The Curious Christin Malén Andreassen

"I am obviously not great at all the things that I do. But I don't mind trying."

portraitArt director, photographer, print enthusiast, and native Norwegian Christin Malén Andreassen on creative curiosity, internship panic, and learning to roll with whatever an independent career throws at you — even deportation.

ADC: Tell us about your journey from student of art direction to freelance designer and Jr. Art Director at B-Reel, New York. 

Christin Malen: I started off studying advertising and visual communication at Westerdals School Of Communication in Oslo in 2006. I did a three-year program in Art Direction, which really does not make any sense now that I think about it! It was a pretty wide education where we touched on advertising, art and editorial communication.

There was a lot of conceptual work, but I missed the design exercises and lectures, so I went to New York in the summer between the second and third year to do a summer intensive program at Parsons.  I was so taken by the city — the atmosphere, the people who would talk to me on the street, everything. So when the third year came, I did my three-month internship at the fashion magazine V Magazine in New York.

While interning daily, my copy partner in Norway and I worked on the first issue of Out Of Step Magazine and a month after my return to Oslo, we launched the first issue. After that, I freelanced as a designer, did stuff for Oslo-based businesses and a lot of private projects.

ADC: How did you find yourself in the world of advertising?

Christin: Once the second issue of Out Of Step Magazine was out, I was poor and pretty tired of eating noodles, so I ended up taking a role as a designer at a Norwegian ad agency called SMFB. I worked there for two years doing ads and…more ads. At the same time, we did the third issue of my dearest baby, the magazine, and I began studying photography part time. I also designed an interior magazine from scratch that launched two weeks before Out Of Step.

After all that, I was so tired and had to reconsider what I was doing. I was working double time, wearing myself out, and not really enjoying life itself. I quit my job, packed my stuff and moved to Stockholm. A new start, a new place. I worked as the art director for an international watch magazine until I was accepted to Hyper Island, the Interactive Art Director program. It was 2012 and about time to move into the digital world. The future did not, and still doesn’t, look bright for the magazine industry; no matter how much I love making magazines, I needed to evolve and learn more.

I could have gone somewhere and done something I was good at, but I stepped out of my comfort zone and wanted to learn from the best. So I had to suck at something amongst amazingly talented people; that was hard for my ego, but I learned so much!

ADC: What was the working environment like at Hyper Island?

Christin: Hyper Island was amazing. It had a focus I was not aware of. We learned how to create strong effective teams, how to give and receive feedback and how to work with people who are totally different from us. We also did a bunch of awesome projects with real clients. We focused on all digital solutions, which was new and exciting to me. I was in love.

After a few months the panic started. We were supposed to do a three month internship. Internship! I hate that word. I ended up going to B-Reel in New York. Mostly because I love New York and admire B-Reel for all their amazing work, but also because I knew it would be a challenge. I could have gone somewhere and done something I was good at, but I stepped out of my comfort zone and wanted to learn from the best. So I had to suck at something amongst amazingly talented people; that was hard for my ego, but I learned so much!

ADC: How did you end up back in Norway?

Christin: I stayed there six months, my visa ran out and I was kicked out of the country. When I got back to Oslo I got an amazing message about a new job in New York that was waiting for me, so now I am just working on my visa, trying to get back and keep on learning!

ADC: Your work has put you in the roles of photographer, editor, programmer, director, designer, writer, and pretty much any other discipline a person could think of. How does each medium you work in inform the others and how do you focus your energies when you need to?

Christin: My background is more widely spread than…a sneeze in my hometown (where there are only two days without wind a year). It might seem like I can’t make up my mind about what to do, but to me it’s more about a curiosity I have always had. I always have a thousand things I want to explore, and since I feel like the whole range of roles are all connected to each other, I don’t mind taking a challenge to explore them.

Being able to take on a role and just figure it out must be one of the best strengths we can have in this industry, I think. It is always all about problem solving, and if we can’t handle a challenge, what are we then? I love being able to work with people and figure out ways of solving problems as they come along, but I also see the need for clearer roles when you work in bigger teams. Having a passion for communication, I just want to make things and make sure they work. I studied photography part time while working at SMFB not because I wanted to be a photographer, but because I valued being able to know what was possible and how to talk with photographers in my role as art director. I am obviously not great at all the things that I do. But I don’t mind trying.

ADC: Where does your passion for print magazines come from?

Christin: Coming from a small underground DIY punk scene, I did posters, booked shows, did festivals and wrote fanzines. I needed help to do the design of my publications after I gave up cut & paste because I didn’t know how to use InDesign myself. So as soon as I started studying at Westerdals, I made an extra effort to learn the Adobe programs so that I could do it all. I always had a passion for communicating, especially in fanzines and magazines because they can reach so many and I appreciated the products myself a lot. There is so much inspiration in beautiful printed magazines.

ADC: Do you enjoy being involved in the every step of a publication process or prefer to step away?

Christin: When I did Out Of Step Magazine, I was a huge part of every step of the process and I loved it so much. But my love was mostly for the project. I did not really have any wish to have to sell the ads or carry around heavy boxes of magazines! But I did it for the project. I want to follow every project from start to end. But of course it is equally important to let others who are included have ownership and contribute, too, so I am not a total control freak. I want photographers, writers and illustrators to have freedom so that they feel strongly about the project. I think that is what makes a project good, that people work on it with passion and love.

ADC: How did the opportunity to work with Nike on the Exosphere Experience come about? 

Christin: The Exosphere project was my final project at Hyper Island. We always worked and presented for real clients at Hyper, and this time, my group got really lucky. We got to work with Nike Sweden and Nikes Marketing Director. Our brief was to come up with an idea that would help Nike to inspire women to run more, especially in the winter time. This was a fun brief for us because it was so open. They asked us to not limit ourselves to budgets because they wanted to get inspired and came to us for a huge idea. So we worked on it, did surveys and interviews for the target group, challenged the brief a bit and came up with this indoor running house. We worked on the concept for a good while, sketched it up, made a film to explain it to Nike and presented it to them. They totally loved it, and wanted to send us off to headquarters. We will see what happens with the project, I know it is still in there somewhere in some back pockets. It is one of my favorite projects because it is a huge idea and we also have a lot of details on the technical side of it that I would love to work on further. Hopefully it will become reality one day, because the idea is so fun!

ADC: What is next on the horizon for you?

Christin: At the moment I am working day and night on collecting press and information for my visa application so that I can come back and work in New York. I really love working there and being there. The intensity level is so high and I just love learning from everyone there. I want to learn as much as I can so that I can go back to Norway and be great one day!

Editor’s update: Christin  just obtained her visa! She will be starting as an Art Director at Ogilvy & Mather in New York very soon.