In brackets: Zak Group’s identity for Berlin’s Biennale

London studio Zak Group has designed a text-based identity for the eighth Berlin Biennale of Contemporary Art. The typographic system is centred around a pair of brackets…

Graphics by Zack Group, photography by Brotherton–Lock

London studio Zak Group has designed a text-based identity for the eighth Berlin Biennale of Contemporary Art. The typographic system is centred around a pair of brackets…

The Berlin Biennale opened to the public last weekend and runs until August 3, with various exhibitions and performances taking place in the city’s KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Museen Dahlem and Haus am Waldsee.

Zak Group was commissioned by curator Juan Gaitán and produced signage, wayfinding, posters, guides and a website for the Biennale. The studio also worked with designer Radim Peško on a bespoke typeface.

“The invitation was to think alongside [Gaitán] as he developed a biennale that moved away from a strictly thematic format and looked towards historical narratives in relation to individual subjectivity, particularly histories of Berlin in the 19th century,” says Zak Group founder Zak Kyes.

“The idea to narrate the identity of the Berlin Biennale through language…writing came about by questioning the homogeneous cultural image economy, and on the other hand seeking for a way to twist the identity itself a new type of creative platform,” he adds.

The brackets act as a framing device for text and images and can also be placed close together to create the number eight and Zak Group says they are designed to reflect ‘the multitude of curatorial and artistic voices of the Biennale resulting in no singular, definitive version of the graphic identity.’

In response to the idea, Gaitán commissioned artist Agatha Gothe-Snape to create a series of phrases to placed within the brackets. She developed over 80 quotes, such as ‘no images no worries’ and ‘I was relieved I did not get a full viewing’, which appeared on the Biennale website as well as banners and posters.

The bold, condensed typeface is a distinctive design – Kyes says it was crucial to create something “unique and striking” – and an accompanying outline version was used for text within the brackets. Zak Group also used an existing secondary typeface, also designed by Peško, for additional copy.

The studio used a range of bright and pastel colours for the identity, from a sunny yellow to softer blues and greens and a deep red. “We knew from the beginning we wanted a wide spectrum of colours…instead of a restrictive palette, but we needed to find a set that could be mixed and matched harmoniously,” says Kyes.

“In researching colour theory, particularly as it was explored by modernist artists and architects, we identified several dozen colours…that suggested a single language and which could be selected on a case-by-case basis. Over time, a system evolved where a colour was chosen for each of the four venues. These natural colours serve as a counter-point to the typography, rendered in a pure-industrial black,” he adds.

The project has already been nominated for a German Design Award, and it’s little wonder why: it’s a versatile system and the perfect way to frame a disparate range of work and ideas. Zak Group has also designed a guide for the Biennale, which offers a look at contributing artists as well as Berlin’s architecture and history, and you can find out more about events taking place at

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