Munich-based studio Milch + Honig has an interesting story behind its name (which translates as milk and honey, for non-German speakers). Projects are either “Milch” or “Honig:” the former are those that strengthen companies through new communication concepts and visual identities, while the latter involve “social and cultural engagement.”
“We try to add some honey to sweeten life, using our knowledge and skills to support individuals and organizations,” says co-founder Christina John.
Milch + Honig was formed in 2009 by John and her colleague Rafael Bernardo Dietzel, who left in 2016. The studio has always been small, but three years ago the team of three slimmed down to just John when she had a baby (taking on freelancers when the projects demand them).
What’s so striking about Milch + Honig’s work is its breadth; its homepage alone offers an insight into its focus on the interplay of carefully constructed motion graphics, sharp typography, and innovative art design, on top of more traditional graphic design projects. “We are open to any kind of medium, even when we focus on type and print solutions,” says John. “That’s why we like to work with a huge network of talents and specialists, learning more about things like variable fonts, processing, and tracking.”
As such, the studio’s style is refreshingly hard to pin down. “Some people say playful, some powerful; some describe it as reduced and clear, some as colorful and funny. I always try to find aesthetic creations with a little twist.”
The process at the studio is described as “content-driven.” But what does that mean exactly? “Not designing for the design as an end in itself,” says John. She refers to the Bauhaus idea that form follows function, an idea she feels is more relevant today than ever. As such, most projects start with intense client discussions and workshops to drill down into what a brief actually needs—its strategic concerns, the various touch points the designs might work across, how they might reinterpret the boundaries of what the client thought they needed.
It comes as little surprise that this conceptually led way of thinking means that much of Milch + Honig’s work is for cultural clients. The downsides of that are “less money,” says John, the upsides are “more creative liberty and good feelings, because you’re doing something good: culture means education, one of the most important things in the world.”
A standout piece in the studio’s portfolio is the Rosenthal anniversary book, a publication celebrating the Rosenthal porcelain company that’s been synonymous with high-class living and dining culture since 1879. The studio created an oversize hard cover book in a gold paper sleeve with three additional special colors, a vibrant happy birthday clacker, and shortened pages; and features a multi-page picture series shot by Berlin fashion photographer Joachim Baldauf. A special limited-edition was adorned with a titanium-gold porcelain plate that seems to magically stick to the cover.
“Even though they wanted us to make a colorful, lively, and surprising magazine, we had to take care around Rosenthal’s long tradition,” says John. “In the process of working with the client, we ended up with a big book with a Rosenthal anniversary plate fixed magnetically at the cover: as the content and strategy changed a little bit during the process, it was important to give every topic enough room and a design that fits to the content.”
She adds that the best clients are those who are “motivated to join the creative process,” offering up their own input as well as being open to new ideas.
While the Rosenthal project was ostensibly for a brand, it was approached like an art book. Although Milch + Honig’s founder is keen to separate what it means to be an “artist” and “designer,” being an “artist at heart” is still integral to her commercial practice. “In the past I used to draw a lot, made collages or sculptures out of iron, and had some exhibitions,” she explains.
“Being a designer is not the coolest, most artistic job ever.”
Later, when she opened the studio, she says she “wanted to keep a connection to the fields of art, no matter which one.” That’s why when she started out, most of the projects she worked on were for musicians and artists. “They gave us a lot of freedom in the sense of creating unconventional, off-the wall-designs that are pushing boundaries and breaking habits in how we’re seeing. So there has always been those two poles—art and design—and our work is oscillating between them.
“Being a designer is not the coolest, most artistic job ever. It’s a hard job: you have to fight for your ideas, your authority as designer and strategist, and at the end, often to get payed. But complaining is silly. Either act, or forget about it.”