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Been bitten by the wanderlust bug but have no travel plans this summer? Not to worry. Join us here for an exploration of the creative culture and local design scene in Germany’s capital, from iconic studios to hot spots for creatives of all kinds.
Last year, Berlin celebrated its 11th anniversary as a UNESCO City of Design. The party kicked off with an all-night design celebration, where studios, boutiques and agencies opened their doors, presenting their work to the public. As the German capital celebrated its creative culture, one couldn’t help but look closer at the overall local design scene that not only helped garner that title, but is constantly evolving.
Berlin is so much more than the Wall that divided it 40 years ago. Since the 1989 reunification, the city has gained a reputation for being “the New York of Europe.” It may not have the skyscrapers, but this cultural hub is filled with star talent, creative agencies and sleek architecture, as well as edgy public works that line the lively streets. As a cosmopolitan culture capital, some of the world’s edgiest design agencies are set up here. From pop-ups to poster paste-ups, a host of up-and-coming agencies are changing the city’s design scene. We spoke to some of the city’s key designers about their work, the urban fabric and what fuels their creativity.
Berlin-Based Design Agencies to Know
The SLANG design studio was founded in 2000 by the French-American duo of Nat Hamon and Florent Moglia, who have brought fresh energy to the art world. “Our practice is often a mix of art and graphic design, exists in between cultures, and is expressed in three languages,” Hamon says. “Our focus lies in contemporary art and cultural exchange.”
With a studio located beside the former Berlin Wall’s no man’s land, it has become a go-to hub for visual art exhibitions—so much that you might call the duo artists themselves. The studio recently launched a photo exhibition and book of interviews with homeless youth, which was created in collaboration with a social organization, and it recently launched a magazine, The Scenic Route, which is based on the sense of touch. The duo has also been working toward the logo, communication materials and exhibition design of the “Politics of Sharing — On Collective Wisdom,” a forthcoming show at ifa-Gallery in Berlin and Stuttgart, as well as developing a website for the Goethe-Institut, which will be a blog platform for youth from Europe and Central Asia. “Berlin provides an inspiring environment,” Hamon says. “It’s a center of contemporary artistic activity and has an international, dynamic population.”
Connie Koch and Aline Ozkan first met at art school in Berlin before co-founding their agency in New York in 2000. Today, they have three offices (New York, Berlin and Zurich) and that international outlook has become a metaphor for their work. With clients including United Nations, as well as key players in the art and design worlds, “there’s a continuous exchange which keeps inspiring our colorful, bold and international style in a synergetic way,” Koch says. Some of their work includes a rebranding of Advertising Week Europe’s Official Guide for the 2016 event in London, and Intertextile Shanghai Apparel Fabrics, one of the world’s biggest fashion textile trade shows. Koch, who lived in Berlin from 1990–1995, has seen the city change since she moved back.
“I am still a bit melancholic regarding the golden days right after the Wall came down,” she says. “These were truly free, creative times! There was a big music and club scene, but there was no real commerce. That has changed, along with the many new arrivals from all over the world. You can see things pick up a bit in speed, becoming a bit more like New York—in certain parts of the city, that is.” AHOY is based in the district of Prenzlauer Berg, which is lined with cafés and boutiques. “You just step out of the building and you are surrounded by a very casual, yet refined vibe,” Koch says. “I guess that spirit resonates in our designs as well.”
Key Visual for Intertextile Shanghai 2016 with illustration by Connie Koch; ad campaign for WolfGordon with artwork by Charlotte Mann and photo by James Shank
If you go to the jobs section of MoreSleep, you’ll see a peculiar sentence at the end of each job posting: “Before you hit send, you should know that music (and Benji B) is quite a big deal in the office, so share a track you are playing on repeat at the moment—doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s good!”
This design agency was co-founded in 2006 by Torsten Bergler and Frederik Frede, who say, “MoreSleep, Less Headache.” Set in a loft in the heart of Berlin’s Mitte district, their approach is what some would call relaxed. “The studio is very open with no hierarchies and feels more like a big co-working, living place rather than an office,” Bergler says.
