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Facing roadblocks? That’s a great thing, says Jan Wilker of design studio karlsssonwilker

Jan Wilker, of creative studio karlssonwilker inc., will present a Virtual Designer Talk, “This is How We Do It,” Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 1 pm.

karlssonwilker, based in Queens, New York, specializes in branding, signage, wayfinding, and environmental design, as well as packaging, interactive, fashion, strategy, and ideation. Their projects have been varied, from projects rebranding MTV and The Museum of the Moving Image, to video and soundtrack for Parsons School of Design, shoe designs for Puma, and an immersive digital experience for Sotheby’s.

Wilker, a native of Germany, studied architecture at Stuttgart University and graduated from the State Academy of Art & Design Stuttgart in Communication Design. He moved to New York in late 2000 to start karlssonwilker, a design studio, together with Icelander Hjalti Karlsson.

How do you and your karlssonwilker partner Hjalti Karlsson collaborate? Do you each specialize in a certain aspect of the business, and has that evolved since the creative studio’s founding?

JW: In the first years of karlssonwilker we did everything together, and we had pretty much the same skills. We would often sit in front of one machine, with an open Illustrator document, and design together, alternating on mouse and keyboard. Over time, Hjalti started doing a bit more business and money, and I went deeper and deeper into design and “directing” our small team. We still both design, sometimes together like in the old days. It’s much more segregated now, but also more efficient. While I’m the de facto creative director, he’s currently the new business guy. Let’s see how things develop from here. 

Hopefully there will always be roadblocks for you, and for me.

You began your own creative studies in architecture, and now have created everything from interactive experiences, to interior design, to music … is there a common thread or inspiration throughout?

JW: I would certainly say yes, there is a common thread, while not necessarily a common inspiration. The approach to design, to our most successful projects, is to blow it up to reveal the widest horizon of possibilities. Then we try to push it as long as it takes to surprise ourselves. Other than that, with a small staff of four creatives, it’s easier for a studio to have a common language.

Jan Wilker of karlssonwilker design studio

Jan Wilker,of design studio karlssonwilker

What is a good way for an undergraduate student to continue to evolve their sense of design?

JW: No matter if undergrad, grad, or practitioner, it’s best to “design” all the time. Analyze the things around you, why it works, why it doesn’t, how it communicates, when, to whom, etc., and so forth. On the subway, online, while cooking, eating, walking, there’s something to discover everywhere. Visuals and visual communication is of course everywhere, and we can playfully learn from it. And a second here and there add up to hours, days, months. 

How do you “feed” your own creativity when you hit a roadblock?

JW: Roadblocks can be circumvented with continued hard work. And the roadblock “I have shit ideas” is the same as “I have very good ideas,” if “great ideas” is what you want. Therefore, hopefully, there will always be roadblocks for you, and for me.

Work by design studio karlssonwilker:

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