Hedvig’s journey from Stockholm to New York City, via San Francisco

Never underestimate the importance of working with people who believe in you, trust you and help you grow. That’s the most important lesson for Hedvig Åström, who started her journey towards a Bachelor’s degree at Berghs in 2009, and now works as a Senior Art Director at DDB in New York. This year, she also serves as a judge for the student competition Young Ones.

Looking back at her first semester at Berghs, Hedvig Åström remembers a time of confusion, trying to navigate the unknown waters of advertising. Eight years later, she lives in New York City, works at one of the world’s biggest ad agencies and serves as a judge at the prestigious competition Young Ones.

Your journey into the world of advertising started when you enrolled at Berghs in 2009. What was your first impression of the program?

– Honestly, I was pretty confused. I looked at everyone in the years above me with wide-eyed amazement, and thought they all seemed to know exactly what they were doing! Advertising was like a foreign language to me.

You attended Berghs Bachelor, where students spend part of their education at Berghs and part of it abroad. What made you choose Academy of Art University in San Francisco as your destination?

– San Francisco is the perfect city for students. It’s a major city but it’s not too big, it has a chill vibe, and it’s extremely diverse. The Summer of Love definitely still lingers, even though the city has changed a lot with the tech boom in Silicon Valley. Also, I found it very exciting that AAU is an art school.

How would you describe your time in San Francisco?

– I majored in Advertising and Art Direction, and it was so much fun! The best thing about the school was that we got to try a lot of different things: strategy, painting, and creative thinking. Our professor in creation, Roland Young, was very unorthodox. He’s a great designer, and a true original. He’d give us assignments, but he’d also show us things he found online, which taught me a lot. If you know where you want to go, it’s easier to get there.

How does studying at a university in the US compare to going to school in Sweden? What are the main differences?

– The curriculum is fairly similar, but the methods are different. Colleges in the US lean heavily on group discussions and debates. You always have to be able to present, defend or explain your projects, which prepares you for client presentations. Another huge difference is the student body, with its diverse mix of people and cultures. You get access to a wide range of perspectives, which expands your perception of what’s “normal”.

You graduated in 2012. What were your dreams and plans?

– I did an internship in New York City during my last semester. I wasn’t totally happy with it, and I really, really wanted to work at Mother New York. I knew of Paul Malmström, one of the founders and a legendary creative, who happens to be Swedish. I ran into Daniel Carlsson, a Swedish digital CD, at an event. We got talking, and that led to having a beer at Mother. One beer turned into two (they have Stella on tap at the office), and Daniel introduced me to the other CDs at the agency. Luckily, they liked my portfolio, and I was hired a month later. It was an amazing time. Everybody there is so talented, and the vibe at the office is superb.

Describe the first months after graduation?

– My first project at Mother was at Virgin Mobile FreeFest in Maryland. Daniel, Jed Grossman, Dewi, Henrik and I worked with a team on an installation for LG. I remember the magical feeling of seeing our design in real life for the first time, and watching people enjoy what we built. People lined up for 20 minutes to get in to our installation, even though M83, Skrillex and Jack White were playing at the festival. We also got to meet Richard Branson at the festival, with was unexpected and amazing.

What are you doing today? Could you describe a day at the office?

– I’m at DDB now. We’re still working out of the same Madison Avenue offices as they did in Bill Bernbach’s days. Most days I’ll peel bananas, surf the internet, go to meetings, solve problems for clients, and perhaps draw or design something. I love the early stages of a project, when I’m brainstorming with a copywriter, but our responsibility is obviously to transform ideas into tangible campaigns.

The myth is that all creatives work 24/7, especially in the US. Is that still true?

– Weeeell, as a rookie you work a lot. With experience comes efficiency, and you learn to utilize your time better. But it’s an ebb and flow. Sometimes it gets very busy, like when you’re pitching or preparing a big presentation. But there are times when you’re just waiting for feedback.

Do you have time for other projects, outside of work?

– Yes! I always try to have a few things percolating. At Mother they’re great at letting people do their own projects. One of my most successful side projects was Pantone Smoothies, which I prepared and shot in the basement at Mother – with Paul’s blessing.

Which projects will you never forget?

– Last fall, I had the opportunity to contribute to a huge project for Cotton, Inc [an organization that promotes the use of cotton in fabric]. The client was great, and they shared our vision for transforming the brand, to make it more fashion forward and take it in a new direction. The idea that we sold included bacon suspenders and donut bracelets. We worked with Jimmy Marble, an incredibly talented photographer from Los Angeles, and with models who’ve been on the cover of Vogue. It was very exciting and a bit bizarre.

You’re on the jury of this year’s edition of the prestigious student competition Young Ones, which is a part of One Show. How did you end up there? Can you share some of the advice that you give to the students?

– I’m obviously very honored to have been chosen for the jury. The process wasn’t complicated. My portfolio was submitted and I was picked. I’m on the jury for photography and illustration.

– My advice is to have a strong idea behind everything you do. What are you trying to say? If a photo or an illustration gives me new insights, new perspectives on a situation, or makes me feel strong emotions – anger, love, concern, admiration – then you’ve succeeded. Some beautiful things just have ‘it’.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

– It seems like I’ll still be in the US, but I might try something new, like Dubai or Tokyo, because I’m fascinated by Japanese design. But I love living in New York. My top career priority is to always evolve and be challenged. A new job always has to feel better than the old.

– So far in my career I’ve had the privilege to work with talented people who’ve helped me grow. At Mother it was Paul and Jed. Here at DDB it’s Icaro and Hannah. It’s important to have good people above you, who believe in you, teach you new things and trust you. In the future I hope to be able to keep working with people I learn a lot from.