The team has worked with Adidas, Absolut Vodka and BMW, while running their own widely recognized lifestyle blog, Freunde von Freunden. More recently, they’ve started working on the rebranding and corporate identity for a hotel group in Georgia. They’re also working on content strategies for Visit California and launched a website for the world’s third-largest solar company, Aleo Solar. This year, we can expect to see the relaunch of their blog and a brand new print magazine, as well as a new loft concept space in Kreuzberg. “Berlin is becoming more and more international with all the people moving into the city,” Bergler says. “There is still a lot of space and freedom of expression. Those people and the spaces are very inspiring and bring in a lot of input.”
Famed designer Charles Eames once said, “The details aren’t the details—they make the design,” a motto that upstruct lives by.
“We’re not happy before everything is perfect,” says Toni Harzer, who founded upstruct in 2005. Since working with Lars Trautmann in 2008, the team, which also works with freelance designers and an intern, focuses on web design, branding, graphic design and illustration. The studio’s projects range from film festival posters in Norway to software interfaces and working with JONES Ice Cream, a locally operated food truck. What sets it apart: The team creates their own annual, limited-edition screen-printed calendar, which is essentially a work of art in itself. But while Berlin is a creativity-fueled city filled with artists, the studio makes one clear distinction: Design is about solving problems. “‘We’re not only artists’ is one of our strongest competences,” Harzer says.
The city drives them to stay motivated. “A lot of things are happening in Berlin—that’s why you see and experience a lot of impressions—but this also means we have to compete with a lot of other great studios and designers,” Harzer says. “There are many startups and people starting projects and searching for design in Berlin. Somehow the indication of ‘design from Berlin’ seems to make the things more interesting for people. So generally, we think Berlin is a great place to be a designer.”
Amandus 2015 and Rock Am See 2015 by upstruct
After doing projects abroad from the likes of Cairo and London, Ben Wittner and Sascha Thoma founded this design agency in 2008. With a focus on type and bilingual design, it spawned from their first big project, a book called Arabesque 2: Graphic Design from the Arab World and Persia, published by Gestalten.
Then, as Wittner recalls, “we sort of fell into being self-employed,” and now work in a Kreuzberg studio, which is part of a building filled with artists, dancers and designers. There are so many creative people in Berlin that Wittner calls it a “creative ghetto.” “The Berlin design scene has grown immensely over the past years; sometimes it’s almost too much,” he says, adding that it “has for sure brought forward some great designers and fantastic work.” Their client list includes L’Oréal, Heineken, Nike and the Victoria & Albert Museum, but more recently, they’ve worked on the lookbooks for fashion designers Michael Sontag and Vivian Graf and taught a class in editorial design at the University of the Arts in Berlin, where they created a 128-page prototype book with 19 design studios in 10 different languages.
BiScriptual by Eps51
Places and Attractions to Check Out
This concept shop and art gallery showcases typography and technology in all forms, from digital and analog type to motion and interaction design. “We call it type and tech,” says Bärbel Bold, who co-founded the space with Ingo Italic (both pseudonyms) in 2011, as the duo used to be a VisualJockey team who called themselves the “Telefunken Express.” They founded a type shop simply because there wasn’t one in the city. “There are so many great concept stores in Berlin, but there wasn’t a physical space dedicated to the love of letters in combination with new media and emerging technologies,” says Bold. The space is a prototype and workshop studio, as well as a showroom with curated exhibitions.
Letters Are My Friends hosted a workshop at last year’s OFFF festival in Barcelona, where crab-shaped robots raced with letters on their backs to a finish line. It also hosted a warm-up party on with TYPO Labs in Berlin, which hosts TYPO Beyond Design in Berlin, a TED Talks–type gathering for international design talks. “Berlin is very open, and at the same time it lacks a bit of ‘quality to control,’” says Bold. “In other cities, you probably can’t afford to dedicate yourself to an artistic practice and try out new stuff for a long time without knowing where it will end. So we feel very lucky here!”
