Founded: 2011 Based: London Staff: 4
Notable clients: Ministry of sound, Wallpaper.com, Mario Testino, Goldfrapp
Marc Kremers is a man who is passionate about design. Actually scratch that, Marc Kremers is a man who is passionate about the right kind of design. He started his own studio four years ago because he was driven by an ambitious vision he had for the value of good digital design and what it can achieve. “Doing anything else is not an option,” he says. “I don’t want to work within the system, I want to influence it from the outside, on my own terms.” Whether his team is creating sites for Wallpaper*, Goldfrapp or costume jewellery brand MAWI, everything begins with user experience but evolves along unexpected and delightfully inventive lines.
“The sites have to run very quickly – it has to feel light, effortless and responsive. But I think what sets us apart from most is the attitude and subtle subversiveness baked into our products. We’re allergic to the rampant conformism in our industry. Too many sites are just exercises in good, generically appealing taste. Anyone can do that. It’s super boring.”
This idea of “rampant conformism” really winds Marc up, and he doesn’t hold back in his criticism of a safety-first digital design approach. “I think designers naturally just want to fit in, have a nice, cute life, do nice, cute things. Work hard, be nice to people. Read Kinfolk. Raw denim. Beards. Flat Whites. Nice fonts, nice illustrations, nice design. Go with the flow. Just good, tasteful things, experiences and activities. And before you know it, your life is an Instagram feed, literally indistinguishable to any other designer’s nice Instagram feed. You melted into the digital soup. I don’t know if this rant makes any sense, but I guess my awareness or fear of this singularity is just naturally percolating in my work. I’m a nice guy though,” he adds.
It’s interesting to consider this call to arms alongside one of his studio’s most successful products. Syndex is a Tumblr theme that has been installed more than a million times, making it comfortably one of the site’s most popular templates. But its genesis lies in Marc’s very personal preoccupations. “Syndex was born out of my own needs and tastes. You can’t compromise or make a mistake if you’re making things for yourself, or a core group of people whose needs you deeply understand. The digital moodboard is nothing new either, there were already very influential sites like aaa-feed and haw-lin, but there was no easy way to make your own one. I think great design goes beyond just making something nice, tasteful, and even useful. It needs to have an opinion and an attitude about its role and purpose.”
There’s that ambition again, and it’s refreshing to hear someone describe their approach so honestly. But Marc is well aware that he needs to be surrounded with a team that share his passion and understand how to implement and even develop his ideas. Within the studio everyone has a combined interest in both design and coding, whatever their specific job role. That means the relationship between function and aesthetics can be explored more holistically.
“The content defines the function and the aesthetics, ideally, as literally as possible. For example, if the user can actually use content as the navigation itself, you’re removing the need for interface and creating less obstacles between the user and the message. That said we do like to play with the notions of best practices and good taste. On mawi.co.uk for example, we have a size reference feature which superimposes common objects over luxury products. Aesthetically, there is a strong clash which we find really funny. Functionally, it works very well as everyone knows how big say an iPhone or a paperclip is. We think humour is not prevalent enough in our discipline.”
It’s at the testing phase though when these strong core ideas are put through their paces and anything that doesn’t measure up is dropped or changed, however strongly the team may have believed in it. To put that another way, this is not blind obstinance based on theoretical design principles.
“We watch people use our products, and then we ask questions, take notes, iterate, repeat,” Marc says. “It’s very difficult to know if your great UI idea, which is so obvious to you, because you came up with it, is actually obvious and intuitive to others. Sometimes you can explain the UI idea to the team and client, make movie demos, and it all seems amazing, but in practice, the interaction just bombs. Sometimes you can get it there by tweaking, but if not, you have to be able to put your hands up and accept defeat. Not enough designers do that, and it’s something we are working hard on at the moment.”
Unsurprisingly Marc has big plans for the studio over the coming months, looking to grow his team and develop their already-impressive client list. The starting point for this is to hire great people and to build a diverse team that is able to adapt to the rapidly changing demands of the digital landscape.
“So many digital agencies comprise of a bunch of straight, white bros with a female producer here and there for good measure,” he says. “It’s unacceptable. Why would the biggest social revolution of the last 25 years be controlled by the same people as every revolution before?”