Studio Thonik reflects on its creative motivations after 25 years of experience in the industry
- Jyni Ong
- 2 September 2019
“Thonik designs in order to move people,” says Studio Thonik, the Amsterdam-based studio founded by Nikki Gonnissen and Thomas Widdershoven. “Our style is distinct and direct and our motivation is to stimulate and change,” continues Nikki. Uniquely, the designers often use moving image as a starting point for the studio’s work. Whether the work is intended for graphic, digital or spatial design, in its 26 years of professional experience, Studio Thonik approaches each project with sincere thought.
In a recent publication Why We Design, the founding designers explain the rigorous thought processes behind each project they encounter. Through 11 different themes, the reader is presented with the reasons why the studio do what they do. “From the radical to the conceptual, and ending with empowerment and change, we looked back on our work over time, taking into consideration the society around us as well as our profession,” says Nikki.
After meeting in the early 1990’s at art school, the pair began a collaboration that would later become Thonik. Back then however, the design industry resembles very little of what it is today. Desk Top Publishing had just been introduced to the industry, shifting the art of typesetting from the hands’ of the letterpress to the graphic designers sitting in front of the computer. On this technological cusp, Nikki goes on to say: “Although the options provided to us by the new technology was quite endless, we opted for simple and clever designs. In this way, we fitted into a new generation of design and architecture that became known as Dutch design, otherwise known as conceptual design or droog design.” Droog meaning “dry” in Dutch.
25 years later, Nikki and Thomas’ practice has evolved with technology to the industry as we know it today. The computer has become the central vehicle, not only of graphic design, but all design that is to be experienced by us in some respect. As modes of communication are increasingly consumed through a screen, design itself is also becoming more and more computer generated. “We don’t just use programmes to design, but we develop programmes to generate designs,” adds Nikki. As a consequence, “Our experience in prints gets a new relevance as we often design digitally first, so it becomes a challenge to translate these digital designs into print.”
This challenge became the basis of two recent projects for the Nikki and Thomas as Thonik. Since 2015, the studio has worked on the prestigious performing arts fesitival The Holland Festival. Having designed its signature typeface four years ago – combining ligatures with traditional stencil techniques in collaboration with Paul van der Laan of Bold Monday – this year’s identity sees the typeface expand into four different weights. For this year’s campaign, Nikki and Thomas overlay the weights “to maximise the mesmerising effect of bright and contrasting colours,” which in turn reflect the multitude of voices and cultures in society today.
Significantly, the design explores the translation of bright colours developed in RGB to different media. Converted into Pantone spot colours, RAL, and CMYK, the resultant design culminates in a series of experimental posters printed using a total of six fluoro colours and one facade in a highly original and conceptual output.
In another project completed at the same time, Studio Thonik exhibited at a solo show at Shanghai’s Power Station of Design. Translating their earlier publication of Why We Design into a fully fledged installation, Nikki and Thomas reinterpret a print visualisation of their design motivations into a thought-provoking exhibition. Translating the 11 chapters of the book into 11 different rooms, the show features moving graphics projected on a set of curtains that separates each room. “You can only go from one room to another by breaking through the projections,” explains Nikki. “So in a way, the visitors disturb or compliment our designs and literally become part of the exhibition. By focusing on moving graphics, we translated our digital designs into a spatial design.”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.