Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bon Bon Studio Tour

Today I had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking to Diego Bon- from the Design firm Bonbon. Diego is from Geneva and moved to Zürich when he went to school. The firm consists of him and one other person, and together they produce books and posters for various organizations. Predominantly their work is done for the Kunsthaus or for the annual Swiss design awards. Every year the museum for Gestaltung does an exhibit showcasing the winning designs and prior to this year, Bonbon had done the design for three years. This entails signage for the exhibit, posters for the exhibition, and a book cataloging the winners and the details (called an encyclopedia). In addition to the posters, Bonbon had dabbled in packaging design, creating branding for a small Indian free-trade and organic food company. The company started out asking for only a label for their cashew snacks, and since has grown to include dry fruit, white pepper and chocolate covered cashews. What is interesting though is how the design had to grow from a small folded label over a plastic bag, into 8 varieties of cashews, then 6 kinds of dried fruit, now applied to a box for the chocolate cashews, and then a label for a metal cylinder. Their design was simple enough to be applied to those different packages while maintaining the visual identity of the company. Also the speed that the designs were made is impressive, as they needed a logo in a day (the request was made by a friend of Diego, so it goes).

In addition to the books and package design, the posters were mainly completed for the Kunsthaus. While the Kunsthaus usually has a very recognizable, and simple, poster style Diego’s posters are radically different. He told me that the curator of the Kunsthaus was who would contract him, so he luckily did not have to work for the boss of the museum, as he would surely not enjoy the proposals. What I really enjoyed about Diego’s work though was that he had a reason behind each of his designs. A story that he was trying to convey, or a detail he was bringing to light. I think this is the most important part of Graphic Design, that there is a reason behind your solution, or something that is usually overlooked being made clear. This effort is what makes designers special.

When I asked him about his design process, Diego said something that I found to be very unique. After meeting with the commissioners of the project, he told me that he only presents one proposal for a poster or book or what have you. and the reason was that when you make multiple proposals, lets say three, there are always the one that is your favorite, the one that you think is okay, and the one that you think is crap. The one that you think is crap, according to Diego, is always the one that they will chose. He believes that people don’t like change, because it takes work to get used to, and so the solution that has the least changed, the least enjoyed by a designer, is the one that they will chose. By presenting one solution to them, Diego is encouraging them to make a change, and is making the promise that this is a good solution and a good design. The other problem with multiple proposals is also that the overall quality is lower. Which is pretty obvious considering that in the time other firms would take to make three ideas, Diego is creating and progressing one.

In regards to being a designer in Zürich, Diego gave me a very realistic picture, which honestly made me a little nervous about my career source. In Zürich, most of the design community knows each other and they know who is making what posters. This can make the design process more difficult because it gives this feeling of “everyone is watching you, everyone is judging you.” I know that this would cripple me, and make designing very difficult. Also, being a small firm, Diego says that they go in waves of work being very slow, to being so busy that they are working every weekend. One of the elements that he had to get used to was not stressing when work was slow, and having faith that it will pick up again. He also said that the hardest thing to learn, and what they don’t teach you in school, is how to get projects. Luckily Bonbon enjoyed a very busy year in the past, but the downside was that it prevented the company from building their website, which limited access to them from the public.

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