Focused on research and experimentation, Twelve studio builds an identity for ramen restaurant Koie

The London-based studio founders Shi Yuan and Rex Chen talk us through the meticulous detail behind their recent culinary project.

1 March 2021
Reading Time
4 minute read


Founded in 2010 by Shi Yuan and Rex Chen, Twelve is a London-based studio that thrives off research and process-driven projects. The two founders met while studying and working in the City, and they currently have headquarters in Kentish Town in London plus a newly established office in Shanghai, led by local partners Leal Bao and Liang Shuang. Since establishing itself 10 years ago, the studio has built an impressive portfolio of works that embody a diverse mix of fields including arts, commerce and projects in the public realm. This means the studio’s day can range from working on a visual identity, publications, spatial and digital experiences to collaborating with architects, artists, designers and institutions.

“Graphic design has evolved into a multi-disciplinary practice that provides us with the opportunity to collaborate with different types of people and organisations,” Shi tells It’s Nice That. “Our experience in research and learning in the cultural fields informs our work for commercial clients, and our experiments for digital experiences in British cultural institutions will find interesting expressions in our printed matter for their Chinese counterparts.” Everything that the studio puts its mind towards has this transitional, multifarious approach, whereby its founders can apply their knowledge to a great deal of projects. For example, it recently had the opportunity to work on a ramen restaurant in Oslo, followed by an exhibition identity at the National trust in Wales, plus a photography book and public art commission. “The first involvement of various visual arts is very stimulating,” continues Shi.

As a studio, Twelve channels a fascination with the cultural and social, whereby the brief, ideation and process evolves with each and every project. Both founders find the prospect of investigating a new field somewhat exciting, with the possibility of learning and communicating in new quarters which keeps their work fresh and evolutionary. As such, the process drives the design while tackling a brief. “Be it a printing technique or the editing workflow of a publishing house, an organisational structure or a product launch plan, limitations and idiosyncrasies often nurture aesthetic expressions,” adds Rex on the matter. “In this vein we deliberately avoid having a house style, which may limit the types of clients and collaborators that we may want to engage with.”


Twelve: Koie (Copyright © Twelve, 2021)

Around four years ago, we spoke to Twelve about its identity for Beijing studio and exhibition space Mirror Lake, where the studio centred its attention on VR and augmented reality in entertainment. Now, we’re hearing about its most recent endeavour: the identity for Koie, a leading culinary delight in Oslo that brings the “craft and casualty” of Japanese ramen culture to the otherwise formal Nordic dining scene. “We are very intrigued by the multicultural nature of the project,” says Shi, noting how the English chef, Tim Homer, who’s based in Norway, is behind the Japanese ramen that originated in China. “It reminds us of the vernacular design in Hong Kong where traffolyte – from the industrial estate of Trafford Park, Manchester – are widely used for restaurant and public signage, presumably due to its colonial legacy and the durability of this material.” A traffolyte is a plastic material which is suitable for engraving, so when applied to the design of a menu, it has a variety of uses. First, it can be fixed to a wall and stickers can be applied to update its prices, or it can be used as tags on condiment bottles to identify soy sauce or vinegar, or even on a whiteboard with handwritten text illustrating the specials.

“One of the most charming features is that the rotary engraving machine from the colonial period which did not have Asian language settings,” continues Rex, “the local technicians had to ‘hack’ the machine to draw the characters as if they are graphic symbols.” This meant that Twelve worked with lettering that appears to be overtly eccentric, “as if the operator was holding the tool and drawing it directly on the substrate.” This notion takes centre stage in the creation of the identity, wherein the logo “来家” has been visualised as if it were created by an operator on a rotary engraving machine. In turn, combining both the natural flow of handwriting with the more mechanical, functional and structured. “The continuous line is argued to have the resemblance of a strange of noodle, but that is purely serendipitous,” says Shi.

In Japan, the founder’s continue to explain how mechanical engraving is particularly common and standard practice, often using a JIS version for Japanese typesetting. “But again,” adds Rex, "it was designed for the heavy industrial applications and does not have all the characters, particularly for ingredients.” This meant that the studio and client worked together to form their own “hybrid” of typographic language, giving a new meaning to the mechanical production of type. Thus, the traffolyte is used for both indoor and outdoor signage, including the opening hours, table numbers and menus. Outside sees 3D signs blended with a mix of aluminium and hardwood structure. Combined with the overall aesthetic and functionality of the project, the Koie identity shows just how versatile and willing to experiment studio Twelve really is.

GalleryTwelve: Koie (Copyright © Twelve, 2021)

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Twelve: Koie (Copyright © Twelve, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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