When Studio YUKIKO gets their hands on a new commission, they rip up everything that they know about design and start with a clean slate, approaching each editorial project as if it was the first book or magazine they ever made. “It’s very freeing,” says Michelle Phillips of the Berlin-based studio she founded in 2012 with partner Johannes Conrad. “We first try to find an idea in the content that can be extracted and interpreted, and then we think about the printing techniques and materials available. The trickiest and most enjoyable part is imagining and translating 2D designs into a physical 3D object.” By starting each project from scratch, their designs for books and magazines often end up combining complicated paper types and experimental folding techniques—“Anything to give our printer a headache!” says Phillips).
Phillips and Conrad met in Brighton after she studied graphic design and he studied art and film. They began collaborating on odd projects, animations, and music videos, eventually founding the studio and then moving to Berlin. YUKIKO are now best known in the design community as the art directors behind Berlin’s avant-garde Flaneur, a magazine that hones in on a different street in different cities each issue, meticulously investigating it via writing and art. It was through the process of making this idiosyncratic, story-led publication that Phillips and Conrad developed their singular approach and studio philosophy.
Along with the rest of Flaneur’s editorial team, YUKIKO spends months immersed on the street for the different issues, getting to know the neighborhood and the locals who live there. “After we’ve spent time on a street, each issue has its own look that’s derived from our experiences,” Phillips explains.
For an issue themed around a road in Leipzig, for example, there were many abandoned, haunted-looking houses in the area, so YUKIKO worked with a black, white, and red palette for the magazine’s design—plus French folds and a gatefold cover for added complication and to hint at the secrets uncovered in the issue. On the other hand, their issue about a street in Rome was filled with loud collages because the area was visually “very over-the-top.” Every time YUKIKO design an issue, they start afresh, using whatever is around them to influence the way they conceive the layout.
“Now that we’ve been running longer and now that we know a lot more, we try not to transfer our knowledge too directly to similar projects,” Phillips says about the way art directing Flaneur has informed the rest of YUKIKO’s practice. “Instead, we approach them openly so that we create a new set of rules specific to each commission.”
When British documentary photographer Ewen Spenser approached YUKIKO to design his series of publications documenting youth culture, Phillips and Conrad decided to emulate the idea of a fanzine in their design. “The project is about youth culture, for youth culture, so the cover doubles as a poster that you rip out and unfold.” For each new edition, the only thing that changes is the typeface, which YUKIKO selects “to mirror the destination of Ewen’s shots.”
For a photobook for the filmmaker and photographer Matt Lambert, YUKIKO started from scratch once more, deriving the design from the intimate and risqué moments captured by Lambert’s camera. “The cover with the knockout text (which lets you get a peek of the nude underneath) was designed to intimate old, censored smut mags that come in a black bag,” says Phillips. “But we chose white for the cover instead of black to represent the intimate, personal side of his pictures.”
The book, called Keim, sold fast, so YUKIKO have just released a second edition with a black version of the cover. “It was a real pain to produce! We had to speak with so many different printers until we found one who could work with the cover’s material in the way we wanted them too—we were hell bent on getting it right.” The book’s design relies on a “black-and-white/naughty-and-nice” duality. In the middle, YUKIKO hid a red-and-black zine of collages they made from Lambert’s photos. “We had a lot of freedom. It was a great collaboration.”
Their unique and deliberate process make YUKIKO consummate modernists, always updating and reinventing their format, never staying put. Instead of relying on what they know, Phillips and Conrad allow experience to dictate their direction—it’s what makes their projects so playful, intelligent, and tactile, and it’s why you’ll never see them do the same thing twice.