Listening to the Future

Words by Andreas Francisco
Photography by Sigrid Bjorbekkmo


Designer Andreas Engesvik spends most of his waking time doing what he calls listening to the future. He does this by being completely unattached to every thing he surrounds himself with, as well as having an extensive knowledge of history. Everything he owns he analyses to the core. He observes, picks apart and reassembles. This is his view of the contemporary world—where any inanimate object can teach him something. This is his way of reaching the forefront of his game, and staying there.

About ten years ago, while Andreas Engesvik was going through a divorce, he bought an apartment in desperate need of renovation, which he began immediately the day he moved in. He and his young son lived in a home where every activity in every room was an ordeal. Walking on cardboard floors, sleeping in misplaced beds and improvising showers in the kitchen. They had two pots, four plates and a refrigerator—and didn’t mind at all. It was an experience that helped him realise how little he really needed, how easy it was to acclimatise to a minimal lifestyle, and how important all of it was for him to become the man and designer he is today.

"Being neutral to the things around you is the road to a balanced life. I like to own and surround myself with objects I find beautiful because I want to gain knowledge from them. I’m not attached to them. I’m in control. They don’t force themselves on me."

This personal philosophy, where he always tries to have an active gaze on all objects, putting away the thought of materialism, has been one of Andreas’ strongest qualities as someone trying to understand the design industry of today. Having no obstacles has given him a calm and confident view of things, and what’s to come. Like how sure he is of why the entire world is looking to Scandinavia these days; with a prospering economy, Scandinavian lifestyle has been built on a conscientious consummation and a closeness to nature, among many other things. As well as having technology that allows for information and knowledge transfer in ways earlier generations never had, Scandinavians have developed a sense of critique and willingness to choose a more sustainable path, all of which has, or very soon will, see Scandinavia leading the way in design, he says.

"In the post-war period up until the mid-70s, Norway had a rich industry that was based on commission. We produced a lot of very interesting stuff, but that production eventually disappeared. All of our focus shifted to the oil industry. Now that we finally see how unsustainable oil is, we stand at the beginning of a chapter where the interesting stuff is coming back."

Andreas has confidence in the ability of the creative industry, that it will to bring about significant change in the near future, especially in Norway. He talks about how the role of designers has shifted over the last fifteen years. It used to be that a designer’s role in the process was merely to produce sketches, suggestions of how things should look, without much say in the production. But now, with their own thoughts and ideas of how the world should look and interact, their role is more fortified. Their craft has a much deeper societal value. They have more to say because their voice is heard. And the voice of Andreas has, for some years now, been an important one in chiseling out the tendencies of today.

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Born in 1970, Andreas’ relationship with design started as a young boy who loved to roam around old houses, collecting artefacts from his explorations. This was a more tactile time where even kids went to occasional weekend flea markets at local schools and town houses, where he could spend his allowance on ornaments and antiques that caught his eye. Later he graduated in history of art from Bergen University, before studying design at the National College of Art and Design in 1995.

He took what he learned from studying history and brought it with him into design, using it as a solid foundation of how to understand the present. Being a student of the arts was to Andreas a time of more questions than answers, where he constantly processed emotions linked to existential doubt, and continued to ask himself, ‘What’s the use of studying design? How does society benefit?’

"I’m not very into sayings, but I read somewhere that the ego has a limited lifespan. The spirit, however, and the drive, lives on. That’s why you have to be rigged in a certain way if you want to create something beneficial over time. Everyone can have a good year, but not everyone can sustain that growth, control it. I’ve seen a lot of people blow it all when they’re on top."

The importance of keeping growth organic and steady, both in terms of business and personal life, has always been important to him. We’ve reached a time where you don’t have to be a big-name design agency to come up with the next big thing. Big agency usually translates to there being many people, which often means there has to be a hierarchic structure, leading to less creative freedom.

"I think a lot of the major global brands and manufacturers will lose their ability to adapt to the times we’re in. They’ve become so big that they’ve lost elasticity. They’re still defined by old ideals of money and short-term business plans. Take my word for it: giants will fall in the near future. Corporate agencies everyone thought were untouchable. I’m sure of it."

Andreas’ agency Andreas Engesvik, Oslo is a small operation of three designers, who are free to make the products exactly as they envisaged them, without going through layer upon layer of people with opinions. A flat structure that helps the product stay true to the initial idea.

Chunk by Andreas Engesvik for MENU

Chunk by Andreas Engesvik for MENU

Reaching this level of insight means he’s become better at measuring his own value too. Asking potential clients the right questions before beginning a project, and being strong enough to say no if it doesn’t feel right. This is exactly why Scandinavian brands are doing so well right now, and will continue doing so. They have more freedom to place emphasis on materials and craftsmanship. It’s not so much about style as it is about something rooted in a respect for craftsmanship and the durability of products.

Plus Scandinavia uses the trendshaker a lot less.

"You know, the trendshake? It’s when you take four or five products you really like, put it in the shaker, shake it, and out comes something that sort of looks like everything that’s cool right now, but doesn’t amount to anything of its own."

Andreas is positive that there’s no future for cheap goods in the Western world. He draws a parallel to our developing food culture, where we are increasingly moving away from the industrial production of food, towards what is conscientious and sustainable. That same awareness of where something comes from and how it’s treated is also found in the creative field.

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Who made it? Is it going to last? Can it be repaired?

These are just some of the questions we ask more now than ever before, and we can credit a lot of this mentality to the young designers and how we focus on them and their abilities, their way of thinking and their way of keeping up with the fast changes of our generation.

"We have to make more room for the young. It’s they who are in control. We can’t have a 50-year-old sitting around, trying to think of what a 20-year-old wants. It just doesn’t work that way. Give the power to the young. They know what’s up."

He says this with conviction, before segueing into a story that seems to support the opposite: something had recently caught his eye on one of his many visits to his mum’s, this summer. She lives on a small farm in the countryside, with a barn he loves to walk around and look at all the old equipment. Inside he found some old rakes, given to his mother by a family friend, a craftsman of the old school.

"I was just struck by how inconceivably beautiful this rake was. Handmade with a long oval shaft of pine, bow and teeth made of ash. I had to take it home with me, even though I have no idea what to do with it yet."

It’s an object that speaks to him, he says. There’s information there. He just needs to read into it, learn how to draw it out. He’ll take it to his office and keep it lying around, so he can look at it from time to time, trying patiently to understand every part of it to such an extent that one day it will tell him something about the future.

Bollo by Andreas Engesvik for Fogia


First publish in Volume Eight