Associates, Partners et Sons is a specialist design studio in Latvia. We caught up with Founder Edgars Zvirgzdins.
Tell us about your background, and why you chose to set up your own studio in 2011?
I grew up with lots of art & design around, my mom was an actress and dad a surgeon, my parents friends were creatives of all kinds. Somehow that rubbed off and although I was studying at a maths oriented high school, I made the last minute decision to not go into finance or architecture and do design. High school gave me ease with numbers and business side, which I am grateful for, I see how my friends struggle with those parts sometimes and that could be something which art schools could improve.
After graduating University of Brighton in 2010, I was invited to work on an architecture exhibition back home in Riga, Latvia. What was supposed to be a one-off project ended up being the start of the studio. Just after the new year on 3rd of January, 'Associates, Partners et Sons' was registered and I started working on the first projects. The exhibition went on to win Grand Prix at Latvian Architecture Awards, which helped with establishing our name in the local industry.
You work with a team of 3 designers and a business manager, what do you enjoy about having a small team?
I worked alone with help from freelancers for two years. It limited me to smaller projects. Couple years ago we had an opportunity to expand which saw us grow from 1 to 5 designers and I had to give up my daily design role. It was a great experience, but we struggled to keep our focus – so a while after we had taken on our business manager, we downsized to 3 designers and business director.
Una is working mostly on exhibition / publication side of the business, Ainis is working mostly with our identities, I am overseeing their design work and working with select clients, Imants on product design projects on freelance basis. And Martins, our business director, keeps sure that we can focus on what’s important.
We're big fans of your Paradox Holdings project, what was the concept behind the work that you produced?
Our task was to create a visual identity which would reflect the company in the current financial world. Their core values represent independence, a custom approach and the ability to adapt to the ever-changing market – these are highly valued among the shareholders.
Through the design we tried to communicate prudence and reliability of the company while being one step ahead of others. Knowing how to connect the dots is important in modern finance. The logo reveals the development process of assembling simple lines to form a larger entity. Despite the complex form its core is the same as the outside – an octagon. Moreover, the resemblance of the symbol to the classic diamond cut unobtrusively signals observers of value.
The overall image we wanted to create both by design and materials used is one of careful attention to detail and thoroughness. As a part of the identity system we also created the design of business cards, as well as various stationery items: pencils, stationery and notebooks. For the notebooks we used Curious Matter paper in Adiron Blue 270g for the outside and Scandia 2000 White 80g/m2 for the inside pages, and for the duplex business cards the same Curious Matter paper and Scandia 2000 Natural, 240g/m2.
Do you and your team have a process when starting a new project?
Our process is quite simple – we tailor some parts depending on the client (based on their background and involvement in the project). Foundation of everything is a question based framework, which we use before starting a project. It helps us understand our clients background and their business needs.
This leads us to deeper conversations with the client and between ourselves at the start of the project.
Afterwards its all about the diamond shaped process – expand quickly on concepts & ideas, then put everything under pressure and see what can stand the heat.
What is the design community like in Latvia?
There are some serious challenges:
Lack of general knowledge – for most of people design is something distant and hard to understand. Average piece of visual communication looks worse than Jeremy Kyle show / Tesco / insert some bad piece of design here. If the overall society is not educated on value of good design, there will be very small demand for it. It is a challenge we have to work with every day – educating our clients on the cost and need of good design.
Succession – although there are great historical examples of graphic design from Pre-Soviet and Soviet Union times, somehow there is no succession between different generations of designers. Apprenticeship, which is popular in the rest of the world, somehow hasn’t rooted itself in the Latvian design community. This has lead to a situation where every generation learns everything anew.
Education – There is no formal Graphic Design BA/MA course at the Latvian Academy of Arts. Which means that the industry works with students from either Product Design or Visual Communication (which misleadingly specialises more on Video Art and Contemporary Art).
But times are changing – There is a new generation of designers who know that you can achieve a lot more by working together and sharing knowledge and ideas. A couple of years ago we were part of a group that merged together three local design blogs to make a more serious design platform for Latvian design – FOLD. We strive to educate general society and creative industries on the value of good design.
We work a lot with Latvian Art Directors Club which is the local advertising society, almost two years ago we worked together on Riga Type Week. Colophon Foundry and local designers gave lectures and workshops on type design during the week.
Our generation of designers have started to get education abroad and some of them do come back, start-up wave has hit the shores of Latvia and with that we have seen that there are some great talents in web and UI design, as well as digital production like animation and 3D.
At the end of day – everything is looking promising for the Latvian design scene in the long-term.
Is there one project you are most proud of?
Looking back to how much we have grown during these 5 years – we appreciate every project we have worked on. Some of them might not come out as award winners or 'blogable' projects, but they probably taught us much more than the ones we would like to pride ourselves with. During 2014 we had two great adventures – website for Bank of Latvia, a complex project with a lot of stakeholders. On top of that we were organising and curating one of the European Capital of Culture events in Riga – street art festival Blank Canvas.
Can you tell us about the branding work you did for Kampenuss? We love the simple details of the monogram.
For the Kampenuss branding we wanted to visually convey the craftsmanship which goes into their fine furniture making business. Our concept called for a composed and restrained visual language. Drawing inspiration from the craftsmanship – we let the logo breathe and be unobtrusive, while putting precise, fine lines against the organic shapes of the products.
What are your future plans for the studio?
It would be interesting to work on more international projects – we are working on a contemporary art exhibition design in Kiev, Ukraine at the moment. Last year we did an exhibition design for Latvian Pavilion at Venice Art Biennale. In the near future we are continuing work on a great push-bike start-up called leg&go and designing a museum on the history of books at the National Library of Latvia.
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