GRAPHIC #44 Berlin Issue – Studio Rental Guide
Interview by Lee Aram
Photography by: Choi Dahahm, Kim Young Sam
Designed by: Shin Dokho, Kim Young Sam, Lee Aram and Bernd Grether
How long have you used the current studio space? (since when?) Was there any rent increase?
We signed our contract in February 2015. Back then, the spatial conditions of the studio were quite bad, which is why we had to renovate almost the entire place. It was one of our first big challenges we faced as a studio. We had to work on our projects during the day and went to the new studio in the evening to tear down old walls, paint new walls and pour concrete floors. It took us about three months to build everything and to start working in the new environment. This was a rather intense time for everyone in the studio but it made us even stronger as a collective in the end. We also had a lot of friends helping us out.
We’ve now been using the space for more than four years and fortunately there hasn’t been any rent increases so far.
However, our current rental agreement will be running out next year so we are currently negotiating future rent prices and terms with our landlord. We are trying to get a new contract for five years (+ an optional five years bound to a fixed rent that we are also negotiating at the moment). Our goal is to get a new contract for another ten years to further develop the studio and its impact and to continue working with a headquarter in Berlin for the near and distant future.
Could you tell us a brief history of your studio?
The idea of founding our studio came about already while studying graphic design together in the same year, which is also how we got to know each other in the first place. Somehow we all shared the same vibe and a similar mindset regarding design, so it made sense to work together on several small projects. In 2012 we were lucky to find a former drugstore in Wedding that we could rent out for a small rent, which allowed us to keep on working (and also doing a lot of bullshit) together. After we all graduated in 2013, we had to face the reality of real life. We decided to stay together as a group and tried out different systems and ways of working together on projects in different constellations. Our first client projects were mostly small graphic works for friends and people we knew. In 2014 we officially founded the Büro Bum Bum GbR. Since then we started working on commissioned and self-initiated projects. During that time a lot of different people joined the BBB community and we became a big family trying to reach similar goals TOGETHER.
Could you tell us the studio members and the working environment in general?
We are not set up like a regular graphic design studio (or most of the studios we know).
One of our main approaches is to organize the studio without any level or hierarchy.
We believe in a learning process where everyone is learning from one another by sharing ideas, thoughts, responsibility, and skills. This results in a working environment full of trust and respect. We believe that this “collective” way of dealing with each other in a large group of people is also one of our biggest achievements so far, although this approach requires a lot of care!
In this “safe” environment everyone has the freedom to develop their own strengths and skills and in return valuable knowledge can be given back to the group. We have a constant exchange amongst us regarding client projects, but also other topics that we are interested in. We also see the people that we share the studio with as part of an organic growth process that is ever evolving. For us they are a very important component of the working environment since we are teaming up with them for different projects and we are all constantly benefiting from each other’s knowledge.
Is there any specific reason that you’ve started your studio in Berlin?
What kind of condition or environment of the city was attractive to you? Actually, there was not a specific reason to start the studio in Berlin. The fact that we already studied together in Berlin and that half of the studio members were born and raised here made it a logical decision to build up something here in Berlin. A big plus for Berlin was definitely that our first working space was affordable and a good basis to see how we would develop as a group.
How does Berlin as a city affect your work?
Every environment affects a human being and essentially her or his work, so of course, the city itself does affect our work. Berlin is offering a diverse reflection of our society and social structures. This leads to an ongoing debate about the way and with whom we work. As a result, we formed a particular attitude towards society and towards design that may have led to a distinctive visual language that we use.
When analyzing the urban development of Berlin we see a lot of bullshit going on. Alternative spaces disappear or get pushed into a commercialization process where investors and big companies are the only ones profiting.
People who have been living in the city for all their lives have to move because they can’t afford living here anymore. Another mall gets built that nobody needs and people care more for themselves instead of caring for society. Culture is replaced by economy …
We do feel like we are currently in a state of “crisis” that can’t be changed when we follow our present habits. We want to be part of the solution instead of the problem. Therefore, we are searching for alternative ways—in our everyday behavior as well as in our design practice—to support a resistance against an unsustainable logic of unhealthy economic expansion, selfishness and unneeded lavishness. With the tool of graphic design we can help to promote alternative concepts and communicate them to society.
What is the biggest challenge while running the independent studio? / And how did you manage it so far?
