Design - Issue 100 - Magazine | Monocle

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Reborn identity

Design plays a big part in making a good impression. From politics to business, let’s get it right in 2017.

Nolan Giles

The world looks very different this year. Perceptions of national identities have changed and the symbolism splashed across our newspapers has become more visceral. From placards on the streets to golden logos emblazoned on a certain tower in New York, new lines have been drawn and “identity” has taken on a stronger meaning.

But what role has design played in the upheaval? While good efforts were made last year they failed to hit the mark. Hillary Clinton, for example, campaigned behind a daring and dashing logo: the blue “H” with a red arrow driving through it pleased design critics for its approachability but didn’t have the cut-through with the mass audience that she failed to engage. Taking it to the streets, the well-tagged “black lives matter” campaign has no firm identity besides those very words. For such an impassioned movement words are enough but often messages from grassroots causes can deliver a stronger punch when cast in a uniform typeface that speaks with conviction and is supported by a clever symbol. Think of that immense sketched fist that rose up during the black-power movement of the 1970s.

Monocle has long advocated the profound impact of investing in the design of a strong identity, whether that is for your business or your nation. And with plenty of deserving causes to be championed in 2017, now is the time to do away with an old look and spruce things up to enhance your vision.

This year watch out for some smart nations that have invested in graphic design to make their mark. In Estonia a national rebrand aims to put the country under the global spotlight for being something more than the first potential domino to fall if Russia’s foreign policy becomes more expansionist. Estonia is investing in becoming an innovative country and a global business destination; it is also perhaps small enough (with 1.3 million people) for a new identity to change international perceptions. Likewise, Norway’s crisply designed new banknotes from Snøhetta and Metric Design are an opportunity for the country to say something about how it differentiates itself from Europe’s more financially unstable members.

Of course, much larger stakes are at play and design teams need to be assembled to deliver creative messaging that cuts to the core of a good idea and translates it to a wide audience. Estonia and Norway have avoided strolling through political minefields by commissioning local designers to realise their ideas but outsourcing fresh-eyed talent to solve tough problems shouldn’t be overlooked. Where is the great global graphic-design firm making it its business to support the right cause and not just the cause that pays? We should all be striving to make this year a better-designed one than the last.

Fresh talent

Thailand [Chiang Mai design week]

The second edition of Chiang Mai Design Week cast a spotlight on the nation’s emerging designers. “We focused on the small guys with big ideas,” says Inthaphan Buakeow, manager of the Chiang Mai branch of Thailand Creative & Design Center, which organised the event.

From Craig Anczelowitz’s wooden vessels to Slow Stitch Studio’s hand-dyed textiles, designs ran the gamut of the city’s artisan production. With 128 showcases across the city centre, Bangkok’s northern counterpart is building a solid design reputation on its craft traditions.

Table talk

Portugal [Hugo Passos]

Coming in five finishes and varying sizes that harmoniously blend together, Portuguese designer Hugo Passos’s slender oak tables sit just as pretty alone as they do clustered in various formations.

“When you handle the wood you really feel the craft behind the fine details,” says Passos of the cleverly designed flat-packed pieces.

Clean sweep

Spain [Viernes]

The increasingly grubby state of Madrid’s streets has been riling residents but while she renegotiates new street-cleaner contracts, the mayor is also applying a “prevention is better than cure” approach. As part of a citywide awareness campaign, young creative studio Viernes was enlisted to design a series of cheeky illustrations and messages that were rolled out across all 129 of Madrid’s suburbs. Emblazoned on a total of 4,200 signs, one of the slogans implores Madrileños to “think of the bin”.

“The tone was very important to prompt a change of personal habits without being paternalistic or appearing to scold residents,” says chief illustrator Aníbal Hernández. “In Spain humour always helps.” Of course, the more serious refrain of “love your city” is sure to resonate the most.

Paving the way

Japan [Keisuke Maeda]

Many downtown high streets in small cities across Japan have fallen on hard times as big-box and online retailers have lured away customers. But the formerly struggling street of Hondori-Funamachi in Fukuyama has shown how a clever makeover can help turn things around.

An ageing rooftop has been replaced by 7,000 stainless-steel wires that act as a veil between pedestrians and electricity lines, while cherry-blossom and maple trees line the pavement. Led by architect and Fukuyama native Keisuke Maeda, the redesign is attracting new shops, bars, restaurants and passers-by.


Gert Voorjans

Interior designer


Gert Voorjans’ elaborate interiors for fashion brand Dries Van Noten’s shops put him firmly on the global design map. By contrast his approach to home design is an intimate one, as shown in his latest book Daily Life.

Tell us more about your new book.
It’s 10 houses that I have done from A to Z, with interiors that I really stripped back and started again from scratch. There’s a city house, a former French consulate and a German schloss – a lot of variety.

There is a strong element of eclecticism in your work. How do you come up with design that’s both bombastic and tasteful?
Design has to be extremely real: when you bring something into a home it has to have a logical architectural purpose and fit in with the site. This is easier said than done when you’re working with something such as a schloss, which was built as a fortress and has to be turned into something liveable and enjoyable. It’s a fine art.

So how do you overcome this challenge?
The basic ideas are in the house; I see them when I walk in and then I learn to understand the character of the clients and combine the two. Essentially houses are meant to be authentic, they’re meant to be warm before the fire is lit, and this is what I fight for in my designs.

Raising the roof

Canada [HCMA]

“Our facility obviously accommodates high-level performance but it was built from a community-first perspective,” says Darryl Condon, managing partner of Vancouver architecture firm hcma, of his project for the handsome aquatic centre in the city of Surrey, British Columbia.

From its wide-window-fronted entrance to its changing rooms, the structure aims to welcome citizens. Yet the main draw for athletes and paddlers alike remains the undulated Douglas-fir roof. Designed to evoke the surface of water, the roof’s sculptural shape creates different ceiling heights to make room for diving platforms. “To design it we worked with papier maché, by trial and error, with dozens and dozens of curved forms,” says Condon. The result is the longest timber catenary roof ever constructed – an engineering feat in its own right.

Take a seat

USA [Ameco]

This new cork version of US chair specialist Emeco’s Su stool is designed by Japanese studio Nendo. The four-legged perch is lightweight and absorbs sound, making it a handy aide in a busy office. It is available in three different heights and its anodised aluminium legs are borrowed from the design of Emeco’s famous Navy chair.

Pillar to post

Turkey [Emre Arolat architecture]

The design by Istanbul-based Emre Arolat Architecture (EAA) for Bergama Cultural Centre references an ancient Greek temple that used to stand nearby. With a row of columns supporting a vast roof garden, the building comprises a library, theatre and cinemas, and was designed to blend into the semi-rural town.

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