Varv Varv on its multi-layered design for Forensic Architecture’s latest exhibition
Design studio Varv Varv talks us through its work for a new exhibition by Forensic Architecture, tasked with representing the group’s humanitarian work, while respecting the exceedingly delicate topics.
- Jyni Ong
- 21 February 2020
Working between London and Malmö, graphic design studio Varv Varv has crafted a name for itself for its understated and sophisticated visual output, specialising in the creative sector.
The studio consists of Anders Stockman, Mathew Whittington and Nicholas Bennett, and has established a pointedly sophisticated visual language, exemplified in its identity design for the 2018 Turner Prize for example, amongst a myriad of other beautiful print projects.
“We’re increasingly aware of the cultural context our work exists in, both inside and outside of the frameworks that they are intended for,” Nicholas tells us of Varv Varv’s thoughtful practice. Balancing somewhere in between practical and contextual formalities, the studio is fundamentally investigative. The trio of designers constantly “interrogate the intended aims of [their] outputs,” either through physical or aesthetic gestures, and other times, through the abstract or the ethereal.
It’s a methodology illustrated in the studio’s latest project; a design for Forensic Architecture’s new exhibition, Design as Investigation, currently showing at Gothenburg’s Röhsska Museum. Approached by Johan Deurell back in September of last year, Varv Varv was tasked with designing the exhibition elements and printed materials for the show, exhibiting until late August of this year. The designers were familiar with the renowned, multidisciplinary research group, having worked with the group in 2018 when they were nominated for the Turner Prize and, in turn, attending several of their shows in London. They understood the sensitive subject matter of the work, and usefully, knew how to handle and represent the group’s work in an institutional context.
Simultaneously, Varv Varv highlighted the importance of the group’s humanitarian work, while respecting the exceedingly delicate topics explored. Anders continues: “We noticed that the primary subject matter can be very dense and often has multiple layer of access – historical, political, humanitarian, theoretical and so on. We realised that this was a core element of their practice – the density, the multi-layered-ness.” As a consequence, Anders, Nicholas and Mathew set about visualising this complexity through the design. By creating a “sort of formula”, they devised a process of how to treat, then display, the multiplicities of meaning. Namely, through type.
Selecting a primary and secondary typeface with “a variety of experimental and degraded textures, strict application of colour, image treatments, and creating a clear hierarchy of information,” the designers assigned certain pieces of text to a designated level of importance. Drawing on the formal visual language of legal documents, administrative forms, as well as data and legislation, Varv Varv formulated an innovative visual language hinting to the social scape that Forensic Architecture exists within. Appropriate material choices and design decisions were made in accordance with this design concept, enhancing the communication fourfold across the space.
“Our biggest challenge was to make sure our involvement as designers never impeded or misrepresented the content,” adds Mathew, honouring the demanding content of the exhibition. With a pared back aesthetic, the studio enacts a visual language with communication at its core, but with distinct flare intact. “It’s often about designing with, rather than for, our collaborators and clients,” the three designers finally go on to say. It’s a trait which allows the Varv Varv to work across a myriad of industries and skillsets. “We can chose where to focus our attention and manipulate these roles in order to best communicate or interrogate the project or subject matter.”
Forensic Architecture: Röhsska
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. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.