There is this nice sentence that we discussed with a client a few years ago. It roughly translates into: “How much attitude can you afford”. We think this conflict does very much sum up one of our biggest challenges (besides ourselves). On the one hand, we need to earn money for a living in a city where living costs increase more and more. So the financial aspect is obviously very important when running an independent studio.
On the other hand, we believe that design is more than just making things look beautiful or a tool to boost a capitalistic system through advertising products or lifestyles.
Our aim is to work for clients who care about responsibility, people and our common environment. This is a big challenge especially concerning clients because they must be willing to sometimes change existing structures or practices. This idealistic approach is not an easy way but it’s worth trying …
One example: We were commissioned by the “Hochschule für Schauspielkunst Ernst Busch” to design an information sign for their new building. We noticed a facade-prototype built by the architects that should’ve been removed once the building was finished. For us, it was a usual thought to not throw away the material but to consider the existing wood and steel parts as a basis for our design process. Although the people in charge and the architects loved this idea, the execution of the whole process was a hell of an administrative back and forth. Mostly because of legal restrictions and unawareness in reusing existing things that are already available.
It’s more usual (and maybe also cheaper) to just build something new from new materials. We think struggles like this are worth the hassle in order to develop sustainable solutions.
One of this issue’s goal is to map out multi-dimensional design scene of Berlin. Do you collaborate with other graphic designers or creators in other fields? On what grounds does your studio collaborate with them?
For us, the multi-dimensional aspect of Berlin is more based on creators in other fields like art, architecture or cultural institutions. There are a lot of people initiating projects within a very broad range of disciplines that makes the city interesting and the work fields as a design studio very diverse.
Of course, we do collaborate with other designers when it comes to commissioned work as well as on self-initiated projects. In the case of commissioned work, the collaboration is integrated in our regular work practice. That means that we’re not just outsourcing a task, it‘s more about expanding the size of the team with experts and people we can profit from in a conceptual exchange. In this way, we’re full including the collaborating partners into the team.
We would like to know your opinion of the visual culture in Berlin. Is there any distinctive characteristic here compared to other cities? If so, tell us more.
The visual culture of Berlin—regarding graphic design—is like every big city mostly based on advertisement. So there is definitely not a lack of quantity of visual input, but merely a lack of quality regarding the the visual culture in Berlin. The “daily life visual culture” makes Berlin very interesting and multi-layered and it can provide visual impulses.
Like in most big cities, Berlin is full of contrasts regarding the different districts, their architecture, and inhabitants. Of course, the city is still suffering and profiting from its former separation and its underdevelopment (in certain parts of the city) that is still giving the city its special character.
The overall cost of rent has steadily increased. Do you have any plan or preparation?
We don’t have a masterplan but we think a lot about the future of the city and the studio. If the cost of rent will increase more and more we will also have to leave our studio space at a given time. We are keeping a very close eye on that transformation process. As we can see that a lot of artists and design studios lose their spaces at the moment because of landlords doubling or tripling the rent.
If there won’t be any change soon, this kind of development will displace the cultural scene one day. A city like Berlin which is promoting itself as a city full of culture and freedom is more and more becoming a farce of its proclaimed features.
Our (personal) development is becoming more and more political since we know that our expertise in design can be a tool to denounce grievances, to support initiatives or sustainable projects in various aspects concerning the life in Berlin. As a designer, you have a certain responsibility for the impact you bring to society because you have a power that shouldn’t be underestimated.
So it’s not only about exploiting and only taking from the existing culture with all its great achievements that grew over a long time. We think it’s important to give something back to the city as well.
Nevertheless, we are reaching out to other cities and locations not only because of increasing rents but also because of living quality. We are trying to keep our space in Berlin/Wedding as a headquarter for the next years but we already have a dependance in Leipzig and on the beautiful Brandenburg countryside.
As a significant number of graphic designers have moved to Berlin for last 10 years, the percentage of graphic designers to population in Berlin is comparably higher than other cities. Do you think the market here is large and diverse enough as well?
We guess that the market here is pretty large but we would like to differentiate that “market”.
It’s true that for the last 10 years (or even longer) a lot of designers have moved here. As we have mentioned before our studio consists of 50% true Berlin residents and 50% of settlers that have moved to Berlin over the past decade or more – so we are also part of this “creative people moving to Berlin” thing.
There is a market for graphic designers but the question is if the market is a “healthy” one. First of all—if we are talking about a functioning market—there has to be a supply and demand balance, which we think there is, at the moment. Furthermore, a market should have a fitting price-performance ratio that keeps the market alive.
