Studio Cryo is a design outfit with a sense of humor. Don’t believe me? Then head to its Cargo Collective site. That’s right, there’s nothing there apart from a massive photo of a very young-looking Justin Timberlake, bleach blond barnet and all.
Of course, being funny doesn’t mean Cryo’s all about cheap gags. Far from it: the studio, based in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, boasts a portfolio characterized by thoughtful, striking design work, mostly for music and cultural clients.
Studio Cryo is in fact a one man band, founded in 2014 by Mindaugas Gavrilovas, who describes himself as an “artist and graphic designer, internet and sound explorer.” He certainly does explore sound: alongside running his design practice, in 2017 he also cofounded the community radio station Palanga Street Radio (it’s great, have a listen). He still manages the creative content of the platform, which boasts some smashing little easter eggs as you click around. For one show, for instance, a hover of the cursor reveals one of those weird stock images of a woman smiling, holding a bowl of salad.
The designs for the radio station are deliberately both subtle in their humor and playful. “There’s a lot of trashy spirit in our visual style, if we can call it that,” says Gavrilovas. “We really don’t want to have a style, I guess that’s why I decided to make that stupid logo with a thumb. It’s from the Wingdings font—it’s so basic. I really didn’t want any branding for it because my motto was that community itself should be the style-bringer, rather than us making a template for a specific style.”
Gavrilovas’ days are often spent in a fractious balancing act between client work and the radio station, which is purely community based and non-profit. “That’s the hardest part,” he says. “Freelance graphic design is basically putting bread on my table, and the radio thing is just a big hobby that gives me zero money, but it’s something we started and it’s impossible to drop it. There’s loads of similar stations in London, but when we founded it there was nothing like it here, it was totally fresh. We have this approach that isn’t about being pretentious, but really easy and lo-fi: When we started, it was like ‘Whatever, let’s just do it.’ We just had one mixer and a shitty laptop.”
While radio and design may be fighting it out for Gavrilovas’ time, his work is almost overwhelmingly music-centric. As well as creating the identities for the site and Palanga Street Radio events, the designer also works across external sleeve design, and flyer, poster, and party branding commissions. His first stable freelance client on leaving Vilnius-based branding studio Grad was for the city’s Kablys club. “It’s a really interesting building with crazy open spaces, it’s something very different to the other posh clubs here that are of interest to me,” says Gavrilovas. “When that expanded [in 2014] I pitched a new logo to them.” They declined the offer, but did bring the designer in to create flyers and other materials. Two years later, they ended up taking on the new logo he’d proposed.
“For me, to start working in something cultural felt like a really safe space,” says Gavrilovas. “They were really open for my experimentations, too, which was great because at that time I was just looking for a style—not just my own style, but one for them.”
According to the designer, Vilnius has a pretty vibrant music scene at the moment, with everything from the “trashiest place for metal-heads” to daytime raves to ambient concerts. “You can get almost any kind of party here,” he says. Where his birthplace has let him down, he says, is with its design education options. Gavrilovas studied graphic design as a degree, but describes his education as mostly self-study. “I wouldn’t really call design school my education,” he says. “It basically sucked. In Lithuania we really don’t have a strong design education: you have to be self taught or creative enough to bypass the nonsense here.”
It seems this translates into the design scene more widely. According to Gavrilovas, while there are a few big agencies, it’s nigh-on impossible to start smaller studios as there’s simply not enough work out there. “It’s almost non-existent here,” he says. “The big agencies just try to copy western European agencies in their workflow and tone, and I find that really dry.
“The graphic design thing in Lithuania is still very fresh. So the basic mentality here for clients is to look like western European design, and they play it safe: they’d rather go to a big agency than a small studio, even if they have to pay 100 times more. I think some time will have to pass for clients to get that smaller graphics designers can also bring interesting ideas and be just as reliable and competent as bigger agencies.”
As for his own style, much of the strange typographic experimentation and melange of psychedelia influences and zine-like textures are informed not by the world of design, but by the sci-fi books he read voraciously as a kid. “I was also really into playing weird, geeky trading card games like Magical Gathering or even Yu-Gi-Oh!,” says Gavrilovas. “I used to draw these fictional characters, and later on when I was working in the studio and trying to make myself like branding or whatever I realized that my heart is still more in the storytelling and weirder kind of design I can work on now that I’m freelancing.” Keep going with your heart, Cryo, it’s working.