Sometimes it’s the projects that never make it out into the real world that are the most fascinating. Without being watered down by rounds of client tweaks, you can really see the inner workings of a designer’s brain. Or that’s how we feel about Haw-lin Services’s concept identity for Berlin Biennale 9, which the duo just popped up on their site. Working on the projected with former HORT colleague Tim Schmitt, the typographic-led identity is a slick medley of sci-films and corporate culture. And, although unused, is an interesting musing on the role of corporate sponsorship in the art world.
Jacob Klein and Nathan Cowen, who founded Haw-lin Services in 2013, art directed the project and brought in Tim to brainstorm and develop the proposal. The starting point for the identity came from the Biennale’s curatorial team DIS, which had chosen ‘The future feels more present than ever…’ as an overall theme for the ninth Biennale. But it was the phrase “neoliberal capitalism in the information age” that jumped out at Jacob, Nathan and Tim when reading the brief.
After pondering the phrase for a few days, they knew they wanted to pursue an aesthetic typically associated with dystopian sci-fi films, like Robocop, Terminator, Total Recall, and Blade Runner. “They’re all films that share a backdrop of societies controlled by, or at least depending on, mega-corporations,” Tim tells It’s Nice That. “Also, I didn’t make the connection when we worked on it, but looking back now I also realise the concept was influenced by internet artists like Kevin Bewersdorf. He pioneered a certain kind of ironic corporate aesthetic (odd, shiny logos, generic stock photography and so on) ten years ago when the term ‘post-internet’ didn’t even exist.”
The trio’s initial idea for the typeface used throughout the identity was to reference 1980s dystopian pop culture. “The first draft was based on ITC Newtext, but it felt a bit too retro and nostalgic,” Tim says. “That’s when the idea came up to connect the identity to the branding of the actual corporate sponsor of the Berlin Biennial. In a way this would address the power structures that also dominate the art world, and tie in nicely with the themes of the briefing.”
The second – pretty radical – draft used all the elements of the sponsor’s visual identity, including the typeface Helvetica. “We created some layouts with the sponsor’s logo all over the place, in a kind of silly way, but eventually we decided it was too risky to pitch that. You don’t want to alienate the sponsors when you’re trying to get the job,” they say. The corporate references became more subtle in the final design, which the trio presented, but Helvetica remained as the basis for the glossy type. Although the proposal was never implemented IRL, we’re glad the project has found a home online – fitting for its sci-fi aesthetic.
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