Drawn together

The Monocle Winter Weekly

Drawn together

Studio Mut has brought a Berlin swagger to Bolzano, planting a flag at the peak of South Tyrol’s design scene.

The Monocle Winter Weekly, written by David Plaisant

South Tyrolean through and through, graphic designers and Studio Mut founders Thomas Kronbichler and Martin Kerschbaumer (both pictured, Kronbichler on left) represent the creative optimism blowing across this alpine region. Having both studied in South Tyrol and abroad, followed by (separate) stints working at Berlin’s renowned studio Fons Hickmann m23, the spritely young duo set up shop together in the centre of South Tyrol’s capital Bolzano in 2014, while still in their twenties.
Profiting from a healthy demand for projects at home, Studio Mut has come to dominate the clear visual and graphic language of this bilingual (often trilingual) region. With work spanning poster design, publishing and corporate identities, this busy studio of four is also making waves beyond its comfy mountain surroundings. In 2018, its founders were welcomed into the prestigious graphic-design industry association Alliance Graphique Internationale (agi). For Studio Mut, striking the right balance of appreciating the local and reaching out globally is no mean feat – but it seems that outdoorsy mountaineer Kerschbaumer and city-lover Kronbichler make the perfect team.

MONOCLE: You have both lived and worked in Berlin, a global design capital. What brought you back home to South Tyrol?
Thomas Kronbichler: There was extreme demand here for what we were doing and in some ways we brought the Berlin spirit, style and swagger to Bolzano. Here, there is the demand and opportunity to do interesting projects. Berlin is good; we worked for a studio that is big and important, and had nice clients. But when you freelance in Berlin you almost have to pay somebody to work for them. So we were in the right place at the right time to start a studio in Bolzano. We never made a major effort to get new clients, it just happened by word of mouth. We won a couple of awards along the way too.

Does your location also inspire your work in terms of design philosophy or aesthetics?
Martin Kerschbaumer: I think language is the main thing here; we are bilingual, speaking both German and Italian, and nearly every project we do now is either bilingual or trilingual [with English]. It’s not exactly an influence but you have to think about these projects in a certain way. It’s quite challenging sometimes making a good poster that says the same thing three times in three different languages.
Thomas: Word play is not an option in a region where there are two or three languages spoken. We always approach a project by the feeling that it has and not so much by the intellectual side of it.

Can you tell us about ‘Josef’, the regional travel guides that you designed?
Thomas: We got involved at the beginning of the whole process, from naming it, to creating the size of it, to the design of the chapters; we collaborated totally. The most important thing is the start of a project, the rest just follows.

Studio Mut has also produced the very impressive catalogue of the New Architecture in South Tyrol 2012-2018 exhibition at Kunst Meran. How do you, as designers, deal with architecture in print?
Martin: Architecture is actually a bit of a speciality of ours. We are art directors of Turris Babel, the magazine of the South Tyrol Architecture Foundation; we’ve got 20 odd issues under our belts. We have sort of become renowned regionally for being able to handle architecture in the form of printed matter.

Tell us more about your approach.
Thomas: Don’t listen too much to the architects because they are in love with certain elements of the building. We can have an overview and give this to the reader, much more so than the architect who has been working on the project for five years and sees all the details.
Martin: Architects also tend to want to serialise everything in print: “This spread will have text on the left and images on the right, a floor plan here, small image here, large image there,” and so on. And then they say, “Let’s repeat that for a whole catalogue!” That’s how to make a catalogue that makes you fall asleep on the third page.

Tell us about your studio.
Thomas: Our team is really, really important to us; I wouldn’t want anyone to think it’s just a two-man show. In terms of location we are right in the heart of Bolzano. I think that when you find yourself at the end of the world, you need to be at the centre of the end of the world!

So, is South Tyrol at the end of the world?
Thomas: Sometimes I think so, yes.
Martin: Not for me. But you won’t ever find Thomas in the countryside away from Bolzano city centre.
Thomas: When I leave Bolzano I go to a bigger city. When Martin leaves Bolzano he goes to the mountains or nearby villages. We are very different in that way.

© Monocle, 2018