“In design, like music, the pauses are as important as the notes themselves,” says The Studio’s creative director Susanna Nygren Barrett, who was a partner at Stockholm creative agency BVD for 10 years before she started her own design firm with managing director Mattias Börjesson. Her work is recognized the world over—in 2009 she juried AIGA’s design awards—and she’s a key part of Sweden’s own unrelentingly seductive design scene, an enthusiastic proponent of that special brand of seemingly effortless Nordic minimalism you can’t seem to find anywhere else.
She and Börjesson make a particularly good team, with her art and design background complimenting his experience in business and marketing. The pair believes good design has two dimensions, art and commerce, and they divide up their workload to suit their two distinct strengths.
Like the understated, almost invisible name of Barrett and Börjesson’s agency (Googling them requires some dedication), the idea of “pausing” is perfectly apt to Barrett’s outlook—The Studio’s designs are subtle, yet to-the-point. It produces the kind of classically clean, functional, and exacting design you don’t even necessarily think of as design. Like water or air, the identities and branding The Studio creates are crystal clear and open, without distracting, overtly design-y details.
“The eye needs calm space to be able to focus,” muses Barrett when I ask about the cleanness that defines so much of The Studio’s portfolio. “Simplicity, restraint, and reduction are key to communicating ideas.” It’s not so much that Barrett enjoys an aesthetic of simplicity that she instills into each project; in fact her aesthetic is “a result of our process, not the other way around.”
“Our ideas are specific and relevant to each client, but our process of reduction for the sake of strength and clarity means that the work comes down to the essentials. This is nothing new: it’s the basis for all good design.”
You’ve probably come across The Studio’s work while searching for a pair of tights or socks at H&M—it produced a clear and functional tagging system for the clothing company with plenty of white space, a clean custom typeface, and dynamic photography that quickly communicates size, color, and range to the consumer. “Our H&M work needs to function in 60 different markets worldwide, and with 14 different language adaptions,” explains Barrett. Stripping things down to the basics was simply the best solution.
The Studio works with plenty of local companies, too, and takes the exact same approach to small-scale projects as it does to the larger ones. Since Barrett’s process is so focused on clarity and functionality, selecting just the right typography for a brand is always key. For clothing company Kerber, the bold display typeface Dala Floda was used to create a modern mood, and the 1930s proportions of the secondary typeface, Super Grotesque, provides a contrast that also reflects the silhouettes of the collection. This combination of the old and new feels timeless, which suits Kerber’s striking, simple shapes and primarily black-and-beige color palette.
When designing the Verso Skincare identity, the contrast between the sculptural quality of Carousel (used for the numbers, see above) and the simple elegance of LL Brown was important for creating a feeling of distinctive quality and luxury.
“Everything needs to be there for a reason,” Barrett concludes confidently. “If it’s not adding anything, it’s taking away.” Her message and the process she describes is classic, a method that strives for timelessness with strikingly effective visual pauses and dynamic letter shapes.