Design studio OK-RM have recently completed the branding for the Strelka Institute, a major cultural organisation in Moscow. We talked to OK-RM‘s Rory McGrath about the project
The Strelka Institute for media, architecture and design is a non-profit organisation aimed at generating discussion, ideas and projects in the creative and cultural industries. As a venue, it houses lecture halls and studios providing post-graduate tuition in architecture and the social sciences. It also hosts lectures, conferences and film screenings and has a publishing programme, overseen by The Guardian’s Justin McGuirk.
CR: How did you first come to be involved with the Strelka institute?
Justin McGuirk (Director of Strelka Press) introduced us to Ilya Oskolkov-Tsentsiper (Director of Strelka Institute and head of Winter – a London and Moscow-based consultancy dedicated to helping Russian businesses to produce world-leading marketing and design work). Shortly after our first meeting Ilya asked us to undertake the re-brand of the institute based on an unsuccessful and interim first attempt when it opened in 2008.
CR: What were the main design challenges in creating an identity for what is an organisation that has such wide-ranging and ambitious aims?
The task was to provide a platform which would enable Strelka to communicate its activities more effectively to both local and international audiences. A key consideration was to portray a democratic relationship and explicit connection between the institute and the ideas, events and people that shape it.
The main challenges were to develop an identity which would be robust enough to accommodate the coexistence of the institutes multitude of activities, and open-ended enough to portray an institute which is constantly redefining itself.
CR: The identity system is based on a grid, Can you explain the idea of the grid and how it works in practice?
Conceptually the grid acts as a metaphor for Strelka’s activities and it’s continued questioning of and investigation into the development of Public Space in Moscow. The grid represents this space, and the varied use of the grid expresses the activities which happen within it.
As a working system the grid acts as concrete structure which can accommodate multiple forms of content and thought processes. It allows for the economical, consistent and recognisable maintenance of materials across different mediums – from printed in-house templates to website to architectural scale signage to one-off designs.
CR: How did you address the need to work in two languages typographically?
Given that a key requirement of the brief was to communicate an Institute with an international outlook, we decided to bring the dual language aspect to the forefront, making it a key player in the fabric of the identity. Translation becomes an integral part on every level from the logotype through to the body copy.
Formally, Latin and Cyrillc alphabets have very different characteristics, one of the key differences is the use of small caps vs. lowercase. We made the decision to use only capital letters for display typography which helped to visually unify the cyrillic and Latin letters. The two languages are divided by use of the grid, which provides a solid structure for the management of multiple levels of content.
The principal typeface of Strelka is ‘Fugue’ (designed by Radim Peško) it is used on the majority of communications and also for the logotype and core institutional information. Alongside we made a point of acknowledging classic Cyrilic typography. We envisage a carefully controlled palette of important Cyrillic fonts – the first is Lazurski (designed by Vadim Yefimov Lazurski).
CR: No images are used in the scheme – why was this decision taken?
It was firstly important to communicate the ideas, ambitions and questions raised by the institute; the abstract nature of these ideas are more clearly articulated typographically. Within the broader programme of visual communication the brand system feasibly supports any content and the ambition is definitely to inject image based content at a later stage.
CR: Can you talk us through the Strelka Press book covers and the system used for the graphic devices?
We see these as illustrations – interpreting the ideas raised by the authors we use a limited palette of elementary shapes and marks drawn from the Strelka grid. The process is wholly intuitive yet precise in scope. The aim is to create a distinctive series in the lineage of the classic paperback covers for a publisher with a digital agenda.
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