Nestled away in the mountains of Italy, Studio Mut’s designs still manage an impressively far reaching impact
Martin and Thomas, the creative duo behind the design studio, reveal their plans for the year to come, how they made friends during lockdown, and explain how much they think they’ve “grown-up” as a studio.
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 15 November 2021
When we last spoke to Studio Mut in 2016, it had just completed an identity and exhibition catalogue for Lottozero, a textile research lab in Prato, Italy. Since then, a lot of people have watched the South Tyrol-based studio grow creatively. “Some principles,” say Thomas Kronbichler and Martin Kerschbaumer, co-founders of Studio Mut, “guided us on our way — instilled in us by our mentors, such as Fons Hickmann.” Such principles were “experimenting and not over-thinking, emotion over style, being authors and not only craftsmen, and employing only designers.” By sticking true to these principles, the duo has managed to only do projects they believe in.
Today, Studio Mut comprises of Thomas, Martin, Anni and Noah and the studio prides itself on collaboration across all its projects and creative ideas. Thomas claims that himself and the team are not shying away from things they’ve not approached before, and this keeps their work “fresh.” Being based in a small city surrounded by mountains – which sounds rather idyllic and akin to a Disney film – means that for the duo, “to be invited to become part of AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale) or to speak with students around the world, is an important way for us to get input and to get to know new people and understand different voices.” Martin echoes that he feels like the duo are “outsiders in the Italian scene because we are in a remote town, but we are starting to close the gap with giving workshops and talks at Italian design schools.”
As one of Italy’s best-known studios, Studio Mut has some pretty good insight into the design scene in the sunny country. “Italian graphic design had a dip in the 90s that it still struggles to overcome, with advertising taking over and absolutely destroying the creative scene,” says Thomas. He’s happy to see furniture and fashion brands coming back to rely on graphic design to tell their stories and to “start creating culture in the process, not cheap laughs, as advertising often does.” The designer recommends contemporary graphic designers from Italy, like La Tigre in Milan, Think Work Observe in Udine, the great Paolo Tassinari in Trieste or Mauro Bubbico from Matera.
Recently, Martin and Thomas worked on Museion’s Techno exhibition which aims to highlight the multiplicity of the techno genre; Thomas begins explaining the process by telling us that the two designers started by creating a “visual vocabulary, a design system rather than just a series of artworks.” Finding this voice was really challenging, admits Thomas, “because the techno scene is a subculture with a weird cacophony of codes.” Thomas and Martin didn’t want to copy the style, or risk being ironic. Instead, they wanted to find the right instruments, “and then play a new song with that.” This process can really only happen for the two through immersion and experimentation.
GalleryStudio Mut: Museion Techno Reader (Copyright © Museion, 2021)
“We were blessed with an open-minded client who looked at our sketches and understood the potential,” says Thomas, and “the result is rather shocking…” continues Martin, “if you are used to what we are otherwise doing.” It was an exhilarating experience for the design duo to change their voice to the tune of the subject. “The result is not beautiful in a modern kind of way, but rather invigorating, and questioning… and that makes it beautiful.”
And for Trieste Estate 2021, a season of shows, theatre, music, cinema, and culture in its northern Italian city namesake, Martin explains that he and Thomas, for the seventh year in a row now, are trying to re-invent the feeling of summer with a series of three posters. “We are roughly making 50 to 70 sketches every year until we are happy, so that makes around 400 sketches… you see the challenge we gave to ourselves? It is quite astonishing that the client — the city of Trieste — trusts us to change the identity every year, so the biggest critique comes from ourselves in the studio while working on the project. We are constantly thinking about what the three posters for next year will be.”
Staying motivated in a time where much is still uncertain, from the pandemic to our political climate is, to say the least, difficult for creatives who are seeking inspiration. At Studio Mut, Thomas and Martin kept a creative fire lit during lockdown by reaching out to friends and “heroes” in the design and creative fields. In the Zoom chats that followed, he narrates to us, the duo would talk about everything from “daily creative routines, to running a design studio, to finding the reason behind your work, to design ethics and politics, to giving back through teaching and workshops. That way, we have made real friends over the last two years, with the likes of Professor Patrick Thomas in Berlin, Christopher Doyle in Sydney, or Nikki Gonnissen from Studio Thonik in Amsterdam.” They say that they’ve never been so in touch with so many creatives, without leaving the house. “We really miss travelling and meeting people in real life, but we are trying to make the best out of what’s possible.”
So, we’re all dying to know, what’s next for Studio Mut? “We are moving towards doing more consulting for brands, more teaching and workshops,” says Martin, showing no signs of pressing the brakes. “And we are curating art and design projects.” Yet, the duo still wants to design as much as possible themselves, because that’s what they love, they posit. “We are working for art institutions, and at the same time for small organic farms… there’s nothing more exciting than looking under the hood of several businesses and finding out how they tick and then trying to help or improve them.” Thomas echoes: “We know we are very lucky to be working on what we love, and hopefully people see that in our work, too.”
Studio Mut: Trieste Estate 2021 (Copyright © Trieste Estate, 2021)
About the Author
Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.