We caught up with graphic designers Axel Feldmann and Marco Ugolini of objectif, who run us through their paths through Europe, learning how the politics and history of a place will influence design work, to setting up a studio in London. Axel and Marco share what 'design' means in different countries, how personal politics has impacted their design journey, and how they value the contribution of interns.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

Axel: I studied in Germany, at a school that strongly advocated the Bauhaus and Ulm traditions. Feeling somewhat suffocated by that dogma, I sought work experience abroad in Europe; first in Paris with Ruedi Baur, then in Lisbon with Ricardo Mealha for my first job after graduation. These experiences helped me to see ‘outside the box’ not only within the discipline of graphic design, but also in a broader more cultural sense — realising that there is a thing called ‘politics’. Perhaps that’s why when I came to London I embraced the diversity and openness of this city. I spent three years working for Nick Bell, and then set out on my own and founded the studio. Meanwhile, I kept on studying; first Linguistics and then an MA in Philosophy and Critical Theory.

Marco: I studied my BA in Florence, Italy, and my MA in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I also spent one semester at Bauhaus University in Weimar, in Germany. All these experiences were very significant to my personal, cultural and professional growth. Studying in different countries I was exposed to different approaches to design, and each of them had an impact on my work now. After graduation I started working for FRAME publishers in Amsterdam, designing books and magazines in the context of art and culture. This is pretty much the same work I am still doing now, many years later.

What’s the worst design job you’ve ever had and how did it make you a better designer?

Axel: After setting up on my own and things not running as I had hoped, I freelanced for a large corporate design studio, working for investors in the middle and far east. Although the people were lovely, I hated the idea of contributing my skills to projects whose only reason to come into being was financial profit – bluntly disregarding any social or political consequences that may arise from their realisation. I guess this only strengthened my desire to design objects or spaces that provide a social benefit for their readers/viewers, however small that contribution may be.

Marco: Designing catalogues for artists can be very challenging at times. It can be hard when your commissioner is over-controlling and hard to please. With experience one learns how to compromise between all interests involved in a design project and to communicate content in a way that is effective. Design is very much like a puzzle sometimes: many complex pieces have to be combined together in the best possible way.

Design work by objectif The Design Kids interviews objectif work-2

How does the local culture of where you live affect your design work and getting clients?

Axel: The culture of a place as a hegemonic – and often unquestioned – ideology determines its design ethics. In Germany design is perceived purely a service industry, to improve products or provide information. In Portugal, when I was living there, design was a luxury asset, brands or services who could ‘afford’ design have been perceived as ‘upmarket’. In the UK I feel that design and art overlap and inform one another, so that design can take on expressive qualities and art can improve the quality of social life. No matter where you are, in my view it is important as a designer to question the hegemonic culture of the place you live in and define for yourself what motivates your design.

Marco: In Italy, the heaviness and beauty of classical art is everywhere. The design world all seems to rotate around the fields of fashion and furniture. Italian graphic design is strictly linked to the Swiss tradition, and its boring and yet elegant rigor. The Netherlands is a country of innovation. Dutch culture seems to be able to cut all links with tradition, and contemporary art and design are provocative and visionary. In the UK cars drive on the left hand side and design has a charming and humorous side, as if its desire is to break away from rules and rigidity.

What’s your take on internships? (do you take interns now?)

Many recent graduates apply for internships, to get to know the industry. Many times they will work as qualified junior designers at almost no wages. We see internships as an exchange. Being a small studio, interns become an integral part of whatever project we are working on at that moment. Their contribution is helpful to us and we ensure they learn and benefit from this experience as well. Our conundrum with interns is that we want to pay them at least minimum London wage, but often our projects financially don’t allow is to do this, and sometimes if they do we end up working for free ourselves while all the money goes into wages.

Design work by objectif The Design Kids interviews objectif work-4
Design work by objectif The Design Kids interviews objectif work-4

Design is very much like a puzzle sometimes: many complex pieces have to be combined together in the best possible way.

What's the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Axel: Question the brief!

Marco: Be ready to throw your ideas away.

What advice would you give students graduating in 2019?

Axel: Travel.

Marco: Travel.

Design work by objectif The Design Kids interviews objectif work-6
Design work by objectif The Design Kids interviews objectif work-6

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