A very unusual magazine about business

by Kitty Drake in September 2019
Art & designTechnology

Being fundamentally unprofitable enterprises, it’s rare that you see an independent magazine set up to celebrate business. This makes Boden World Magazine — which takes a satirical, but at the same time deeply affectionate look at the concept of business, and by extension capitalism itself — rather unusual. A project from an Oslo-based design studio and brand consultant of the same name, the magazine was inspired by the experience the studio had making work for big-business clients. In some ways BW is a straightforward piss-take: the cover, which shows a man in a suit talking to a horse, for example, is taken from a photo-feature entitled, “What can CEO’s learn from horse whispering?” But then again, there’s a tenderness to the way the makers of this magazine approach their subject. The editor’s letter describes business as “both mundane and holistic at the same time. It’s being dumb in a really beautiful way.” It’s as if ‘Business’ is a perplexing, but ultimately indulged, child — loved despite the editors’ better judgement.

This is a rather uncomfortable premise for a magazine, but it’s certainly engaging. And features are beautifully photographed, and often very funny. Bodybuilder and property mogul Knut Øines is pictured in straining, lobster-red detail, and writes compellingly about his quest to be un-ordinary. And instructions on how to develop a “rapport” with a horse are brilliantly surreal. There is also a guide to “eating ass” in order to progress up the career ladder.

We sent Boden World’s founders — Axel Berggraf Egenæs, Elias Bjørnson Olderbakk, Jonas Vetlesen and Erlend Grimeland — some questions to try to get to grips with this intriguing magazine.

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Are you actually in business? Or is this an elaborate spoof?

We are 100% in business. We started Boden World one and a half years ago in the basement of our old shared apartment, printing T-shirts by hand. As soon as the T-shirts existed, we were in business. We were quickly contacted by a local fashion store in Oslo, wanting to sell our stuff, and then it felt even more real, because there were actually people that believed we were a real brand with actual products to sell. The plan was never to become a clothing company, but we saw clothing as a way of putting our brand into the world. A branded T-shirt is very graspable, even if you’re not into design or art. This is important for us — the act of materialising something, making it come to life outside our own heads.

We’ve also experienced business from the inside through various jobs and clients, and it can be pretty bizarre. So we’re very happy to be able to create our own business environment.

Right now we are in the final year of our masters in design at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, and as soon as we finish, Boden World is going to be our full-time job. Boden World is a design studio doing a range of projects, and publishing is a part of this exploration of different media and ways of doing things out in the real world.

What made you want to make a magazine like this?

We find the world of business very fascinating. As students soon at the end of our studies, we obviously had to start thinking about getting a job. The closer we get to this work-life, the more weird things we see. It’s as if business-culture has become this way of doing things which everyone seems to accept, without questioning the premise on which it is founded.

We believe that the semantics, rhetoric and aesthetics of business-culture need to be viewed critically, and we try to do this through explorative design. What is complete bullshit and what is real? As designers we have all the tools to make something seem real even if it’s not, which is a very powerful skill that can be misused to persuade people into doing stupid things which won’t benefit them in any way.

Our approach to this magazine has been to try to find a balance between what’s bullshit and what’s legit. Often this can be a very fine line.

We love the feature about property mogul and body builder Knut Øines. What’s the connection between bodybuilding and business?

They are very connected. Just think about building a body and building a brand. Bodybuilders and entrepreneurs can even use the same inspirational quotes to guide them through their struggle. A brand is like a body — don’t skip leg day!

I also found Knut Øines’ idea that “being ordinary is boring” interesting, because usually the world associates business itself with boredom. Was that something you wanted to change?

It isn’t something we want to change particularly, but we find the business world to be boring in a very weird way. A lot of businesses are both conservative and dogmatic, but they still want to be perceived as ‘the coolest place to work’. This often results in quite ridiculous and tragic initiatives, like posting pictures from their Halloween office party on Facebook, or riding segways from cubicle to cubicle.

Why did you want to include the Chinese business magnate Jack Ma’s speech to Hong Kong University at the end of the mag? And why did you choose to illustrate it with images of a father and son shooting a gun? (Are they of Jack Ma as a child?)

Jack Ma is a very interesting figure. It seems he’s been under the radar in the western world, although he’s extremely successful globally. Everyone knows about Ebay and Amazon, but not everyone shops on Alibaba or AliExpress on a regular basis. He has this very cute way of looking at business, as well as a very inspiring story. He failed primary school twice and middle school three times. He also failed his university entry exam three times. He was rejected by the police force and even KFC. He applied for Harvard ten times and was rejected each and every time. And look at him now!

The images are shot by our friend Tyler Metzger during a trip to Hong Kong, where he randomly found this kid with his grandfather shooting a BB-sniper in the middle of the park. We thought this would go well with the story, as Jack Ma is now an extremely powerful man.

Regarding his cuteness here’s a quote from the speech we printed:
“So this is what we think the world should be focusing on. Not only the IQ, EQ, but also focus on LQ, the Q of love.”

Like, come on! “The LQ, the Q of love.” Proper business-guru.

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