Whatever you think of when you hear “website”, or “leaflet”, or “poster”, you’ll think again when browsing through the portfolio of the young, experimental graphic designer Medeina Musteikyte. The recent graduate from Amsterdam’s Gerrit Rietveld Academy allows content to wholly dictate form, resulting in unexpected designs far from the conventional.
Since finishing design school, Musteikyte has been collaborating with fellow graduate Dirk Verweij on a number of cultural projects. They define their process as “avoiding beginning with a fixed format”, and taking the “form follows function” dictum to its utmost extreme. An example of their rigorous commitment to questioning convention is their designing a “non-user-friendly” website for a Russian techno EP called Wnimaine-Eindringlinge. As with the structured beats of the music, the site is rigid and only allows for the user to interact using scrolling bars in a series of boxes. The claustrophobic experience locks you in cycles of repetition—as do the tracks—with fluid, abstract imagery cascading to the left of the screen providing that much-needed moment of release.
“The use of templates for website design seems to be far more acceptable than with print or other design mediums,” says Musteikyte. “It’s reasonable for commercial websites. But I would argue that the format and structure your work is displayed on is a part of the work itself. Standardizing this experience makes it impersonal and predictable, and intuitive interfaces often just end up with thoughtless clicking and scrolling.”
She describes the site as the opposite of “anti-design”, because its creation involved “rethinking the structure of a website in relation to the content.” For Musteikyte and Verweij, the website sits alongside other web-brutalism designs thanks to its eschewal of a hyper-polished, template-based aesthetic. Musteikyte’s design for a self-initiated and interactive web project called Fem Type, which displays free fonts typically described as “feminine” to the user who can type “girlish” fonts randomly onto a plain white background, similarly departs from a conventional web design.
“We avoid having a defined format as a starting point whenever possible,” says Musteikyte. “Treating the format as not neutral or a given, but as the active design component results in unusual cuts and binding for example, or an unconventional web interface.”
You can see how their process informs print when looking at posters created for Utrecht’s University of the Arts’ (HWK) graduation show, called Cut the Mustard. Every element of the format is vital to the design’s concept, even the stickers that hold up the posters carry an essential part of the information about the event and can be used independently as additional signage. The same approach informed the sharp cut and folds of a flyer for an exhibition called Boatopia: each of the two leaflets has a very different function but need one another to deliver the information fully. The first introduces the project, while the second is a custom printed personal invitation to the show.
“In other words, this method of questioning and ‘validating’ the function of each element rarely results in default formats,” says Musteikyte. “This goes back to how I approach web design, where I try to treat animations as relevant design components rather than additional effects for the sake of decoration.”
Animation, or movement, is a central fascination for Musteikyte: you can see this the moment you land on her website, where type moves across the surface of the screen as if all lines of the bouncy text were on conveyor belt shuffling at different speeds. She’s definitely not a designer that likes to stand still. A new identity she’s working on with Verweij for a living room gallery called Plǝt encompasses this energy: its main representation is a moving image, where vibrating and shape-shifting letterforms stand in for the undefined sound of the “schwa”.
“Many designers see movement as the add-on, as something extra, or even a last step. In my process, it’s often a starting point,” says Musteikyte. “Maybe that’s the reason I enjoy creating websites where the movement is more unusual: I see it as the basis of a composition and underlying the design concept. This is definitely the case with my own portfolio website.”
As a result of this approach, the designer recalls struggling slightly when creating the 2016 graduation show identity and campaign for the Gerrit Rietveld Academy along with two other classmates. It’s a gorgeously lively, energetic animated design of neon colors, tongues, birds, and bright blue twisting fingers, one that we’ve celebrated in our Eye on Design Poster Picks articles focused on new moving posters. “The concept for the campaign stemmed from animated gifs, so translating them into other still campaign materials without loosing the liveliness and vibe was a challenge,” says Musteikyte.
Her process is one of questioning traditional formats, of collaborating closely with open-minded clients, and of charging design with dynamism and using this as the starting point—which feels well-suited to our fast-paced times. “Right now, Verweij and I enjoy all to much the busy rhythm of actively designing and not trying to fit into any frame,” says Musteikyte, “meanwhile keeping busy helps us to keep up our energy and optimistic vision for the things to come.”