"My personal challenges are more about defying certain design standards to bring them elsewhere or even blowing them up!"
Geneva-based graphic design and research studio Futur Neue was founded by Constance Delamadeleine, Alex Dujet and Sébastien Mathys. The studio works in print and interactive design, creating identities, websites, signage and typefaces, as well as research design for various cultural institutions, businesses and individuals. Futur Neue’s portfolio is a cool mix of posters, books and typefaces. We spoke with studio about the evolution of her career, the biggest influences on her work and her current fascinations and creative preoccupations.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your current situation.
I’m a graphic designer and typographer. I founded with Constance Delamadeleine, Sébastien Mathys an independent, Geneva-based, graphic design and research design group called Futur Neue. Our team is first a friendship story. We are actually all linked by the schools we graduated from (Geneva School of Applied Arts & HEAD–Geneva). The 3 of us have different roles, Constance is an art historian, she mostly focuses her research on swiss graphic design history and how the country has spread this style in the entire world. Sébastien is a graphic designer at first, but since few years he decided to run a small silk print agency called Duo d’Art. He actually prints all the posters we are doing with Futur Neue. I’m actually the only one graphic designer at Futur Neue, actually these 2 words sound more like a family name for us.
I also run some self-initiated research projects such as Type Item Micro Edition. Parts of my activities are also focused on type design as well and self-experimentations that are directly linked with my teaching activities. I’m also teaching typography and graphic design at CFP Arts Geneva and HEAD–Geneva.
What’s changed in art and design education since you graduated?
Since I graduated, tendencies are in perpetual evolutions, and I would say that Internet, more precisely design blogs and social medias help to exchange a lot through that. I remember that when I was student we just had some theoretical books on the table and maybe some others from few well-known old designers, that’s it! Design blogs appeared just after I finished my school, it was pretty inspiring, something new was there, it was in way great to see the work of other designers from all over the world! But if you think globally, nothing changed that much actually, I mean we most of the time working with the same codes, images and typography. Maybe, there is a lack of utopia behind all this design world, total ruptures are quite complicated.
How important is a formal qualification in design today?
I think it is not that much important! Go your way with your sensitivity and create, analyze, make the point, find unity and good balance, and keep going the stronger you can! Ok, on my side I’ve learned graphic design with some strict teachers, and they brought me strong structures, hard to me to avoid these design landmarks. So in a way, I like when things are done with good references from important standards, it makes sense to me to navigate on that and deconstruct or disrupt the thing here and there! It is just my way of doing!
How else can designers distinguish themselves, especially if it’s right out of school and they’re trying to find work?
Vast question to answer at, it really depends in which field a young designer wants to operate. Probably you can go with a certain style, but maybe it’s clever to articulate different portfolios depending if you are looking to be hired by a big agency that doing commercial projects or a small studio that maybe focuses more on cultural stuff. I would also probably say, show what you think you are, or you want to be a specialist at. And maybe this in order to say, I’m super interested in that, and I can bring this on the table the strong way, and that you are super up to evolve and learn everyday. But hard to say for me because I never did that! I actually started directly as an independent/freelancer right after my studies.
What are your personal challenges and inspirations? What inspires and motivates you today? Who or what has been your biggest design influence—and why?
They are many ways of thinking challenge notions, let’s say that I do not focus my mind at challenging my career that much! I mean, it’s a bit like a young rock’n’roll band for instance, that is expecting for a big career plan, even before they released their first album. Not the good way for me! I just want to have pleasure and this by working with passion, and everything will grow up for the best and naturally the empiric way.