As an independent studio, we experience an imbalance in the aforementioned price-performance ratio. Interestingly that ratio could still be found when we started our studio a couple of years ago. The deal is simple: Either you take the low-paid job or someone else is going to because there is always a designer who will do it for less. That is obviously a great deal for clients as they get a (good) design service at a budget price, yet small studios and freelance designers are suffering immensely from that situation. That says a lot about the market and its diversity.
We would like to know your studio’s scope of project and clients. How much percentage does German-based clients and others take places? (Tell us approximate ratio of clients based on their country)
At the moment we are mostly working for Germany-based clients. On average its around 90% German and 10% international clients. We’re not actively pushing it but would love to work more with clients and people from abroad in the future.
Is there any meet-up, alliance, or regular events among graphic designers in Berlin?
Maybe there are but we haven’t been to any. We are doing some short-lectures in the studio on an irregular basis where everybody can present their ideas, research or a project he or she is into at the moment. We plan to open this up to the public someday.
Tell us the design process that you prefer. Or is there a certain process you would like to pursue?
Our design process is based on openness, exchange, and trust. In the studio as well in the interaction with clients. We pursue a research-driven and content-based way of working that may sometimes lead to experimental and unusual outcomes.
We sometimes work with more people at the beginning of a project than are actually needed to reach as much input/output as possible and afterwards we put together a smaller team for the execution of the project.
A process we pursue more and more is to work across different disciplines that exceed the field of visual communication. As we have interests in spatial- and product design we think that working more interdisciplinary can have a bigger impact on society.
For example, we rebuilt an ISO container, which is now used as a mobile exhibition space by some Berlin universities. Therefore we built a modular interior design concept, which allows to remove and add modules. Furthermore, it can be dismantled, without destroying the parts. Thereby it can be re-constructed at another place.
You have hosted very diverse projects such as Public Positions. How do you manage the different activities in your studio space?
Public Positions was initiated by our friend and studio mate Timm Hartmann who invited us to contribute a project to his series.
Fortunately, we are all very curious about other things than graphic design alone, so new projects and ideas pop up rather often. Mostly it’s due to time management reasons that these projects are lying around for a bit. But there are a bunch of projects that we want to push further this year.
Luckily we have some space in our studio to run our own workshop. We have screen print stuff and other tools at hand, which is why the t-shirts we wear are often printed by ourselves with motives we created. For Public Positions f.e. we had the chance to create furniture, built from industrial leftovers, expanding our creation process past the boundries of graphic design.
Tell us your project, Internal Affairs.
Internal affairs is a self-initiated project by Pascal (BBB) and our friends Martin Gnadt and Denis Yilmaz.
Internal Affairs invited 60 studios, respectively their interns, from all over the world to create posters on various aspects of design internships.
Graphic design interns usually work in the studio’s shadow, and Internal Affairs would like to give them a platform and an opportunity to show the world what they are already capable of. It will be interesting to see how a piece of work by an intern without potential studio regulations and restrictions may look like. Maybe we will be able to see a relation to the studio’s visual language, the intern’s local influences or current design trends.
What’s the ratio between client-based projects and self-initiated ones? How do you make a balance between them?
We see self-initiated projects as part of our self-development. Whether it’s just a screen-printed shirt or a long-term research project, it’s always worth taking care of something that is done on behalf of yourself. In the best-case scenario, the self-initiated project will lead to a client-based project at some point.
But of course, it’s a struggle to manage self-initiated projects, everyday studio practice and picking up the kids from kindergarten at 4 pm.
Is there a price gap in term of the project budget because your studio is located in Berlin? If so, how different it is? (and in case of the average design budget in Berlin is much smaller here, why do you still want to stay in Berlin?)
It depends. When working for clients in the cultural sector Berlin-budgets are quite low if there aren’t any subventions or similar funding (or if it’s a really big institution). We guess that f.e.design budgets in Munich are somewhat higher than here.
When we decided to mostly work in the cultural field we were aware that it’s not the easiest way to get rich. Hence we also reach out for projects in other cities or countries where cultural projects have greater importance and appreciation.
We want to stay here because we (still) like the city. We’ve lived here for a long time and our social environments, families and children are all based here. So leaving the city only for a monetary reason is no solution for us … it’s better to try and change conditions instead of escaping.