VISUALIZING A SCHOOL OF SCHOOLS
As the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial’s visual identity becomes more present on the lead-up to the event’s opening in late September, Offshore Studio shared their concept and inspirations for the image of A School of Schools. Founded by Isabel Seiffert and Christoph Miler, Offshore Studio is known for its strong focus on editorial design and research. The practice of the Zurich-based design studio reflects the fundamental idea of ‘offshoring’ — the relocation of working processes to other cities, countries and continents.
Tugce Karatas: Can you explain your practice and the story behind Offshore Studio?
Christoph Miler: We met at Zurich University of the Arts, where we both studied Editorial Design. Both of us were interested in editorial design, while making books, magazines, telling stories but also in political and social themes. We had already started to combine design, research, editing, and I think we were interested in combining these different practices. Coming up with new aesthetics is also important for us. We are dealing often with new technologies or software such as open-sourced software or some 3D tools, which were not very common until recently. So, in order to create unseen and fresh aesthetics while bringing a new approach to themes that are surprising, we think differently about topics.
Isabel Seiffert: I think we are still exploring. For me, it was always clear that I wanted to be self-employed and explore how to be independent as a graphic designer, without adhering to this traditional model of ad agency or just doing service design. We always think that we need to create our own job “reality” or we need to define how graphic designers could work with that kind of interest in editing and researching. Nobody has a ready-made business plan for this. We are still in the phase of defining what it is, who we are working with and the way we work.
T.K.: Your striking work in Migrant Journal translates to research-based printed material tackling the transition of information, data and labour. Having a strong focus on editorial design, how do you combine research and storytelling with collectivism in your practice?
I.S: It is really interesting to be in that process. For Migrant Journal, we are in a different situation then commissions because we are the co-founders and co-editors, but we still explore team spirit and work on how to collaborate, to create something together. We really try to challenge that. Sometimes, because of deadlines or budgets, we have to be less involved in the process, but we always try to have a conversation with our clients or collaborators and do research as much as we can. On that note of being a team or collective, we decided very early on that we wanted to stay small. We are more and more trying to build a team around us that we can work with for specific projects and fields. But we always will be the core team because we have a good way of working together.
C.M: Migrant Journal became more like a business card. Potential clients see what we are capable of, what our field of interests are and how we combine editing, research, editorial design, story-telling with imagery. It is a really nice platform to actually show what we can do. It is interesting that people commission us because they know Migrant Journal and they know what we can do. Usually, they want a similar approach or they just want to apply this kind of approach to a certain kind of theme.
T.K: How do you combine print and digital materials for a project? Do you think digital experiences disrupt print materials nowadays?
I.S: We had this discussion quite a lot in the last year and a half. We also try to define our attitude towards this and be very open. We come from a background in print and design education is still very traditional in many ways. But I think we really realised that we don’t want to stick to a medium. It is more about storytelling, how to use typography, how to use imagery. The project being in a digital or printed space is a secondary thing for us. We think about reading experiences, layers of information and how we want to communicate with that. We are lucky in the sense that we get projects where usually both are involved. Also for the identity of Istanbul Design Biennial, there will obviously be printed materials but there are also animations or short clips for online media. I think it is really important that people who come from a background in print use their ability to tell similar stories or have the same idea of quality for digital space.
T.K: Offshore Studio is known for its collaborative, transnational and decentralized projects that feature an unorthodox approach to space and time. How will your unique approach towards visual communication translate into the Istanbul Design Biennial?
I.S: The process of creating a visual identity for the Istanbul Design Biennial is quite unique to us. Because it is large-scale, a lot of people are involved from various places, a lot of it is about conversations, the process, being open to creating something over time. So as the biennial is getting more and more concrete, the design also changes and we are getting a better idea of what it is. We started off with something very abstract, something we thought was a reflection of the open call and our conversations with the team. Now, we are here in Istanbul, meeting everyone, seeing the venues and where things will be visible. It has changed our perception of things. I think it is a breaking point where we decide to develop further or change things.
C.M: It is interesting because it is such a long phase and maybe one aspect really interesting for us is that we are not in control of everything. Usually a client approaches us and we do every detail of the project, but here we collaborate with so many people. The biennial has its own graphic designers and there is an exhibition design team involved as well. We set guidelines, we come up with the concept, we do some applications but for others, we are not in control. So we really have to carefully think about how to set up these guidelines. It is about creating something that still looks coherent even though we do not control everything. It is challenging but interesting.
T.K: Can you describe briefly your initial ideas related to the aesthetic direction of the biennial?
I.S: We started with something very abstract with patterns, which we refer to as “filters”. With A School of Schools, it is about learning processes. In the beginning, you can only see a glimpse of things. As you get more into the topic, you slowly get the image. I think this experience changed our perception a bit. We wanted something that is bolder or where things are more visible. There will be six venues with six overall topics and those topics will be looked at from different angles and from different sides because of the different contributions. Now we are focusing more on the perspective than the filter, trying to build a more modular system so it can be applied more easily but still be bold. It should be visible in the city because there is a lot of visual noise. We need something more large-scale, bolder. That is what we are working on right now.
C.M: It was really interesting to come here and see actually how the posters are hanging: raw, ephemeral and temporary. Also, with the noise from the traffic, everything is much crazier, loud and dense. It is not just how the posters hanging on the streets, but also about the whole atmosphere of the city and how that changes your perceptions of a poster or a banner.
I.S: I think it is also a really nice case study of how to work together as well. We actually work a lot with people who are not in Switzerland, sometimes we do not even meet them. It also shows again that it is always good to meet in one place to have dinner together and to discuss things. Something else comes out of this experience. I think this week was a really good example of it and perfect timing for the next step.
T.K: You have talked about the learning process of the Istanbul Design Biennial. What did you learn from you’re your time in ‘the School of Istanbul’?
C.M: If you are designing and doing something for a biennial, you should go to that city. It makes such a difference. You just have to be there for a couple of days to comprehend and see how it translates into your design. Meeting up with people in person is also so important and much more efficient.
I.S: It really raises motivation, it was almost like an internal workshop for us. Walking between venues was also a nice experience, going for a walk is a really good way to brainstorm. Christoph and I get our coffee in the morning and start walking, see and hear things while talking about our ideas. It was very inspiring.
•Originally published at http://aschoolofschools.iksv.org.