Studio Lava Beijing is erupting with puns and playful designs
In conversation with the studio’s design director Céline Lamée, we discuss the beauty of an international studio and the importance of not taking yourself too seriously.
- Olivia Hingley
- 9 May 2022
If there’s one thing studio Lava Beijing loves, it’s a good pun. “Waiting for the joke to drop requires the viewer’s involvement”, begins design director Céline Lamée, “I think in design this is no different”. And so, whilst loving to weave jokes and quips throughout their work, the studio also wants to make sure their audiences actually get their humour. “We put something out there and we need the viewer to complete the ‘joke’. Only then I feel we have made a successful design. However funny or clever we think a work is, if our client doesn’t see it, we should start over.” And, importantly, Céline adds, the team is always sure not to take themselves too seriously; “we’re not medics or pilots”. On top of this foundation of funniness, the studio always strives for a level of visual simplicity. Sticking to one idea at a time, the team avoids layering ideas and condenses their work “down to its simplest form so that everyone can understand it”.
It’s these two poles of thinking – humour and simplicity – that define the studio’s five-year collaboration with Jujukong, a pet snack brand. A “clean break” from traditional pet food packaging, the designs rely on an illustrative style, depicting various spirit animals. With howling wolves, and a growling, dog-faced moon, Céline tells us that the packaging was designed to “entice the wild canine spirit”. Basing the concept of “totems” and featuring spiritual iconography the identity also demonstrates “the complexity and sophistication of man’s best friend”.
Sticking within the natural world, last year’s theme for the China International Fashion Fair (CHIC) – for whom the studio created a visual identity – was “garden”. Hoping to inspire a “spring-like feeling”, with an array of abstracted flowers, the identity was as eye-catching as it was charming. With the fair being divided into 13 categories, the studio gave each one a flower to match, many of which were chosen for their significance within Chinese culture as well as their natural beauty, such as hibiscus, lotus and peonies. Featuring a black background, with bright luminescent flowers, the designs perfectly blend the sophistication associated with the fashion world and the vibrancy of flora and fauna.
But, rest assured, the studio also isn’t afraid of testing territories outside of its comfort zone. For its spring / summer edition, Leap Magazine approached Lava Beijing asking if the team could design the magazine around the issue’s central theme of “ghosted”. “A chill ran down our spine as we contemplated how to visually express the theme in a fun and interesting way while still providing an accessible, comprehensible experience for the reader,” Cèline reminisces. To emulate the theme, on the cover and text “wavy forms shimmer like spectres” around sharp, traditional typography. And taking their attention to detail to the next level, small ghost eyes run through the magazine, accompanying the captions. Aiming for a subtle, but affecting design, Céline summarises that “like any good haunting, it’s meant to creep up on you from the corner of your eye, leaving a spectral impression long after you’ve turned the page”.
With Lava Beijing being a cross-nation, collaborative studio Celine says that she loves to foster a “healthy balance of confusion”, essentially, she explains, “a place where cultural cues are understood differently and we need to keep investigating the meaning of the world around us with open eyes”. Originally from the Netherlands, Céline has been living in China for the past nine years. It was after quitting her Dutch language course, that Céline found herself lost and in search of some direction. Working in her local bookshop, it was after an animated conversation about book cover designs with a collauge that led him to tell her that she should consider studying graphic design. Then being given the day off to take an entrance exam to art school, it was after that very conversation that Céline’s graphic design journey began. Clearly well practised in making big decisions, the one piece of advice Céline has for budding designers is that graphic design is the “perfect” job to practise abroad. “Don’t feel held back by the language, you’ll figure it out,” the designer assures.
GalleryLava Beijing: Leap Magazine (Copyright © Lava Beijing, 2021)
GalleryLava Beijing: Bam Book (Copyright © Lava Beijing, 2022)
GalleryLava Beijing: Jujukong Pet Snacks – Mooncake (Copyright © Jujukong, 2022)
Lava Beijing: Jujukong Pet Snacks – Mooncake (Copyright © Jujukong, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.