My personal challenges are more about defying certain design standards to bring them elsewhere or even blowing them up! And this, by using different things that I find interesting to use. I do like merging unexpected thing in my work, even references that are totally out of the graphic design field, and this regarding the function as well as the form. But well, some of my main inspirations are from the Swiss Sixties, Modernism, Bauhaus, Dutch Design, punk-rock DIY, indie music, architecture, fashion, vintage stuff and a large bunch of artists. Swiss style is a notion I’ve learned at school, it structures myself in a way. Dutch style because of the derision or the sense of humor that some designers or artists can develop at some points, and I love the aesthetic too. And music, especially pure indie one is my gasoline, because it is true and direct from the heart, and it helped me a lot to develop my sensitivity since my young age.
How has the type of work you do changed from the early days?
I haven’t changed that much things actually! I just try to improve my work the best way I can. I knew directly right after my studies that typography will be my game! But in the next future, I would like to experiment more with photography.
Give us the top 3 tips for inspiring young designers. What do you enjoy the most about design?
Finding solutions, disrupt things, create the analogies, work with or beat standards and go utopia!
After so long, how do you value your work?
It’s just my baby!
What kind of music would your designs sound like?
A mixture of punk rock and electronic. I’m actually a big fan of Tortoise amongst plenty of other band that I’m super fond of. But what I love in Tortoise is that they explored almost all the styles you can find in music. They are super technic and their productions responding every time like a unity. You can feel that they have lot of fun and pleasure by doing what they did until today. They have a sound, a pure sound, so fresh and crusty at the same time when it’s needed. I mean, they can go from hell to heaven! No singer, only a visual, ultra atmospheric bandwidth that has cultivated plenty of cerebral images into my brain!
How important is the study of typographic fonts in a world like today?
I actually started to design my first typefaces with Fontlab twelve years ago. We were not in big numbers at doing that. But since few years, and even more since the Glyphs software exists, it’s way more simple and accessible to start at designing typefaces with this tool! And maybe because of that, I think that typography evolved a lot, and the good way! More and more designers are experimenting in the field, and it brings more and more outcomes on the table. I’m super fascinated to see how inspirations to create typefaces are never worn out. So I don’t know if it’s important to come up with real typography skills in a world like today, but I want to see more and more crazy things, and this until the overdose! And so well, probably studies in the field help a lot, but maybe it will keep you in too much restrictions, and on the other hand, if you don’t have some basic knowledge maybe it’ll be complicated to come up with something that makes sense. It’s just a balance to find! But well, I think we miss more utopia regarding our alphabet, something really out of the box!
Do you think that the necessary value is not given to the typography?
No, in my opinion, and again, since these ten last years typography is well mediatized in the design field, and this probably because of social medias. I heard Dave Carter says once that during a flight, a guy that was sat next to him asked him what is his profession. Carter answers I’m a type designer, I conceive typefaces. The guy answers: Wow, they are people that are still working on that? I though they were all dead! But it was at the time, nowadays when a fresh font is realized every graphic designer wants to know who is the designer behind!! Even non-designer interested by the field are sometimes looking to that.
When you start a job, what do you analyze first? Where does inspiration come from? How do you lead yourselves from concept to design? Where do the ideas come from?
If it’s not a competition with a pitch sent by email, I analyze first the client. The shoes he is wearing could bring you some clues about who he is and what are his points of interest in life! Sounds pretty weird, but it works for me! And for sure, deeper discussions with him/her about the goal of the project are important. But I every time try to find the best argument you can put on the table to answer the right way, it could be based on the architecture of the building or whatever depending the project. And then, and this most of the time, I seek for the good related standard around the one you can play with! Restrictions as we all know as designers will structure and liberate you. And my intuition, it is also something I refer myself at, as an inside feeling that might help to produce something that could make the difference somehow. But each situations are different that’s why I love this job! Every time surprised, most of the time each project will bring you somewhere else.
How would you describe your work to someone who hasn’t seen it before?
Really hard to answer at this by myself, but I will probably start by: Do you know this reference… and then, I would probably talk about a subversive way of using design standards against themselves, like cannibals? The “less is more” notion should be probably revisited as a starting point to a contradictory extension, which means using rational solutions against themselves to create irrational surfaces. This is probably a thrilling analogy in order to provoke this amount of suffocating information that we have to deal with on a daily basis.
