It’s a rare treat to find a studio whose work feels so entirely their own—consistent, thoughtful, yet full of those cheeky little elements we call “surprise” and “delight”—while still so young. That’s exactly what Chicago-based Platform has managed to do, despite its founders being only in the first year since graduating, and the studio yet to reach its second birthday.
The studio’s founders Jacob Lindgren and Paul Zdon met while studying at the University of Illinois together, and began taking their joint practice “seriously” a couple of months before graduating. Their teaming up was both a product of being good pals—“slowly learning about each other and each other’s interests without the pretense of going into a business relationship,” says Zdon—and a reaction to a local design scene they felt fell short (and rather outside of) the sort of projects they were most interested in and inspired by.
“I honestly think for both of us we didn’t really see anything in Chicago that was attractive in terms of a studio we wanted to work for,” Zdon says. “There’s a lot of design stuff happening but mostly it’s very commercial and focused on branding and marketing, and we didn’t feel we fit in with that too well I guess.”
Lindgren adds, “We both had ideas at one point or another to look elsewhere or relocate, but what was more attractive was to build something here that we were looking for instead.”
Their sense of being typographically obsessed misfits seems to have served them well, and the studio has worked across visual identities, websites, books, and other print projects mainly for publishing and cultural clients alongside operating Platform Editions, a “small-scale research and publishing effort.”
The key to their so-far successful partnership is “being comfortable with each other, and having the confidence to speak our minds,” says Lindgren. “There’ll be times when we’re both working on something and we can not see each other for a while, but go in and out of the same InDesign file. We’re on the same page.” As you might expect, Zdon agrees. “We have a lot of trust in each other,” he says. “I can rely on Jacob to make decisions that will benefit the both of us. If I wasn’t able to do that it would very quickly unravel.”
One of the studio’s projects that most succinctly distills its playful, colorful, yet typographically astute style is its work for Chicago Art Book Fair, for which it created the visual identity to be used across the website, posters, program, and exhibition signage. The graphics are based around strong primary and secondary colors and a series of abstracted, Matisse-like shapes that appear to have been hand cut and sit alongside solid black and white type.
The project also neatly bridged Platform’s dual concerns: it also exhibited the fruits of its Platform Editions publishing venture alongside the 100 or so other arts publishers, small presses, book artists, comics artists, zinemakers, and printmakers. “It was a really good learning experience for us,” says Lindgren. “It was such an all-encompassing identity, and we had such an open line of communication with the organizers, so it felt like we were really involved from early on—seeing the initial idea coming to fruition and being able to participate in it too.”
For Zdon, much of the studio’s distinctive blend of typography-led work and wry, even humorous elements is also a reaction to the pair’s education: “We’re both equally interested in the rigorous, modernist typography we were trained in at school; but trying to blend that with something a little more expressive or which doesn’t follow those conventions. We’re trying have a foot in both worlds and reconcile both of those ideas.”
Much of that reconciliation comes through more self-initiated projects and Platform’s publishing arm: the age-old trick of making the work you want to make off your own bat, in order to be commissioned to do so in future. “Having our own thing means we can make work without having to answer to anyone but ourselves,” says Lindgren. “It’s really useful to have a sandbox or playground like that to test things out and develop ourselves.”