“A style or graphic signature is not something we are looking for. We could even say that we are constantly and consciously trying to escape from repeating ourselves,” explains Thomas Couderc, one half of Studio Helmo.
The Paris-based studio previously caught our attention for its design of the fantastic basketball publication Entorse, however, its portfolio of work stretches far beyond just the magazine. As Thomas mentions, they try to avoid repetition, the bi-product of this being extremely diverse projects across many disciplines.
“We are working for a very large range of clients and realities: improvised music, basketball culture, art, contemporary cuisine, charity associations and even the luxury industry,” says Clement Vauchez, the other half of the duo. “Each of them invite various forms of imagination.”
As a result, there is no obviously uniform style that you would attribute to Helmo’s work, each project is markedly different but with a consistent visual language within. Its work for Jazzdor, an improvised music festival, is a perfect example of this. They are a client the studio has worked with for 18 years, designing a poster for each edition. “The exercise is difficult because the festival puts together a lot of different musical approaches: contemporary music, free jazz, chamber music, classic jazz, slam and New Orleans jazz, noise...” lists Thomas. “Our posters can’t be too specific in terms of genre, it’s about inventing images of what Jazz is in its larger contemporary meaning.”
In 2015 Helmo also created a specific typeface based around the festival’s identity, which has featured ever since. New for this year, the team also decided to make posters for each concert as opposed to just the festival as a whole. The series of work produced is notably type-led and features a simple and uniform red, blue and black colourway.
Clements speak positively about this new approach, as it allowed them to explore different areas in more specificity. “The work is really different from designing for a festival: it’s about designing something for a specific musician or band with a specific project,” he says. “That allows us to work close to graphic translation, close to genres and specific aesthetics, using sometimes documents, text excerpts, photos or drawings made in other contexts that resonate with the musical project.”
Avoiding similarities between projects is also achieved by ensuring a process is in place that can be adapted to each brief. “Based on a careful analysis of the client and its specific context, we try to build appropriate language for each of them. That’s what graphic design is about, isn’t it?” jokes Thomas. “Nevertheless, some people often tell us there are some clues that make our work recognisable: primary colours, arrangements, variations and series... We let the specialists point out the spinal column of our work.”
Entorse, for example, is markedly different to the rest of the studio’s projects. It’s a large-format magazine with a very loose style guide that allows for complete creative freedom. “We’ve made it quite flexible and open to situations and subjects: a logo, three fonts, permanent margins and that’s all,” explains Clement. “That is enough in terms of identity and that makes it alive from one article to another and from one issue to another. It’s somewhere between a magazine, a journal or a deluxe fanzine… We like this position that defies traditional labels.”
Not content with just working across posters, campaigns, editorial and various other disciplines, the team has taken an interest in photographic printing, completing an impressive experimental project for Marie Quéau.
“We are very interested in this kind of collaboration, which is the extension of the printed work and experiences we are doing on our own,” says Thomas, who goes on to speak about the conceptual and theoretical benefits this has had on their practice. “Printing in photography is often considered an operation in which the point is to get closer to the original. But printing is an operation in which you necessarily lose information, and at the same time you ‘gain’ something else. The question is to be able to make choices in terms of loss and gain according to the point you want to reach. That’s one of our regular problems since we are mainly print designers.”
Despite having such broad interests that they try to avoid overlap with, their work is not created in isolation, and one thing Helmo are keen to reiterate is that each project still informs the next. Clement cites “scale, rhythm and a minimal initial layout” as things they have learned from Entorse, for example.
“It’s the case with almost every project,” says Clement. “We try to turn it into an experience that feeds our practice.”
About the Author
Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.