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
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.
“WE TRY AND KEEP IT SMALL AS WE JUST WANT TO DO JOBS THAT CHALLENGE US, AND THAT WE REALLY BELIEVE IN”
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
“DON’T LISTEN TO OTHER PEOPLE’S ADVICE TOO MUCH, BUT DON’T THINK YOU KNOW BEST ALL THE TIME”
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.
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
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
STUDIO YUKIKO Michelle Phillips and Johannes Conrad have been running Studio Yukiko since 2012, working in close partnership with artists, designers, photographers, cinematographers and programmers. www.y-u-k-i-k-o.com
Right: Studio Yukiko’s meeting room is shared with an architecture studio on the same floor