NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 39

Face to Face

Objective, Subjective, and Graphical: A Conversation with Studio Feixen

Pouya Ahmadi

Not too long ago, you announced your new project Studio Feixen—could you please tell us about how you formed initially and what brought you three members together? Can you tell us about how you operate as a team?
I began the studio by myself, but after a while I simply realized that over time it is just no fun to work alone. It’s an incredible feeling to realize what happens when you merge talent. There is a long tradition of graphic designers who are known as individuals, but I think we are living in another time. Today it’s about teamwork and collaboration; this idea of one person knowing and creating everything is an idea of yesterday. The more people working on a project, the more the work improves. The more eyes and talent, the better the work. Also – let’s be honest – success is much more fun to celebrate in a group. We fight together and we have our goals. If somebody has a bad day, the others help them concentrate on reality.

Considering the variety and volume of the work that Studio Feixen produces, how would you describe your design process? 
For us it’s mostly about finding new visual languages. I think that’s what we are known for. We don’t believe in thinking about design ideas. We believe that it’s not possible to imagine a new visual language since everything you can imagine is actually just a combination of stuff you’ve already seen somewhere. You have to make it. And look at it. And react. So when we start a project we don’t lose a lot of time talking about it. After ten minutes of listening to a client, we all already have twenty ideas about how that could look, so we just start trying out stuff. What happens then is the interesting part I think. You print your ideas. Put them on the floor. Try to find out what feels good. Search for combinations until suddenly you find a language that does everything or even more you expected.

Studio Feixen works across many different disciplines including Graphic Design, Interior Design, Fashion, Type Design, etc. How did you transition from a graphic design focused studio into a multidisciplinary one? What’s the thread that connects all of these disciplines to each?
At some point we realized that these borders we all have in mind don’t really exist. They are just words. So we believe that as soon as you master one discipline you can use the concepts and ideas you discovered towards working for every other discipline. Of course it’s not possible to ignore the lack of experience, so as soon as we work in a field that is outside our normal borders we collaborate with experts from that specific field.

Studio Feixen has designed a humongous series of posters for the the Südpol cultural center in Kriens, Switzerland. Can you tell us more about this project and how the work and your approach to it have evolved throughout the years? 
The Südpol is a multipurpose cultural center in Kriens, Switzerland, close to Lucerne. It houses a theater, a symphony orchestra, a brass band, a music school, a restaurant, a flea market, and rents out space for performances of music, dance, theatre, literature, digital arts and many more. From 2010 to 2015, we were commissioned to design all of the posters for the venue. The corporate design provided only marginal design restrictions. Over the years, a collaboration has emerged that allows design to cross the usual boundaries.
Since there was no real corporate design for the poster series (but at the same time they needed about three posters every months), we needed something like a concept. So we had this idea of an invisible corporate design which happened in the research phase. With every poster designed, the same research was completed on three levels: objective, subjective and graphical. We always tried to have one idea of each level included in one poster. It’s something like insurance to yield a good poster in the end. 

How does Studio Feixen adapt itself across such diverse group of clients from a sports brand such as Nike to a cultural center such as Südpol? Do you see these projects as completely different worlds, or you are rather consistent in your approach and attitude towards any project regardless of their respective field?
We don’t really see a difference here. In the end there are people asking us to design something for them, and we do our best to help them. That’s it.

Herman Miller is another major brand that you have worked with in the past. Can you tell us about the scope of the project and how you achieved a rather humorous design language throughout your process? This question is in reference to the red moulded plastic Eames chair.
This was a poster for an exhibition called «Then x Ten» ( Our task was to choose one of their products and to interpret it. The poster was later exhibited in Melbourne, Australia. The exhibition showed the impressive poster history of Herman Miller, with posters from designers such as Armin Hofmann and Steve Frykholm.
The final image of this red ketchup splash that turns into a Eames chair was built on a simple idea. The furniture of Herman Miller enjoys worldwide success. So wherever you go, you see their products; in a way they are objects of everyday life. 

In 2016, Studio Feixen developed a series of promotional graphics for Nuits Sonors Festival. Can you tell us more about this project and how the design language was expanded across all different pieces that you developed for the festival as well as its inner typographic logic of the pieces?
Nuits sonores is a French festival dedicated to electronic, independent, visual and interactive cultures. It takes place every year around Ascension for 5 days and 5 nights in Lyon. Its goal is to highlight emblematic places of the city of Lyon, including streets, museums, industrial sites and more.
Lyon is completely transformed during the Nuits Sonores Festival. The streets of the entire city are vibrant and full of music, there are projections on the facades of buildings and young people enjoying life playfully turn everything upside down.
We see our work as a game. And we always try to develop a game that fits the occasion. We ask ourselves how the rules of the game affect the rules of our design. For the Nuits Sonores Festival, we have created our own Lego game of patterns and letters with which we can build Lyon the way we envision it. Just like the visitors of the festival shape Lyon the way they envision it: A city that is constantly changing and adapting along the rhythms and melodies of the music.

Studio Feixen also frequently gives lectures, workshops, and is quite active in multiple educational forms. How do these activities help inform your designs and vice versa?
This absolutely influences our work. On one hand it’s good to give something back, but also to switch the focus away from you work and do something completely different. Teaching is not that much about design. It’s much more about understanding people; it’s about empowering the students’ self-confidence and allowing them to decide how to do stuff and how not to do stuff. Most of our workshops are designed to give the students no room for doubt and as much room as possible for creativity. 
But maybe its best to understand in pictures and videos:

Can you tell us about your collaboration with Google? Do you work with them on promotional materials for the company?
Sadly I’m not allowed to talk about this.

Not too long ago, Studio Feixen developed a visual system for Luzerner Theater that widely applies to any artifact produced for this entity. Can you tell us how your overarching system informs the promotional materials produced for the theater?
The Luzerner Theater is the only theater in Central Switzerland that presents three different sectors of the performing arts (opera, plays and dance). Benedikt von Peter, the new director, brings a pure and fresh artistic vision into- and around the theater. The people, the program, as well as the corporate identity have been changed.
The new program deals with the subject of new spaces, new perspectives, and new feelings. Make art noticeable again! Thus, the theater should take place not only in the theater but also in churches, in factorie, or in the open street. The idea is to recede from effects and ornament and to bring the focus back to the art of the performance.
Through intensive discussions and close co-operation with the director and his team we created a visual language which is greatly reduced yet playful. It provides endless possibilities for the theater to convey its contents. We were committed to the overall art direction of the building. Consequently – despite the immense scope of design applications – it was especially important to us that everything come from a single source. Over the last year we turned the house upside down creatively. We rethought and reorganized everything: from furniture to poster systems, trailers, publications, letters, books, flyers, stickers, signaling, photographic language, website and umbrellas… even the ticket was redesigned. We have an exciting year behind us and are already looking forward to an even more exciting one ahead.
Last but not least, if you were to choose any entity (organization or individual) that you are truly interested in working with—producing their promotional materials—what would that entity be?
Hm. What about designing everything for Elon Musk’s next project?

Pouya Ahmadi

is a Chicago-based typographer and art director. He is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago—School of Design—and an editorial board member ​of Neshan magazine focusing on contemporary graphic design and the visual arts. Pouya's work has been showcased by It'sNiceThat, AIGA Eye on Design, People of Print, Grafik, Etapes,​ ​Type Directors Club, Print Magazine, and many others. Pouya holds a MA/MAS degree in Visual Communication from the Basel School of Design in Switzerland and an MFA in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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