In search of a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and a fresh cre­ative chal­lenge, Michelle Phillips and Johannes Con­rad left Brighton for Ber­lin to found a stu­dio in an old public bath house

Computer Arts - - Contents - WORDS: Tom May and Ju­lia Sa­gar PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: Matthias St­ef­fen www.matthi­asst­ef­

Michelle Phillips and Johannes Con­rad dis­cuss why they upped sticks from Brighton to found a stu­dio in Ber­lin

One of the an­noy­ances about be­ing a cre­ative is be­ing at par­ties and hav­ing to ex­plain, in 10 words or less, the an­swer to: “What do you do?”. And that’s got to be tricky for Michelle Phillips and Johannes Con­rad of Stu­dio Yukiko. The pair de­sign and art di­rect ev­ery­thing from mu­sic videos and fash­ion pro­mos to print cat­a­logues and cof­fee ta­ble books. Not to men­tion work­ing on the latest is­sue of Fla­neur, their own in­de­pen­dent mag­a­zine which, quite uniquely, fo­cuses on a sin­gle street for ev­ery is­sue. Clearly, they’re one of the hard­est work­ing teams in de­sign. But what makes them tick? We asked a few ques­tions to peel back the lay­ers...

Why did you launch Yukiko?

Hav­ing done in­di­vid­ual stints in dif­fer­ent stu­dios/pro­duc­tion agen­cies, we moved from Brighton and Lon­don to set up our camp in Ber­lin. We wanted to chal­lenge our­selves, and not be­come too com­fort­able with our lives and jobs. We wanted an ad­ven­ture. We’re quite lucky right now, that we can just do the projects we love. We were asked re­cently to brand a res­tau­rant. Ob­vi­ously we im­me­di­ately said yes.

How does a stu­dio with just two peo­ple work in prac­tice?

There are mainly just the two of us; we some­times have a cou­ple of free­lancers help­ing out. We try and keep it small as we just want to do jobs that chal­lenge us, that we re­ally be­lieve in. These tend to come with more fun than money but it doesn’t mat­ter to us right now.

Like what, for in­stance?

We do a fair bit of pub­li­ca­tion de­sign for artists that can be low bud­get and are not so much com­mer­cially bound. They are of­ten more per­sonal projects for the client them­selves, so the con­tent is usu­ally very in­ter­est­ing and the way we work to­gether ap­proaches a dif­fer­ent level. We see more eye to eye with the client and it be­comes more of a col­lab­o­ra­tion.

What would you say is the se­cret to suc­cess­ful cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tion?

A suc­cess­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion means for us that a cer­tain part within a pro­ject de­vel­ops into some­thing that was pre­vi­ously not an­tic­i­pated. When work­ing within or lead­ing a team it’s im­por­tant at times to let go of the most mi­nus­cule as­pects of your vi­sion and let oth­ers have free­dom: that way some­thing new and un­ex­pected is al­lowed to hap­pen.

Could you pick one pro­ject from your port­fo­lio and talk us through it?

Walt is a brand that spe­cialises in clas­sic gen­tle­men’s hats, aimed at a younger, fash­ion-con­scious crowd.


Our job was to cre­ate a CI for them that con­sisted of a logo, web­site, look­book and so forth. We also art di­rected the look­book pho­to­shoot, as well as di­rect­ing a promo video.

Our main aim was to cre­ate a whole im­age world for the Walt brand. We wanted to give it all a lit­tle bit of cheek­i­ness as well as play with a dark and moody at­mos­phere. Af­ter a think, we came up with a nar­ra­tive around three guys hang­ing out in an derelict build­ing and bet­ting on mice.

Another key on­go­ing pro­ject for Yukiko is Fla­neur mag­a­zine – how would you de­scribe its aes­thetic?

