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Studio Spotlight: Toko
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After working for several years at studios in the US and Netherlands, including Studio Dumbar, Dutch graphic designers Eva Dijkstra and Michael Lugmayr decided it was time for a change, so they moved. To Australia. They were gracious enough to answer some brief questions about the origins of their studio, their working process and what makes them tick as designers. You can see more of Toko’s work on their website at Toko.nu.
 

Tell me a little bit about yourselves – what your background is, how you met each other and how you came to create a design studio together.

We met at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Breda, the Netherlands where we graduated in 1999 and 1997 respectively. After graduating we worked at several design agencies in Netherlands and the United States which proved to be extremely valuable and satisfying. In 2001 Michael decided to start his own studio after receiving a government grant and Eva joined shortly after.
 

Why choose Australia as a location for the studio?

There are several reasons why we relocated to Australia but the main reason would be adventure – geo(graphic) adventure to be precise. After five years operating in Rotterdam we simply could not resist a dynamic change. We reached a crossroad, where we had to decide to grow as a studio and employ or do something more dramatic all together. Needless to say we choose the least conventional option, based on the stunned reactions of family, close friends and colleagues.

Australia happened to be a purely emotional decision based on a wonderful short holiday we enjoyed not long before. We simply jumped into the deep. We sold our house, informed our clients, friends and colleagues, bought tickets, organized travel visas, packed our backpacks and arrived in Sydney – without a clue and proper plan what to do next. At that stage we did not have any intentions to stay in Australia but a chain reaction of truly amazing encounters, job offers, guest talks and opportunities altered everything, and here we are 4 1/2 years later.
 

How large is the studio and how many projects do you typically take on a year?

It’s only the two of us and an occasional intern or freelancer as needed. We have no set amount of projects we take on a year (sometimes I think we should) – it’s a very organic process. We get excited easily I guess and sometimes try to do the impossible. This though is part of the whole process of growth; growth as a creative and as a practice.
 

How would you describe your studio’s approach to graphic design?

Our process is to create boundaries based on conceptual discoveries. We approach every project, small or large, from a conceptual point of view. Design follows concept – form follows function. Idea driven work generates boundaries which are so extremely important in design, be it graphic, fashion, architectural or industrial design.

After the initial creative exploratory we turn into a kind of demolition team: stripping away unwanted and unnecessary ornamentation; a process of visual economics. Although we seek simplicity we do not mind a more elaborate approach if it serves a purpose, adds creative/conceptual value or evokes a particular reaction.
 

How would you categorize the current state of design?

In general we are somewhat disappointed in the current state of design. Too many designers (not only graphic design) think its perfectly normal to reference colleagues, which we find a very, very worrying trend. Design has changed so dramatically by becoming more a part of mainstream culture and in our opinion not always for the better. Concept should always be the motivator, and not the other way around – and to us this is fundamentally what is wrong in design these days (although makes us sound like old geezers).

Witnessing these changes made us re-evaluate our work as designers. Our desire is to make “substantial” work and this has become our own motivator, so to speak. Design heritage is important for us, and should be, but we don’t want to recreate history. Analyzing Swiss Modernism to create a Helvetica based poster does not make a lot of sense to us and in our opinion is like putting the brakes on progress.
 

Given your broad mix of clients, do you feel there are greater creative or design opportunities on cultural projects which would not generally available on more commercial projects?

We don’t really focus on a particular industry. Our recent surge of fashion and cultural related projects is purely coincidental. When we started in Sydney many of our projects were environmental and signage projects, as a result of our work with architects. That’s shifted over the past two years and our core business is identities, large scale and small scale, and what could be called “product” design. For example, we just finished a new rug and a luxury bag for a Danish firm and that’s how we like to keep things – diverse.