Graphic designer Thomas Kurppa plays with the dualism between control and chaos
In 2009, Thomas co-founded Stockholm-based design agency Kurppa Hosk. We chat to him about a recent project designing the identity for the universal platform for sign language, and his experiments with typography.
- Jyni Ong
- 17 January 2020
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
Thomas Kurppa, co-founder of Stockholm-based design agency Kurppa Hosk alongside Måns Hosk, became a graphic designer through electronic music. Before he co-founded the sleek studio in 2009, back in the 90s, Thomas was an electronic music producer, deeply interested in the scene’s underground visual culture. “At the time, my heroes and inspirers were tDR, Mark Farrow and Peter Saville,” he tells us, “and the label Warp Records became central to me since it – in many aspects – defined the electronic music revolution.” In turn, Thomas began experimenting with album covers and flyers for techno parties and almost instantly “did nothing else.”
It sparked a curiosity in design history and before he knew it, Thomas enrolled in design school to learn more about his new passion and the modernist pioneers whose work trickled down into the underground music scene. Now, heading up his own agency with offices in his birth city and New York, Thomas’ design ethos is more about mathematics and geometry than music. “There is something fundamental in the fact that nature and everything that surrounds us is based on numbers and codes,” he tells It’s Nice That. The structure of the medium is a constant intrigue, but it also allows him to play with the dualism between control and chaos, a signature element across his bold work.
Exemplified through his type-centred designs, in particular, the chief creative officer tells us about a recent project called Spread The Sign, made in collaboration with Leo Drakenberg, creative director at Kurppa Hosk. Together, they created the brand identity and digital design for the universal platform for sign language. To help facilitate communication between the hearing-impaired, Spread The Sign documents and shares the variety of sign language dialects for its users. “Through a strict geometric system, we wanted to challenge the idea of what an identity created primarily for hearing-impaired people could be,” says Thomas. “Though the identity rests on a solid structure, we wanted it to have a playful and unpretentious expression.”
The designers contrast the bold pictograms of the identity against the “withdrawn” information in the body copy. They chose a stark black, white and orange palette to “form a unit that arouses curiosity and interest,” continues the co-founder. Producing a striking visual brand for not only the target group but also those who are unfamiliar with the hearing-impaired culture, the contemporary design is accessible to all.
Another, more personal strand of Thomas’ work sees him experimenting with letterforms and type, which he then publishes on Instagram. “It has evolved into a playground for me where I explore letters, compositions and graphic excursions,” he adds on these investigative designs. Free from the formality of clients and briefs, Thomas can openly stretch his new ideas. And often, rather usefully, he can later bring these designs into his agency practice when appropriate. He likes to push the anatomy of a letter as far as possible until it loses its purpose.
Drawing a similarity between the designed function of the letter and the chair’s, Thomas evaluates: “A chair should fulfil its purpose, ie to be able to sit on it, otherwise it becomes more like a sculpture (which can be a purpose in itself.) Renewing the chair is one of the most difficult tasks I can imagine. In that respect, I see similarities with the alphabet. It’s exciting to see how small aspects in their design change the perception of a letter and how letters combined can shift our ability to read a message or word.” Someone who wants to be constantly learning and evolving, as for the future, Thomas hopes to further widen his field of knowledge through experimentation. By continuing to “cross old truths with the technologies of the future,” the playful designer basks in the never-ending opportunities this intersection affords. It’s one of the reasons why his work feels so fresh and energetic – because he is eager to take risks and whole-heartedly pursue a niggling internal question.
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.