A peek into the mind of an artist: the designs of Sennep

What makes for good design? Exploring all things design, Semi-Permanent is an annual event held across Australia featuring some of the world’s best designers, and it’s coming to our shores in July. Here is Idealog’s interview with event guest speaker Hege Aaby of digital agency Sennep.

Sennep, a London-based digital agency has created a number of interactive projects that range from a smartphone catalogue for Edwin, the clothing brand, to a stunning interactive economic database called Urban World. Blending between the world of digital and traditional design, Hege Aaby is co-founder of the agency alongside fellow creative Matt Rice. Here's a chat Idealog had with Aaby ahead of this weekend's Semi-Permanent event.

Tell me about the name. I understand it’s “mustard” in Norwegian?
I’m Norwegian, and when Matt and I started the out in 2003 we liked the idea of giving the company a Norwegian name. The hardest bit was finding something that was easy to pronounce in English. 

After lists and lists of names we eventually agreed on Sennep. We liked the sound and symmetry of the word. ‘Mustard’ is also English slang for outstanding, which is what we aspire to be.


A lot of your works are based on digital platforms. How did that start, when, and why?
As a graphic design student I was interested in moving image, and spent most of my final year in the editing room. Around that time, it must have been 1997/98, I had my first encounter with the internet. Seeing the possibilities of combining traditional graphic design with motion, through the means of code, made me excited. In 2000 I got a job as a designer at Digit – a purely digital agency. That’s where I met Matt, and the skills we both acquired there provided the foundations Sennep is build on.

Is there a distinction designers have to make when going from traditional modes and transitioning to mobile, apps, and digital installations?
When I started out as an interactive designer 15 years ago the designers I worked with all came from a traditional graphic design background. We all dabbled with code and the distinction between designers and programmers were blurred. Now that the industry has matured, specialised roles have emerged within design and development, along with a set of different methodologies for managing projects. I think the need to specialise will grow as the complexity of the industry grows.

The most important lesson you’ve learnt creating design for digital?
It’s not a piece of print. It can always be altered and it looks different on various types of computers, sizes and devices. This is what I love AND hate about digital.

What are some of the possibilities you’ve come across, as well as the limitations that you’ve experienced working on digital projects?
What excites me about digital design is the possibilities of adding motion. I think elegant motion can enhance a website, online tool or app and make it feel better to use. There are always technical limitations and restrictions to work within. At Sennep we seek to challenge these restrictions, and that’s why R&D is so important to us.

Where do you get your inspiration?
Inspiration can come from anywhere; art, architecture, interior design, nature, holidays, etc. I’m an avid Pinterest user as I like to keep sources of inspiration I find online in one place.

Thank you Pinterest.


Name one project that has influenced/impressed/excited you more than any other.
The app Monument Valley by UsTwo is an impressive work of digital craft. It’s beautiful, and atmospheric and I love solving the puzzles with my oldest daughter.


Tools of the trade?
Pencil and paper for working things out,  Invision and Pixate for prototyping, and Photoshop/ Illustrator or Sketch for designing.

One piece of advice for any designer, regardless of whether they’re just starting out, or seeking new opportunities?
Work hard. Be nice. Have a plan.

Coffee, wine, or hard liquor (and why)?
flat white please… to keep me awake.

MGI Urban World – Visualising the economic power of cities, past, present and future. from Sennep on Vimeo.