14islands is a Nordic-rooted design and technology studio, dedicated to crafting digital experiences that blend technology with creativity for enhanced user enjoyment and inspiration
Please introduce yourself and your startup 14islands to our readers!
My name is Hjörtur Hilmarsson, and I’m the CEO and founder of 14islands. We’re a human-centric design and technology studio with Nordic roots and a global footprint. We combine technology and design to create experiences that go beyond practicality, infusing a sense of enjoyment and inspiration. Our expertise spans from digital products to websites, forging meaningful connections between businesses and people.
I was born and raised in Iceland, where I began building websites in the 90s. After studying Computer Science and working as a front-end developer at agencies, I decided to follow my passion for creativity. In 2011, I co-founded 14islands with two friends. Today, our agency boasts a dynamic international team collaborating remotely across the globe, with offices in Stockholm, Florianópolis, and Reykjavík.
How did you get the idea of 14islands?
The time I spent in the agency world showed me that high pressure, unreasonable deadlines, and burnout were very common. Our industry was swamped with companies perpetually burning the midnight oil, and it just didn’t seem sustainable. My two friends and I felt like there should be a balance between work and life. We believed in encouraging people to take care of themselves, cherish downtime, and then bring their A-game to the workplace. When we founded 14islands, our goal was to create a healthy work culture, something far from the norm in many agencies at the time. As it turned out, this approach became a magnet for attracting exceptional talent to join us.
Why did you decide to start with 14islands?
We didn’t feel like there were enough exceptional websites and digital products out there. Too many experiences were poorly designed and hard to use. We felt the need to sprinkle some magic onto the digital landscape and wanted to craft websites and products that were better not only for ourselves but for everyone out there. We envisioned experiences that are not only practical but also fun and inspiring to use.
What is the vision behind 14islands?
Our vision evolves around innovation, continuously challenging the limits of what can be achieved.
We seek fresh approaches to crafting products and experiences that are user-friendly and more efficient. Our commitment lies in making a positive impact, utilizing our skills and expertise to create meaningful connections between businesses and people. We aim to inspire by refusing to accept the ordinary and consistently striving for innovation.
How difficult was the start and which challenges you had to overcome?
In the early stages, we primarily focused on consulting work in development. While initially targeting design agencies, we eventually decided to venture into design ourselves, opening a dedicated department six years into the journey. This transition was not without its challenges but remaining in the safe zone limited growth opportunities. This shift also required a change in mindset. We not only needed to change our mindset but also our reputation, emphasizing our design capabilities rather than solely showcasing our previous development work. Transitioning from collaborations with agencies to direct client interactions also added complexity. Despite the initial lack of reputation in design, our commitment paid off with the recruitment of talented designers, contributing to our success.
Who is your target audience?
Our clientele is spread across a wide range of sectors, including FinTech, Sustainability, Education, Gaming, and HealthTech. We are here to help businesses seeking assistance with strategy, web or product design, development, app creation, or innovative tech solutions. We understand that every client, project, and situation is different, so we take a flexible approach to adapt and tailor our services to what our clients need.
What is the USP of your startup?
We are a human and friendly, global yet nimble studio with relentless craftsmanship but also a great dedication to UX and strategy. Rooted in the Nordic ethos, our dedication to a balanced work-life dynamic and a collaborative approach fosters creativity. As an example, we give our team members a 30-day summer vacation so that they can explore new destinations and, consequently, expand their perspectives and derive inspiration from diverse surroundings. This, in turn, fuels the creation of experiences that leave a lasting impact on our clients’ success stories.
Can you describe your typical workday?
My typical workday is dynamic, with a substantial amount of time devoted to communication and engaging with potential and existing clients. Effective planning is crucial for ensuring timely delivery and appropriate resource allocation. I actively participate in marketing efforts, and handle various administrative tasks. Overall, my focus leans towards the short term, consistently reviewing internal processes and fostering creativity to maintain a flexible and adaptive approach.
Where do you see yourself and your startup 14islands in five years?
Five years from now, I see 14islands continuing to offer comprehensive and creative solutions through the seamless integration of design and development while staying at the forefront of emerging technologies. Our focus remains on enhancing our skills, embracing new opportunities, and staying relevant in a rapidly evolving landscape. Rather than setting rigid long-term goals, we prefer to think short-term, consistently evaluating our strategies for effectiveness. We aspire to receive more awards and gain increased recognition globally as a brand that consistently delivers excellence.
What 3 tips would you give to founders?
Invest in internal culture and talent, because a strong team is the backbone of success.
Strive for excellence in your work. It’s not just about doing good; quality work is essential to standing out in a competitive market.
Be nimble in your approach. Starting small allows you to pivot when necessary, ensuring you have a solid foundation before expanding. Stability is crucial to becoming a reliable and enduring partner, especially for an agency.
Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.