“A static, logo-centered visual identity is like someone who shouts the same message over and over again. A flexible visual identity on the other hand is a bit more eloquent.”
So says Martin Lorenz of TwoPoints, a studio that specializes in something called Flexible Visual Identities (FVI) for both arts and corporate clients. On its website it boldly asserts that “the static logo… has proved insufficient in modern visual communication,” and so what this studio designs instead is smart systems that evolve with the work—solutions that can “formulate different messages, adapt to different situations, and maybe even to different people, too.”
So let’s dig deeper. What does this mean?
In 2007, when TwoPoints first formed, founders Lorenz and Lupi Asensio had already turned away from designing logo-centered identities to developing systems made from rules that could be adapted and manipulated. A simple logo felt clumsy when it came to actually applying it to various elements of a business, and it didn’t always “adapt that easily to different formats.”
But constantly adapting identities are complicated, and TwoPoints is a small studio made up of just three designers and two interns, so the team created an efficient system of rules that could be applied across multiple projects. For an illustration festival called The Big Draw, for example, TwoPoint developed a visual structure that could be designed simply and quickly.
“If there’s the time and the budget, a visual system can be turned into a program, too, which generates the deliverables for you,” says Lorenz. This is how the studio approached its work for Tonangeber, a free playlist-sharing company that hired TwoPoints to design a website. Instead, the studio created a “supertool” that allowed users to make new covers for each playlist themselves. The solution meant that they could create graphics within the parameters of an imaginary circle made of five sparkling, radiating, and colorful forms.
These shapes almost look like jewels, objects that evoke the idea of beautiful treasures or strange, rare minerals hidden away from the everyday. It reminds me a little of Björk’s Biophilia album/app hybrid, which similarly combines programming, notions of organic growth, and the swell of music to create its fragmented shapes and digital forms.
There are lots of advantages to linking programming and design. “The rules in a printed corporate design manual can always be misinterpreted or even ignored, whereas a program just generates what it’s told to generate,” says Lorenz, adding:
“And no, we don’t think programs will steal our jobs. They just help us concentrate on the fun part of design.”
If this is the first time you’ve heard of FVI, welcome to the club. Meanwhile, in Spain, Lorenz has just finished a Ph.D on FVI at the University of Barcelona, and his findings suggest that many other studios are making the same move away from the “static” and are embracing the “flexible” instead. “It seems to be trend that’s here to stay,” he asserts like with doctoral thesis authority.
Considering, contextualizing, and committing to graphic design movements is something that defines a good portion of the studio’s editorial output, too. In 2012 it released Pretty Ugly (Gestalten), a response to the Creative Review article “The New Ugly.” In the infamous piece, editor Patrick Burgoyne described a new wave of graphic design that knowingly relished breaking the rules in an attempt to seize the attention of jaded audiences. “We wanted to publish a book about this movement before it became a stylistic trend, emptied of all meaning,” explains Lorenz.
In Pretty Ugly, TwoPoints describes “a new kind of beauty that isn’t based on pure visual pleasure, a beauty based on context-driven design, being transparent about working methods, tools, and materials.”
The studio also produces an I Love Type book series, where they explore the contemporary uses of eight time-honored typefaces. Most recently, it’s just released a new book entitled LEAP Dialogues: Career Pathways in Design for Social Innovation, which collects conversations with 84 designers and educators who explore changes in the industry, the skills needed to stay relevant, and how new practices emerge.
It should be pretty clear by now that the studio spends a considerable amount of time thinking about context and about what it means to design today. The name TwoPoints refers to the two dots of a colon and explores the idea behind a colon’s grammatical function, how it links two thoughts or sections of text. For the studio, the colon in its name reflects the moment of transition between a speaker and a message, the way a design translates a concept into a visual identity.