Ones to Watch 2018: graphic designers Studio Yukiko
It’s Nice That’s Ones to Watch shines a light on 12 emerging talents who we think will conquer the creative world in 2018. From a global pool of creative talent, we have chosen our 2018 Ones To Watch for their ability to consistently produce inspiring and engaging work across a diverse range of disciplines. Each of our selections continually pushes the boundaries of what is possible with their creative output. Ones to Watch 2018 is supported by Uniqlo.
It may be a new year for Studio Yukiko but the Berlin-based design duo, comprised of Michelle Phillips and Johannes Conrad, already slightly know what projects to expect. The studio’s year is landmarked with different publications to work on, magazines that differ in title and certainly in content, but are always finessed with a Yukiko style lick of paint.
From designing Zeit magazine’s children imprint Zeit Leo to fashion and art periodical Sleek, as well as continuing its longstanding relationship with Ricarda Messner’s city-focused Flaneur and its teenage sister mag Sofa, Johannes and Michelle have their desktops full with publications to design. Each of these publications also has the tendency to remould with each edition, a purposeful design aesthetic the pair distinctively thrive in. Jumping between projects that vary so much would understandably stress other designers out, but Studio Yukiko embraces it. Its clients do too, the impressive workhorse they’ve built pulls more work towards them, from working with Wieden and Kennedy on a Nike brief to producing dating app Grindr’s first ever book Home with photographer Matt Lambert just last year.
Michelle and Johannes’ tendency to push past boundaries other design-led studios comfortably settle within can be traced back to the studio’s inception. You only have to read Johannes and Michelle’s own biography explaining that they work on “graphic design, creative direction and art direction for print, photography and digital media,” to get a glimpse of how widely the studio’s talent could, and does, spread. The pair met at the University of Brighton where Michelle studied graphic design and Johannes fine art with music, a difference in courses which has influenced their aesthetic of not being “strict graphic designers,” says Michelle. Upon graduating, they separately worked in different agencies, Johannes moved to London and Michelle stayed in Brighton, but a wish to move to Berlin started to brew. “We wanted to go before we knew each other,” Michelle tells It’s Nice That. “I think we were both fed up with the agencies we were working in. Quite a lot of Brightoners go to Berlin I think when they don’t want to go to London, and so we had a lot of friends there. We really wanted to get on with our own stuff, we had this massive urge to do that. We wanted somewhere a bit more flexible in terms of living conditions.”
It was around six years ago that the pair decided to pack up and head to Germany, identifying with Berlin’s creative tendency to spend time experimenting. Originally part of “a bigger collective of friends combining our sort of visual aesthetic taste,” Johannes and Michelle have since grown with the city. “I think a few years ago Berlin was a lot more free in that sense than it is now,” Johannes begins to explain. “Now, it’s very similar to London in drive than it was before, which is good, it kind of reflects where we are right now. But back, in the beginning, Berlin was a really great platform for experimenting and not being so client bound, just doing fun things together.”
This time spent diving in and out of projects has allowed the pair to really understand what they want to do. It shows in work that appears actually fun to design, projects that are ones for love and not just a job. This point is proven in its work with Flaneur, the first venture into publishing when they were admittedly “total novices,” Michelle laughs. “We didn’t know what we were doing really, but we decided to make our first magazine.” Looking back on designing the first issue of the magazine Michelle explains that their inexperience may have been a benefit. “We went about it super conceptually. We weren’t really thinking about the normal templates of magazine design, or at least like the flow. We weren’t familiar with the structure of magazines so we went about it by having an idea for every piece based on the editorial, things like this, mashing up people’s artwork together.”
The day of our interview is the same day the seventh issue of Flaneur’s is sent to print, and multiple issues in Studio Yukiko definitely don’t appear like newcomers anymore. Instead, its initial approach reflects the ethos of the magazine for which it has become revered for. “I think it’s also the nature of the magazine no?” Johannes asks. “Exactly,” says Michelle, “I think even as we’ve learned a lot more about making magazines it has actually kept the original spirit. It’s always kept growing, developing and changing with each issue which is nice. For us, with other magazines, you don’t get bored by issues really but, you know how to do it and it’s more about choosing different people to work with. But with this one, every time we just get to have a go with it again and it’s so much fun to work that way.” Flaneur changes through focusing on one location per edition, from their home in Berlin, across to Leipzig, flying to Montreal then Rome, Athens, Moscow and now Sao Paulo. An issue also receives a redesign which reflects the place, a street and the attitude of the city too. It’s an aspect its readers love, “I think it becomes a little more collectable like that somehow,” points out Michelle. “You just don’t know what you’re going to get.”
Since the first issue of Flaneur Studio Yukiko’s design interest has shifted continuously towards publications. “It just kicked off, we were somehow asked to do more and more other periodicals,” explains Johannes. Last year saw them redesign Sleek, even carving out a spread for the studio to continue its fascination with experimentation. “We always work with different people particularly for one section of the magazine which is always different and we get to be playful,” says Johannes. Designed like a dossier, its a section of essays based on the topic of an issue and prevents any boredom Johannes and Michelle may feel.
The other magazine is Zeit Leo, a whole other shelf type of publication aimed at children. The difference in audience has taught Studio Yukiko a lot about the practice and working with another medium, “opening up this whole new illustrated world to us,” explains Michelle. “It’s also a genuinely lovely thing to work for children I think. If you’ve been working in culture, arts and fashion, when you work with children you have such a different emotional attitude towards it. You can get worked up quite easily over simple things because you’re like, ‘but it’s children!’,” she laughs.
Across each of these publications, although dissimilar in style, content and target audience, collaboration always appears to be a starting point. This begins with just Johannes and Michael themselves, and when asking the duo what they’d be doing if not together it seems an impossible scenario. “I couldn’t imagine working on my own at all,” explains Michelle. “You really need someone to bounce ideas off, argue with, in order to know what’s good. Otherwise, you just run around in circles in your own head.” Johannes agrees, “it’s just fun working with a collaborative approach, I don’t think I could ever work on my own, in fact, I think that as a team we seem to motivate each other quite well. That and Michelle is a mean boss,” he jokes.
Collaboration is also reflected in each of the projects, especially when the studio names its highlights from 2017. Working with Wieden + Kennedy on a Nike brief last year is mentioned, but not in the context of being probably their most high profile project to date, but because of the people they got to work with. The pair were hired to curate Berlin-based talent to be involved in a poster campaign across the city, also working on the lockup for the logo with typographers Dinamo. It meant they were engaged with various illustrators, who often worked from their studio and the guys from Wiedens settled in too. “There was a point where there were seven people here, it was this crazy factory happening,” explains Michelle enthusiastically. “It was really exciting and really energetic and really fun.”
Looking towards the new year Studio Yukiko are keeping quiet about what it’s got in the pipeline due to the clients it’s working with. Frustratingly exciting for the studio as we can’t even know ourselves, it is deservedly thrilling to hear that a studio that has always stuck to its routes is gaining such momentum. While we don’t know what these projects are, one thing for certain is guaranteed — experimentation that you won’t have seen before.
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.