Mila Schön book, by POMO

What if we didn’t view websites as straightforward repositories of information or as simple service providers, but as something with a bit more kick? And perhaps, even, a touch of the theatrical? Many designers and agencies aspire to such lofty, and admittedly abstract goals; few deliver them with quite such a punch as POMO.

Creative director Marco Cendron founded the studio in Milan around a decade ago after he grew tired of art directing magazines (the Italian editions of GQ and Rolling Stone among them). At POMO, he’s expanded on his work in publications to include some weird, wild websites (we’ll get to those in a minute), which are informed by what he calls a “sculptural approach” to design. “Something in my DNA is treating printed objects as a sculpture,” he says.

Even in the digital realm, the images and platforms feel genuinely multidimensional. This is a studio doggedly dedicated to experimentation. Take the POMO site itself: linger on a page and things get a little, well, wonky. When you click around those wonks, things either go full-on k-hole or right back to normal, as if nothing ever happened.

“My main concern isn’t whether something’s offline, online, or even a book,” says Cendron. “I just like to keep experimenting; I don’t want to be bored by what we do. Now, we’re able to do the special stuff we’ve always done in print with digital.”

Rarely is a POMO project straightforward. Something might start off as a video commission and end as a book that looks like a ladies’ handbag; or a website might become a theater. Ultimately, each work rigorously investigates a brand’s reason for being, and then tells that story in faithful, yet utterly novel ways. Such experimentation isn’t just reserved for clients. The studio runs AFTER, an after-work “playground” and R&D lab. For POMO’s staff, it’s a way of being “really free,” creating outside of client briefs, and offering a platform to “help stretch the mind.”

At the helm of these digital experimentations is Nils Öh, POMO’s Swedish-born digital art director. “We try not to be too restricted by the medium and focus on a more experience-based approach,” says Öh. “We first think about the type of emotion or reaction we want from the user, then sculpt that—it doesn’t matter if it’s print or digital.” Cendron adds, “When we design something, we try to design an emotion instead of something that’s just visual.” The ideal way to do that, he reckons, is to think like a child breaking their toys. “The best thing is to forget what the toy was meant to be to begin with, and just build something new that brings you that same pleasure.”

All this talk of emotion-led images, dismantling for pleasure, and a freewheeling approach to mixing media must surely tie back to their studio name. Mixing high with low and print with digital is all rather postmodern, after all. But POMO’s name is far less rationalized than all that. “I loved the sound before I discovered it’s a contraction for postmodernism,” Cendron insists. In actuality, the name loosely refers to the word for “apple” in the dialect of his native small town near Venice—but it essentially means whatever you want it to. 

Perhaps it’s that mixture of frankness, humor, and experimentation that lets them get away with such wild designs for clients? “First of all, it’s about building a strong connection with the client, as there’s no way you can prototype everything,” says Cendron. “So we get into the mind of the client to understand why they do what they do, and then build something slowly, so we know why we’re doing what we’re doing.” 

POMO’s recent site design for art collective Duskmann shelves everything we think a website should do, and instead looks to convey an essence—or “enigmatic identity”–over the usual information architecture. The site plays with geometry and “unexpected content compression” using a huge arrow and a hell of a lot of strobe lighting to navigate the site. “When we have little content to work with, like this site, the format acts as another way to communicate the content,” says Öh. “We’re communicating a web translation of the spirit of the brand.”

A similar approach came into play with POMO’s designs for Italian decorative arts company Fornasetti. The brand has traditional roots, but its site is anything but—objects float in space, eerily carousing round the homepage to a thoroughly modern soundscape. The idea was that the site acted as an immersive “theater,” not just a simple marketing and information tool but a “perfect web translation of Fornasetti’s eclectic spirit,” says POMO. It’s still artisanal, but in an entirely new and exciting way.

For fashion brand Mila Schön, POMO was initially commissioned to create a video to be shown after a fashion show, but decided the budget would be better spent on a printed take-home in the form of a book. In the brand’s factory storage, POMO unearthed a wealth of archive imagery and press cuttings from the 1950s-70s, shot it, and made a book. Then they made a bookmark, which became a connecting thread, acting like a handbag strap in the 1960s heritage style the brand is best known for. “It’s using the history to find the future of the brand,” says Cendron.

“There’s no one methodology to working here; there’s no recipe. You have to view and objects from as many points of view as you can, and find a place where your design sensibility meets the client’s. When I teach, I tell students, ‘There’s always a new way of looking at an object that’ll make it look nice.’ And, well, sometimes there isn’t, it’s just shit.”