Fla­neur al­ways grows and con­stantly changes. The de­sign just de­pends on the is­sue theme so much. It is re­ally gov­erned by its con­tent, in the way we en­gage our­selves with the con­tribut­ing artists’ works as de­sign­ers, or rather by the way the projects tell us to do so.

Each con­tri­bu­tion to the mag­a­zine de­pends on the street we por­tray: it’s the street that di­rects the out­come. That said, we take the lib­erty of re­ally ex­per­i­ment­ing with de­sign and the print for­mat.

Of course, there is a cer­tain sig­na­ture look that runs like a thread through­out ev­ery is­sue. We re­ally wanted to por­tray a cer­tain for­mal­ity of public de­sign, so we use sign­posts, street­signs – things you see on the street – and then play with break­ing away from them, re­work­ing them, putting things into a new con­text. Hav­ing fun is the pri­or­ity for us when work­ing on Fla­neur.

How do you go about plan­ning each is­sue in prac­tice?

Ev­ery time a street is cho­sen, we go there and spend some time on the street. We doc­u­ment it by walk­ing up and down the street, some­times with the artists or ed­i­tors in con­ver­sa­tion, and tak­ing a lot of photos of the street.

It’s im­por­tant for us on these walks to find out not only the his­tor­i­cal or con­tem­po­rary con­text of the street but also to get a real vis­ual feel for the lo­ca­tion. That and the fact that 90 per cent of the con­trib­u­tors are lo­cal or have a con­nec­tion some­how with the street, which means work­ing ev­ery time with a whole new set of peo­ple. And be­lieve us, at­ti­tudes and work­ing meth­ods can dif­fer con­sid­er­ably from city to city. It’s some­thing you have to adapt to very quickly.

We have a very close knit re­la­tion­ship with the ed­i­tors and pub­lish­ers, and they’re very open to what­ever wild ideas we might have for each is­sue. Fla­neur is so un­usual be­cause our col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach is quite unique. It’s based on ab­so­lute trust within the team, and also we trust and en­cour­age our con­trib­u­tors


to run with their ideas, be they odd or wild – there are al­ways some sur­prises along the way. What is the big­gest les­son you’ve learned from Fla­neur? Al­ways be in a di­a­logue with peo­ple, keep con­trib­u­tors happy, ac­com­mo­date them. Don’t run over their work with your de­sign. Put them con­sid­er­ately into your frame­work. What ad­vice would you give to any­one launch­ing their own stu­dio? Make friends with peo­ple who you want to work for first – in­ter­est­ing peo­ple, other cre­ative peo­ple. It’s a lot more fun to work for peo­ple when you know what makes them tick. Don’t just do graphic de­sign. Make other work, open your­self up, don’t be afraid to put it up on your web­site and call it ‘per­sonal projects’.

Don’t lis­ten to other peo­ple’s ad­vice too much, but don’t think you know best all the time.

Mies van der Rohe once said: ‘Dont be orig­i­nal – be good’. It’s im­por­tant to re­ally know what you are do­ing and to con­cen­trate on that. Sure, orig­i­nal­ity is ex­tremely im­por­tant, but it will come later. Fo­cus your energy first on just be­ing good. If you were to launch a new stu­dio to­mor­row, what might you do dif­fer­ently this time around? We wouldn’t change a thing.


Michelle Phillips and Johannes Con­rad have been run­ning Stu­dio Yukiko since 2012, work­ing in close part­ner­ship with artists, de­sign­ers, pho­tog­ra­phers, cin­e­matog­ra­phers and pro­gram­mers.

Left: Phillips and Con­rad’s stu­dio re­sides in one of Ber­lin’s old public bath build­ings Be­low: Much of their pro­ject work of­ten ends up with them work­ing along­side each other, of­ten on the same com­puter with their hands crossed

Above: The main stu­dio area is lo­cated on the third floor in a room that used to be a sauna just off the swimming pool

Right: Stu­dio Yukiko’s meet­ing room is shared with an ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dio on the same floor

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