“We are enchanted by the tiger,” say Luisa Milani and Walter Molteni of Italian media studio La Tigre. “A tiger is a magic and arcane wild beast. We were looking for an aggressive yet also charming identity for our studio, and so the choice of a tiger was an easy one to make.”
There’s something else about a tiger that suits the Milan-based design duo. You might think I’m reaching here, but the way a tiger’s bold stripes sweep across its orange pelt is both elegant and geometric, yet also arbitrary as no two stripes are identical. Likewise, many of La Tigre’s designs take visual cues from geometric repetitions, but they break away from the inflexibility of a rigid pattern, combining the structured with the random in a way that’s similar to a tiger’s furry coat. Yeah, I went there.
“We love geometric perfection,” says Milani. “But we often find it too strict and severe. We feel the need to dispel stillness, so we build up rules and then we break them.” La Tigre set out to combine rules with spontaneity; it’s an approach we’ve been seeing a lot recently, and it especially echoes the process of graphic designer Pol Solsona.
La Tigre’s identity for a small cinema located in the heart of Milan is a perfect example of how the studio combines the rigid with the random. Sweeping red letters disrupt the simple blue and cream stripes, creating a vivid sense of movement. Similarly, their recent identity for a production agency brought together grid-like forms and haphazard, cascading typography, a juxtaposition that sought to reflect the agency’s interest in both commercial and cultural ventures. A mixture of sans numbers with serif letters scratches rebelliously at the rules of typography; the result playfully interrupts the structural flow of a simple line of text.
Their penchant for ripping up rules while still retaining a strong sense of classic forms made La Tigre the perfect studio of choice for redesigning The Independent’s iconic and traditional logo. Matt Willey and Dan Barber’s celebrated 2013 redesign of the British newspaper updated and modernized the entire publication, and they commissioned La Tigre for the task of stripping back and revitalizing the eagle icon. Approaching the design as if it were “a sort of ‘serif’ eagle, or a kind of glyph,’” La Tigre made sure to “respect the old form, but make clearer lines instead.”
To shatter a rule, someone has to make it first, and the process of rule making and then breaking is the foundation of La Tigre’s approach. “The way we work together is that one of us will build the grid, and the other will then create the dynamism that disrupts it. It’s a game that we play every day,” says Milani. It’s not like one person always builds the grids and the other always destroys it; Milani and Molteni take turns in the two roles, as playful—and fierce—as two bounding tiger cubs.