The Iceland Design Centre

The Iceland Design Centre, or Hönnunarmiðstöð  in Icelandic, started as a celebration of design shortly after the economical collapse in Iceland during 2008. To keep attention on the industry this grassroots organisation saw its opportunity to work with the Icelandic government to formulate progressive design policy. Mr. Wolf recently met director Halla Helgadóttir to learn more about this unique creative organisation. 

First of all, what is Hönnunarmiðstöð (Iceland Design Centre)?
Iceland Design Centre is the promotion agency for design and architecture. 

What are you working on right now?
We are always busy! We’re working on a new magazine on Iceland design and architecture, a collaborative project with our Finnish sister organisation Design Forum Finland, also DesignMarch 2015 and our day-to-day tasks in communication and promoting design in Iceland and abroad.

You took part in forming the Iceland Design Policy, could you explain what it is about?
The strategy includes practical steps to continue to develop the industry as a whole in terms of education, promotion, business and research. It addresses three main topics - education and research, the structures around the design industry and the awareness of the possibility and the role of design in our society.
The aim of the policy was to create a tool that enhances the design sector - putting design on the agenda in order to create solutions and implement decisions within the current system to continue developing the sector. It is about making design a natural part of both businesses and the societal system.

You also organise Hönnunar Mars/DesignMarch how has that festival developed? What is DesignMarch? 
DesignMarch is Iceland’s most important annual design event. It’s a city festival that takes place all over Reykjavik, and all different fields of design take part. It started as a grassroot project right after the financial crisis in 2008 and we decided to do something positive in the wake of a bleak time in Iceland to celebrate design. From the very beginning, the festival has been sort of an empty canvas for local designers to fill in. The designers themselves create the content and the program. DesignTalks is the only event we produce in the program. The talks this year was amazing!  
It has grown quickly and steadily and will be held next year on March 12-15. For the past few years, we have noticed that the festival has developed from a local event into something increasingly international – we are seeing more and more collaborations between local and international designers, which is wonderful.

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"Putting design on the agenda in order to create solutions and implement decisions within the current system to continue developing the sector. It is about making design a natural part of both businesses and the societal system"


Iceland is known for creativity and it is often said that the scene amongst design, architecture, art and music is fluent. How would you characterise this scene?
It’s a small scene, we are few, so the scene is close to each other and with an easy flow – the lines aren’t fluent perhaps, but cross-disciplinary work and thinking in the creative industries is natural for Icelanders.

Could you try characterising Icelandic design? How is it in comparison to Scandinavian design?
Being a young industry, it’s experimental and seeks experience in our culture and materials. The answer depends on the industry – graphic design is older and more established and on a very high level. In fashion, we have greatly talented designers but it’s a difficult industry because of the small market and no larger companies. Product design is the most experimental perhaps and architecture is defined by the elements and lack of materials – the city life is very young, from only the early 20th century. There are a lot of concrete and small timber houses vs. the blocks/apartment houses like in other European cities.
Three characteristics of Icelandic design could be professional, high level, strong individual styles – and of course it is closely linked to Scandinavian design traditions.

Could you name some big fish within Icelandic design?
Fashion - SteinunnOstwald Helgason & KronKron.
Product design - Sigga Heimis, Katrin Olina & Sigridur Sigurjónsdóttir.
Graphic design - Siggi Eggertsson, Atli Hilmarsson, Hjalti Karlsson & Siggi Odds.
Architecture - Studio Granda, Palmar Kristinsson & Basalt.

So were to look next – is something exciting coming up?
We are excited to see what happens when design and design thinking meets other disciplines – design and food, design and experience, design and policy, design as a process.


Words: Ditte Højgaard