What work would you highlight and would you like to tell? What’s been the most satisfying project you have worked on?
Type Item #8 — Taxonomie. “the” big educational related project I dealt with at HEAD–Geneva (Geneva University of Art and Design). It also constitutes to a tribute to my dad (R.I.P in June 2016). I’ve put all my skills into it, and I surpassed myself by writing theoretical stuff that I believe in, and the deepest way I could. I won prizes with and it travelled in nice exhibitions, very honored! It was the best thing I could do to say thanks to my father and burry my sadness.
Living in the era of images, how can visual communication stand out from the crowd?
Huuum, for me the ones that are realized with taste in typography and the strong way!
What are you excited to have coming up in the future?
Extraset, a type foundry I’m currently working on here in Geneva with some friends since 3 years now. Out soon in 2020! It is actually almost ready, we are in the starting blocks, but we are just waiting that this Covid shit will be behind a little bit more in order to organize the launch in better conditions.
Why do we need branding?
Probably to be recognizable! I actually do not design that much logos for the clients I work for, it’s more about typographical systems. If you think modernism ‘till the end, we probably don’t need that amount of logos that surround us! But sometimes, they are super nice one existing.
Considering the importance of keeping current, how do you keep up? What are the current trends in packaging, color, design, architecture…
Internet definitely helps, it’s the simplest way. But I love to buy good books or good magazines with stimulating contents or interviews! I’m a big fan at watching design conferences. Packaging no idea, it’s not my world at all so I don’t really pay that much attention to that. Colors I don’t use them that much through my work, let’s say that it is just about feelings when they have to play a role. I actually love the ones that constitute the flags from countries in the world, nice standard to use! Regarding architecture, Bureau A was a really interesting one, but sadly, it doesn’t exists anymore, this is more about one of the founder now Leopold Banchini, very nice experimental approaches, super open-minded, it is not just about creating a building!
Do you think ego is an important aspect within a designer’s work?
Maybe yep, but I try to stay the most humble possible, we do not save life by doing design! I mean directly.
We are just pushing squares and circles.
Which people working today in graphic design do you enjoy the work of?
At my beginning I’ve been super inspired by Norm (Zürich) and today still. Karel Marteens and Mevis and Van Deursen, I mean Werkplaats Typografie is such a thing, probably the best school I know. Experimental Jetset was also a big kick in the ass right after my studies. I really appreciate what Laurenz Brunner is doing too. I also respect Ludovic Balland and Gavillet and Cie a lot. But regarding more young designers that are totally in nowadays trends, I’m very impressed by Actual Source these times, but Karl Nawrot, Na Kim, Radim Pesko and Eric Hu are dope!
What are your thoughts on specialization vs generalization?
I do like specialists! Everybody grab his best tool and let’s cooperate to do something strong and crazy! In my opinion and most of the time, generalization is just flying above the surface.
Do you think the Covid-19 situation will change the industry?
I hope so! Mostly the ones that hurt the planet and people by looking at doing big money! I’m ready to go back to basics if Apple Computers will collapse.
Can you tell us about your present and future plans?
I’m happy with the present; I’m a lucky guy regarding lot of plans! But I would say, keep going at designing things with pleasure! And, we rent a house since few with my girlfriend, and we just started this year to cultivate some plants and vegetables in the garden. Something we wanted to do since long time, so we started that. Maybe we will reach the self-sufficiency in few ahah! Just kidding for the self-sufficiency, it is lot of work, but why not, maybe the empiric way ahah! I can’t do skateboard anymore, because I strongly injured my leg 4 years ago by doing that, I’m getting old, and I’m looking for good sport to stay in good shape and relax myself. So gardening and building stuff are great for that! And playing music is something I appreciate a lot too, I'm looking to do something serious regarding that since long time, well let's see…
Thanks a lot for this interview, lot of pleasure! Take care!