Neo Neo effortlessly flits between a visual identity, Bauhaus typeface and poster for Roger Federer
Founded by Thuy-An Hoang and Xavier Erni, the Swiss studio works across a plethora of fine tuned and concept-driven projects.
- Ayla Angelos
- 26 April 2021
Over the last couple of years, Neo Neo – a Swiss graphic design studio founded by Thuy-An Hoang and Xavier Erni – has gone on to do some wonderful things. First, the founders launched a type foundry with some friends, named Extra Set, and they’ve also started publishing a daily newspaper dedicated to posters, suitably named Poster Tribune. But it doesn’t stop there, they also hold an annual Art Book Fair called P.A.G.E.S in Geneva, run a small gallery dedicated to print, organise exhibitions with Print Programs, and continue to have a lot of fun working as two graphic designers. “Last but not least, we had our second child,” Xavier tells It’s Nice That.
Before forming the studio, the two met in 2008 while graduating from a degree in visual communication at HEAD, Genève (Geneva University of Arts and Design). Fleeing the nest, so to speak, the duo decided to move to Paris the following year – “very romantic,” indeed – but high rents meant the young and budding designers moved back to Geneva. The lower costs enabled them to open their own studio, precisely when Neo Neo was formed. “That worked pretty well for us, we were very lucky,” adds Xavier, pointing out how the studio mostly onboarded projects in the realms of culture during this time. This was a few years ago, and since 2015, the studio has expanded with a more multi-disciplinary approach to design. “Even if everything is more or less connected to print and graphic design, we share our time between different activities,” he adds.
In this sense, Neo Neo’s area of expertise is certainly a broad one. It can be anything from editorial design, visual identities, typography, posters and printed matter for web, signage systems and scenography. When we last spoke to the founders, they shared the details behind the project for NOF (New Opera Freiburg), during which they created a simple and easy to digest graphic system for the contemporary opera house based in Switzerland. This time around, we’re seeing a similarly musical theme arise once again – in the form of a visual identity for Contrechamps, a Swiss ensemble of musicians based in Geneva. “When we developed the visual concept for Contrechamps season 20-21,” adds Thuy-An, “we were inspired by the protocol approach that can be found in contemporary experimental music. Instinctively we quickly wanted to start with this idea of ‘process’ through a generative design: we wanted to use sound as the main ingredient to produce the image.”
GalleryNeo Neo: ES Build (Copyright © Neo Neo, 2021)
For the identity, Neo Neo designed a book and programme for the launch of its new season. A slim and elongated shape, the cover and contents of the publication, specifically, features a distinctively simple colour palette of reds and blues. Additionally, the studio opted for a clean-cut typeface of Klarheit Grotesk designed by Futur Neue, plus a playful mix of swishes, blobs and lines throughout the identity's entirety. These shapes, although seemingly random with a hand-rendered effect, are in fact composed by a sound software. “Shapes would be generated through a software rather than created only by our own senses,” says Xavier. The team thus asked Studio Z1 – founded by Camille Dedieu and Laurent Novac, who specialise in generative design – to partner and co-develop the sound visualisation software. The result is a generator that uses real-time sounds to make its marks on paper, and its handlers can employ different settings to achieve varying outcomes. For this project, they opted for a circle as the base shape, or “graphic element”, he adds, to then be manipulated and distorted as the software responds to the musical soundtrack.
Elsewhere, the studio was recently contacted by High Snobiety and shoe brand On Running to create a series of posters for the launch of famed tennis player Roger Federer’s Center Court sneaker. A shy away from its cultural and musical offerings, the studio turned its focus to sports. “We approached the project with the motto, ‘I see tennis everywhere’, because Roger Federer, of course, sees tennis everywhere,” says Thuy-An. As such, the posters are a visual representation of this saying, with bold photographic centrepieces of eggs, flowers and cocktails decorated with an immensely formulaic typographic system below.
Another project sees Xavier design a geometric typeface named ES Build, assisted by Arthur Schwarz. Featuring primary colours, abstract shapes and a structural execution, the font (and identity as a whole) pulls references to the Universal typeface designed by Herbert Bayer, the iconic graphic designer and master of Bauhaus typography. A simple, geometric sans-serif font, the result is a pared-back typeface devoid of any caps. “Bayer’s approach was so assertive that he even removed upper case letters in order to strip the font to its bare essentials,” says Xavier. “More than a typeface, Universal is a statement, an ode to geometry and reduction.”
As a studio, Neo Neo has the ability to flit between a host of disparate projects and briefs. Whatever it is – a musical identity or modernist-inspired typeface – it is done with grace and a heavily researched concept. The future looks bright for Neo Neo, and we’re excited to see where things turn next. For those eager to find out, expect a new typeface released this summer called ES Formal, featuring 60 styles, as well as a a new edition of P.A.G.E.S., plus a bundle of cultural events and identities.
Neo Neo: ES Build (Copyright © Neo Neo, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.