Way back in the early half of 2017, we heard from Jannis Zell – a “restless creative” whose portfolio flitted between the disciplines of graphic design, ceramics and product design. Nearly three years have passed and, again, we are still impressed by his multi-faceted portfolio. This time around, however, he returns as Lob, a Germany-based design studio founded by himself and Phil Zumbruch.
Friends since high school, Phil’s younger years revolved around moving images, music videos and film, while Jannis angled more towards drawing and graffiti. They both ended up studying at the University of Art and Design in Karlsruhe, Germany, and worked on various design jobs on the side – a moonlighting conquest that soon turned into the launch of their studio. “We both knew that we wanted to work in fields of art and design,” Jannis tells It’s Nice That. Whether it’s a moving image, drawing or illustration, sculpture, website design or poster, there is no discipline too varied for this creative team. “We are not too strict with borders of genres and try to implicate artistic methods into design,” Jannis continues.
Lob now boasts an impressive client list, with projects completed for the likes of Civil Architecture, the Ernst Schneider Prize, Delinquent Network, Bar Luka and David Chipperfield, and the studio’s work has been shown at ECAL, Museum Folkwang, Foreign Architecture, MAK (Museum of Applied Arts) and ZHdK + Museum of Design Zurich. Lob’s success could be whittled down to the co-founder’s synchronicity, and the fact that they’ve known and worked together for so many years: “We are kind of smashing ideas back and forth, like in a tennis match,” says Phil on the topic of their creative process. “So it happens that we both start conceptualising ideas, before we split up parts of the projects.” Playing to each other’s strengths and strong communicatory skills, the design process stands in a “constant dialogue” with each other in order to reach imperative design decisions.
Working at a studio space in an old factory in Karlsruhe, Lob is surrounded by fellow artists and designers. As for the duo’s influences, Jannis tends to gravitate more towards disciplines such as art, fashion or furniture design – particularly Italian furniture designers from the 80s, sculptors and crafts. “In the end, anything that surrounds us can end up bring part of our work,” he explains. “We see a lot of power and ease in so-called low-culture and amateurism.” As for Phil, he pulls from a multitude of fields, whether it’s a moving image artist or typographic work from the 60s, “inspiration is something that’s always project-related,” he says. “Sometimes it feels right to be super close to the content that you communicate for a certain project; sometimes it feels super right to respond to the content in a more confronting manner, creating something that leans against it or responds to its content with another idea.”
For one of their most enjoyable projects, Jannis speaks of their work with Civil Architecture from Bahrain and Kuwait. “They reflect on current matter in the architectural world (ergo society) through their shows and are not shy of going into a different direction than one can expect,” he says. For their recent show Objects for a Painless Past [pictured below], Lob created a reader that was printed on to the back and inner lining of a shirt. With an aim to “rebuild torn down colonial houses” from Bahrain, it was derived by means of illustrated architectural models, sparking a conversation on the topic of “Bahrain’s forgotten monumental maligned generation of governmental architecture.”
“In order to make these houses also slightly reappear on the shirts, we decided to have them printed on the inside of the shirt,” Jannis continues. “So as you look at the back of a person wearing the shirt, you will see the ink from the inside of the shirt pressing through.”
It’s clear that Lob is a studio that thrives from collaboration and variating. Its founders are constantly excited about the prospect of launching their own projects, collaborating with friends or lending their hands across the disciplines – something which they both see as a refreshing counteract to the traditional practice of graphic design.
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.