“We are interested in tools and processes,” explains Julien Tavelli, co-founder of graphic design studio Maximage. A studio which he runs alongside David Keshavjee, Maximage has been producing work for a decade and, in recent years, has focussed its attention on printing processes, colour, and the combination of analogue and digital processes.
The pair met while studying at ECAL, from which they graduated in 2008, undertaking their final project together. The university later commissioned them to turn the project, titled Typeface as Program into a book, marking the official start of Maximage as a studio. Since then, the studio has travelled, working from cities including New York, Berlin, Rome and London and currently works out of offices in Geneva, Zurich and London and now includes a third team member, Daniel Hättenschwiller.
In every project, Maximage’s motto is “emotions and technology”. “The quote was used initially to fill the top bar of the browser of our first website,” Julien explains. “It was quite spontaneous, but actually it fits well with our purpose. This oxymoron and the duality it emphasises actually represents both aspects of our work: engaged with technologies and processes, but also bringing into play accidents and sensitivity.”
In terms of its visual language, the work Maximage produces is very much influenced by its exploration into processes and tools. Often, David and Julien will create their own tools, whether this is a script for generation typefaces or hacking a printing press. “This helps us create personal and innovative languages for each project, and at the same time, this creates a recurrent pattern that evolves in our work,” David tells us. In turn, the pair carries learnings or experiences from every project into the next. “Sometimes it’s quite obvious but sometimes very small details that no one can see,” Julien adds. “I think this can draw a continuous line between each of our projects even when we are working with very different clients and contexts.”
One ongoing project has seen Maximage working with Arsenic, the Contemporary Performing Arts Center in Lausanne dedicated to “contemporary creation in dance, theatre and performance,” for whom Maximage redesigned its visual identity and its campaigns. “Switzerland has a strong history of street posters, especially coming from the 60s-70s, and theatres are one of the few cultural institutions that vividly keep active this communication channel today,” Julien explains. Maximage’s work therefore piggybacks this tradition, while giving in a current aesthetic.
This project, David continues, is particularly interesting because it involves both print and digital in equal parts and because it evolves with every season. “We are designing around 20 posters a year and lots of digital around it,” he says. “One feeds the other, and the graphic language is morphing through time. It will be interesting to see the evolution of the identity after a few years.”
In another identity project, the pair created the visuals for Weltformat, a graphic design festival in Lucern. “Weltformat” means “world format”, they tell us and it “defines the specific size of street posters in Switzerland.” They started by creating an AR application in collaboration with Milk Interactive which reacted to the environment, and any graphics it came across. David explains how it functions: “The app looks for a grid and typography in the surrounding environment, buffing existing typography with red blocks, and implementing custom letters on any detected grids. This allows the tool to be used everywhere, and in other contexts than the festival itself. It was inspired by the Google Translate App, in which the machine tries to aggressively match the typefaces, and is sometimes wrong or out of context. We really liked the fact that the machine can generate mistakes and have its own interpretation.”
To accompany this digital element, the studio also produced a poster. While it would have been easy to simply print some of the graphic produced by the app, Maximage opted for a different route. “Augmented reality tools are made for digital environments, and don’t really make much sense once printed,” Julien remarks. “This situation allowed us to think of a more radical poster based on how the app works. We designed abstract grids, printed with a mix of metallic, neon and varnish inks. The poster becomes surprising with its hidden information, and the fact that you can then play over with the app on top of it.”
These projects demonstrate the varying outputs of the studio’s portfolio, from more traditional graphic design to experiments with technology. Currently, the pair is returning to the medium which initially brought them together: typography. And so will be applying its process of considering the transition between the analogue and the digital to a series of letterings in the near future.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.