Photo by Christoph Neumann
For the online media junkies who can’t help but check in and hashtag their every move, look no further. This studio loft space set in the heart of Kreuzberg is the core of the elite Berlin blog mafia, which is larger than most other European cities. Founded in 2015 as a hub for content creators, it’s essentially for those who want to work, network and collaborate.
A project of the Melo Group, which focuses on logistics for publishers, this location started as a thinktank that came up in a workshop about online distribution. This team of eight has roughly 50 people working onsite, be it writers, magazine editors, graphic designers, photographers and bloggers—and one can rent a desk and pay with creative content instead of cash, be it video, photos, design work or writing. It’s a symbol for the city.
“Berlin is a highly creative city, but its pace is much slower than, for example, in London,” says communications and project manager Maria Ebbinghaus. “This empowers its inhabitants to create in a nurturing, low-stress environment. People come here from all over the world to express themselves and produce creative content of all kinds. At my job at Blogfabrik, I feel this creative energy every day. People want to network, brainstorm and develop projects together—this collaborative atmosphere is very much Berlin. You will always find good people to team up with.”
Photo by Christoph Neumann
Co-founding entrepreneurs Mark Hunt, a photographer and filmmaker from London, and Katrina Ryback, a German-American with a background in fashion, are curators of this multifunctional, ever-changing space that features fashion designers, artists, graphic designers and jewelers. Initially a roving pop-up at Berlin Fashion Week in 2015, it is now a concept store with three locations in the Bikini Berlin concept mall, which is constantly changing.
“Its growth is a reflection of this vibrant and creative city,” says Hunt. “The project has become a collaborative store concept, giving young designers, artists and startups a platform to present their work in a professional and curated retail context.”
A few examples of design in the space include works by street artist KEF!, clothing by South Korean label AssembledHalf and a neon sign design company called Sygns that lights up phrases like “Deeper Please,” “POW” and “Solitude.” The co-founders of Pop Up Fashion Berlin are working on new collaborations and are considering new locations. “Berlin, as a city, not only profoundly influences our work—we would say our work is a product of Berlin culture,” Hunt says.
Free wi-fi? Look no further. This co-working space, café and networking hub is a must-visit in Berlin, even if you’re just passing through. The community here is rich, diverse and ever-changing—some of their events include niche meetups, coaching seminars, networking brunches, tax workshops and even “Tupperware Tuesdays,” where everyone lunches at a long table. Don’t miss the wooden treehouse on the main floor café, which is the perfect hideaway to get work done and people watch.
Design nerds will drool at this museum, which is devoted to one of the most influential modern design schools of the 20th century. Artworks, design pieces, architectural models, drawings and documents—all of the items on show here are from the Bauhaus School, which ran from 1919–1933 in the German towns of Weimar and Dessau.
Alongside showcasing the history of design, there is a library, exhibition space and several models, pieces of furniture and photographs by designers like László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee, Josef Albers and Herbert Bayer. The museum was initially founded in Berlin in 1971 by Walter Gropius after brief stints in Darmstadt and Rosenhöhe. Aside from their permanent display of the Bauhaus collection, their current exhibition is “Textile Design Today. From Experiment to Series,” which presents colorful fabric patterns and runs until Sept. 5. Stay tuned for programming for the Bauhaus centennial in 2019.
This annual festival has been shaking up the design scene with new, groundbreaking work for the past 14 years. By showcasing new and established designers, DMY has become the go-to for premiering new works, as well as discovering new creatives at their New Talent Competition for young designers. Last summer, the festival was open to all disciplines, including industrial and furniture design, graphic design and architecture.
Photos by Gali Sarig
No matter where in the world you reside, entries in the HOW International Design Awards are judged by project type rather than industry or region. That means posters are up against posters, packaging against packaging, identity design against—you get the point. Early-bird discount ends Aug. 14!