Profile: Kenn Munk

Taking play seriously sums up the philosophy of this Londonbased Dane, who combines a witty facility for the experiential with a talent for teaching design. Anna Richardson talks to him about creativity, consistency and seeing the world differently

Communicating, getting people to see the mundane or accepted details of life in a different way and occasionally reinventing the wheel is what drives much of Kenn Munk’s work.

Since graduating in 1998, Munk has worked in advertising, designed fonts and toys, started teaching and set up his own studio, while commuting between his native Denmark and London. He settled more permanently in the capital towards the end of 2008, mainly due to a full-time tutoring job at Central St Martins College of Art and Design.

Munk’s clients include Lego, Hasbro, WWF and Tikaro Interactive, but some of his self-initiated projects show his design ethos particularly well. For example, Fortune Telling is a play on the ubiquitous home-made ’sofa for sale’ leaflets that let interested parties tear off a paper snippet. With a fortune printed on the back, it turns into a playful challenge. ’It explores methods and different media and formats, trying to make people aware of the everyday,’ says Munk.

Munk’s work is increasingly steering towards events. He runs a number of workshops, encouraging participants to make and play, and he is also working with artist and illustrator Annabelle Hartmann. The first of their collaborations was a stall for Tea and Make’s summer fête in south-east London, and last weekend they created Spin a Yarn, an installation for The House of Fairy Tales for the reopening of the South London Gallery to encourage storytelling among children.

This move towards the experiential also influences his work as a tutor, with students often discussing what constitutes graphic design. ’A lot of it is not a straightforward logo or packaging,’ says Munk. ’There’s definitely a shift.’

A key component of Munk’s approach is a certain playfulness, something that London proves an ideal stage for. ’There is a lot more creativity here, and there’s a willingness to play, which makes my job a lot easier – my playful projects have sometimes struggled a bit in Denmark,’ says Munk. Sweaty Sightseeing, a guided run in urban areas that started life during the Århus festival, was an early example. It encompassed alternative city sights, such as street art, but was maybe a playful step too far for its Danish public.

’I like to make people wonder and see the world differently,’ adds Munk. For a festival flyer for The House of Fairy Tales, he turned the white space containing sponsor logos – which no one ever takes note of – into a game, making users spot the ones that appeared twice. ’In that way, the logos became integrated into the design and made people look a bit longer.’

But it’s not all play. Munk is keen to stress – and tell his students – that, ’No matter how silly you are or how silly a project you’re doing, you should take the project itself seriously and give it the respect it deserves. A respect for the project is always there in my work.’

When he decided to reinvent packaging for model airplane kits to pass some time, for example, Munk approached it as he would any commercial venture. ’There are so many things that have been forgotten by design,’ says Munk. ’Model kit packaging hasn’t been redesigned in a long time and it was a good opportunity to show what graphic design could do.’ In fact, taking the pet project seriously paid off, as Munk secured work on the strength of it.

Such an undulating career trajectory invariably means an adjustment in approach, and Munk is clear about how his has evolved. ’I used to be really into consistency and tried to keep my earlier work in very high contrast, very black and white, because I thought it was efficient and striking,’ he says. ’But consistency is very limiting. It limits the amount and the kind of ideas you can get, so I’m not so fond of it any more – that’s something I may have picked up since coming to London, as there’s less focus on consistency here – [but as a result] I have probably become consistent, in that my work is more about the idea.’

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