norway working in regenerative agriculture. Looking forward, Erika and Henrik hope to continue their conscious work in this field and are “also talking to some forward-thinking entrepreneurs experimenting with interesting ways to impact our society in a positive way,” they say. “In other words, more food and drinks, but also something new.”
OlssønBarbieri: Ambijus (Copyright © OlssønBarbieri, 2020)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.