Interview: Arnar Ólafsson from UENO

If you are aware on what’s happening on the web design field You may have heard about UENO.
UENO is a full-service worldwide digital agency based in New York, San Francisco & Reykjavík dedicated designing and building beautiful digital products, brands, and experiences.

Since my last interview with Focus Labs I had the chance this month to conduct an interview with Arnar Ólafsson, a designer from the brilliant team, and you can read it here.

First, can you introduce the team to us ?

Ueno has offices in 3 cities: New York, San Francisco and Reykjavik.  The team consists of around 40 people, mostly designers and developers.  I work from the Reykjavik office, where we have around 14 developers and 3 designers. We share designs with the other offices and get feedback through Slack and that’s how we keep everyone connected and on the same page.

What got you interested in the digital field and design ?

I got started in the very early years of the web, back in 1999 – it felt a bit like the wild-west back then.  Nobody really knew where this new medium was going and how it was supposed to be used.  Designing back then meant creating your own design-patterns instead of following established ones.  Discovering new ways to display information and design and pushing the boundaries of what could actually be achieved in code really got me interested in the field.

How did you develop your style and how would you describe it ?

I’ve worked for a lot of corporate clients through the years and that has made me approach design in a very clean and calculated way.  It’s influenced my style a lot and I believe that when you get your foundations right it’s easier to build something creative on top of that. I’d say my style is clean-cut, simple, but still creative.

When you start a new project, what is your typical design process,?

Initial meetings with clients and project kick-off meeting are really important to grasp the project at hand.  After those meetings, I write down a short brief that outlines the project, what should be the focus, what cannot be done technically and what we are aiming for.

If I’m working for an established company, I try to get a feel for the brand by browsing whatever marketing material the client has and find ways to build on that. After that I do some sketches with pen and paper to lay down ideas for the most used components of the project.  Then I start wireframing and putting together a rough prototype to show to the client and get feedback.  When The wireframes are complete I start the visual exploration and refine the styles of all my components and tweak the wireframes so that everything fits together.

How do you describe your daily routine ?

I drink a lot of coffee throughout the day, so you always see me with a cup in my hand.  I start my day by going through the ueno Slack channels and emails to catch up.  Then I check out what’s new on and – usually that gets my head in the right place before I start tackling the project of the day.

Which are your favorite studios or designers that keep you inspired ?

The ueno team, Fantasy, Huge Inc, Hello Monday, Focus Lab, Stinkdigital, Erik Herrström, Claudio Guglieri, Tobias van Schneider to name a few..

What inspires you outside of work ?

I try to check out art-shows and photography exhibits whenever I can and especially when I’m travelling. I drive around Iceland with my camera and listen to a lot of great music.  Getting outside and spending some time in nature is the best inspiration.

Do you find you work better in a team or alone ?

I always work better in a team.  Getting input and feedback and building something together is always better than building something alone in a corner.

How important is the workspace to your creativity ?

I’m very fortunate to have a great workspace, it’s on the 7th floor and overlooks a beautiful valley, in the distance I can see the ocean and a mountain range.  Our offices are very clean, everything is white, and there nicely designed furniture everywhere.  It’s a great space to work in and nothing to distract or annoy you.  I remember designing in a tiny room with 3 other guys where literally everything annoyed my at some point.  That took time away from focusing on projects and made it very difficult to “get in the zone”.

What is your favorite aspect about the design industry ?

How dynamic it is and constantly changing. I keep learning new things and I am inspired by new projects every week.  I like the culture and fellowship that comes with being a designer, in Iceland digital designers are a group of 20-30 people that all know each other.

What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far ?

Other than being recruited to ueno?  I’d have to say creating my own agency with 3 other creatives a few years back.  We got to work on some pretty cool projects and grabbed some awards.


What lessons have you learned in your career ?

Confidence is a big part of “selling” you design.  If you are presenting a solution or a project and don’t fully believe in it yourself, the client won’t either.

What types of challenges have you faced as a designer ?

Any final messages to those just starting out ? 

Keep and open mind and be open to change and feedback, sometimes the best ideas come from someone pushing you.  Keep trying out new things, learn new tools and try out new styles. Work hard – your v12b will always look better than your v1 😉

You can check more of Arnar work on his Dribbble or on UENO team on Dribbble.