Neue Gestaltung’s theatre rebrand uses “absurd” illustrations to capture the audience’s imagination

Through unique storytelling and expressive visuals, the redesign for Theatre Magdeburg aims to create atmosphere and stimulate imagination.

14 November 2022

“Have you ever tried to watch a play on television? Incredibly boring.” This is the very candid perspective of Pit Stenkhoff, one of the founders of Neue Gestaltung. Seeing theatre as “a completely independent art form”, Pit is someone – who like many – bemoans recent attempts to digitise it. “Theatre thrives off a unique atmosphere, the shared experience, the acting on stage and, ultimately, the imagination in our minds,” he details. And it’s these defining features that the studio based their redesign on: atmosphere and stimulating imagination. “It’s about storytelling – not what is obvious, but what it triggers in us.”

It seems Neue Gestaltung has a bit of a thing for theatre. Currently, the team are working on not one, but three theatre identities. This includes a redesign for Theater Magdeburg, a 10-year visual revamp for Staatstheater Mainz and an augmented reality-focused project for Theater Erlangen. Founded around 20 years ago in the early 2000s by Pit and Eva Wendel, Neue Gestaltung is now a 12-person team, with a mix of qualifications and approaches. In a progressive fashion, Pit explains no one at the studio has titles or roles. Instead, “each of us has a high level of specialisation, so we can always mix things up in the projects,” Pit expands. “That creates a high level of dynamism and leads to a wide range of design output in digital and analogue projects.”


Neue Gestaltung: Theater Magdeburg Redesign (Copyright © Neue Gestaltung, 2022)

The studio received the project after being invited into a competition by the theatre’s new management. After winning the competition, the studio began working closely with the theatre’s new director, Julien Chavez. From the beginning, the studio was aware that the foundational design would later be carried on independently by the theatre’s in-house designer. And so, Pit explains that the studio sought to create a structure that was “diverse” yet simultaneously “easy to imitate”.

One of the most attention grabbing features of the redesign is its bold illustrative elements. Using a fairly simple formula – with loose, suggestive shapes realised in block colours – the illustrations appear like silhouettes or shadows. The identity also references each of the upcoming productions, with Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck realised as a cowering man, and Alice in Wonderland depicting a giant rabbit-like figure. Pit says, “the graphics intend to address something absurd but imaginative, catchy that would appeal equally to all age groups.” Moreover, understanding that the posters would be featured across Magdeburg’s city centre, the studio wanted to create an identity that would “trigger” something within locals, and sit in high contrast to the surroundings.

The theatre’s website is still in its interim stages; the studio are waiting on new funding so they can change the current (and quite outdated) CMS to a newer one, allowing for them to implement more of their design ideas. What they do have, however, shows real promise. Translating the illustrative elements to the website, they come together to create a bold and varied selection page. The click down menu, for instance, is defined by its multicolour tabs – a far cry from the sterile black and white menus often applied to theatre websites. For the website, Pit explains that the studio focused on the core questions of their users: “When does the performance start? Are there still tickets available? How long does the show last?”. The studio then applied a simplistic, easy to use formula to find the answers. Fun yet entirely functional, the Theatre Magdeburg rebrand is a wonderful example of well-considered cultural design.

GalleryNeue Gestaltung: Theatre Magdeburg Redesign (Copyright © Neue Gestaltung, 2022)

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Neue Gestaltung: Theatre Magdeburg Redesign (Copyright © Neue Gestaltung, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) 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.

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