Everything about Snask, a snarky Stockholm-based creative agency, is an anomaly. Their work ranges from handmade objects to digital commodities for clients near and far, and they take on so many self-initiated projects—like starting a record label, running their own design festival, brewing their own beer, writing a book, even designing a custom pink bike—that it makes you wonder how they have time for anything else. But they do. Creative director Fredrik Öst talks about the Snask philosophy and why it’s not cool to overwork your staff.
What does the word Snask mean?
Magnus Berg and I started Snask as an idea while we were studying in the U.K. We talked a lot about eye candy and that the design we wanted to make should be that. Snask means candy in old Swedish, but it also means filth and gossip, which we find brilliant. Basically, from 0-12 years old, you’ll do anything for candy, and from 12-70 you’ll do anything for filth. When you’re 70 and up, you gossip about children, grandchildren, and others, so Snask means life, in a way.
You have this “conquer the world” approach to everything you do. Where did that come from?
I’m not entirely sure, but probably from being less popular at school. I don’t think we ever understood that we couldn’t do stuff or that things were hard.
We always thought that if someone else before us was successful with something then why the hell shouldn’t we be?
A recent study showed that what people regret the most when lying on their deathbed is everything they never did. We don’t want to find ourselves there. We’re not that afraid of death, rather the anxiety before you feel the tiredness grab your eyes.
Everything you do has a very hand-crafted quality, even as your peers are going digital. Is that the foundation of your work?
Not the foundation, but we love to work with our hands. Sometimes it’s faster to build things by hand rather than in Photoshop. For instance, if you build up typography with paper and cardboard, then suddenly decide to pour some bubbly champagne all over it, and then rip it to pieces, that would take a lot more time to do digitally. For us, it’s all about making things in real life because we love to do it.
Humor is everywhere on your site and in your work. Ever meet a client without a sense of humor?
Absolutely, but most can be swayed. None of our clients are that boring. Another argument is that you can always pull back someone who’s too creative or too funny, but it’s really hard to whip someone to be more creative.
You do a lot of projects for yourself, including new products, a record label, the Yay Festival, even a track-and-field event. Where do you find the time to do it all? Is it part of your company culture?
Yes and no. I mean, we want to do everything that we love, and so we try and do it. But also out of every 100 ideas, we start 10, and of those we finish maybe one. We need to know we can execute the idea in the best way, and that it fulfills our level of ambition. As for time, we think every project is important no matter who owns it in the end. If we take it on, it means we love it and have the passion to execute it. But we don’t do overtime work. We want our employees to go home at 5 or 6 p.m. every night, and if it’s not possible, then they get a day of vacation for the overtime.
There’s no need for people to work overtime, and it’s actually economically stupid in the long run. We hate companies that take pride in their employees working around the clock.
Keeping your employees healthy and happy will make your company prosper as long as you’re not doing something really stupid. We have a union contract, which guarantees the rights of our employees, and that’s highly unusual in our industry. We have a pension system, 30 days of paid vacation, a one-week trip that we do as a company every year, and everyone gets a free subscription to the Swedish equivalent of the New York Times Magazine. It’s important to stay current with society and politics in order to be a successful professional.
What has been the best project you’ve worked on recently?
Malmö Festival 2014 is Scandinavia’s largest city festival with culture, theater, music, art, discussions, food, and more. It’s been going on for 30 years, and last year we made it huge. Malmö is situated in the south of Sweden and super close to Copenhagen. We created an area where people and kids could hang out and interact with all the elements. It was built so that you could enter at many different places and walk your way up. We wanted people to be able to move the pieces, so at one point they made new words with the type forms. It was fun!