Javas Lehn is the Creative Director of his design firm Javas Lehn Studio. Based in New York City, they work for a range of art, fashion and real estate clients.
Can you give us a background on yourself and your studio?
I was born in Seattle, WA and grew up on San Juan Island. Growing up I was heavily influenced by my grandfather, who was one of the first minimalistic interior designers in Seattle, along with my father who was an architect.
I began to pick up on their nuances of space, colour sensibilities and overall juxtapositions of materiality and form. After school I worked at a couple of studios and agencies in Seattle before moving to New York 7 years ago.
I initially worked for the MoMA, which was such a unique experience and later worked at Wolff Olins before starting our studio; 5 years ago. Our first studio project was Saturdays Magazine — which was a fantastic project for us and really set the tone for the projects we continued to work on shortly after. Over the years, our studio has organically grown in size and scale of the projects we work on.
In various pieces of print designed for The Robey, the clean typography is offset against gritty photography. What’s the thinking behind that?
I find that most hotel advertising does the same thing. They show the pool, the room, or guests.
With The Robey we wanted to celebrate the ‘free spirited’ nature of the hotel through advertising to set the tone and create awareness for The Robey brand launch and at the same time intrigue people to want to know more about the hotel…
The set of images we used also harkened back to a certain era and history of Chicago. The images we used were: Motorcycle image — Rene Burri, Illinois, Chicago, 1971. Interior image — Martin Parr from ‘Luxury’, 2005. Leonard Freed, Youth in Park, 1965.
“Robey Sans was conceived and inspired by Paul Renner’s early pencil sketches for Futura.”
What is your creation process for making custom typography, such as Robey Sans?
All of our work starts with a story; a concept. Once we establish a story — we start to look at how this story can come to life and translate to different mediums and spaces within the project and brand. Robey Sans was conceived and inspired by Paul Renner’s early pencil sketches for Futura and drawn with proportions from the idiosyncratic geometric sans serif typefaces of the mid-1920s — which was designed around the same time as the construction of the building of The Robey.
Most of our projects we currently work on have a custom typeface which we design in-house. This process usually starts with initial sketches and then we evolve these initial sketches; and start fleshing out a select group of letters, and then extend to the full typeface. It’s incredibly rewarding and makes the overall visual system that much more special and unique from other brands and work.
More and more studios including yourself are sharing ‘works in progress’ on social media. Do you think public feedback can aid the design?
Not really. I look at it as a little peak through the curtains into our process.
“I am obsessed with this process, the rigorous editing, sleepless nights and going on press and experiencing the ink on paper.”
What do you enjoy about working on magazines and books?
What I enjoy most about working on books and magazines is the conversation between the viewer and the content. In both cases you are able to set the tone for the the story one can tell through the pacing, image selection, and editing process.
I am obsessed with this process, the rigorous editing, sleepless nights and going on press and experiencing the ink on paper. It can be rewarding and tiresome at times. Currently in the process of working on a few books for The Margulies Collection, Walter looss, Jessica Antolaand a personal book project. As well as serving as the creative director for Out Of Order Magazine; a biannual print publication — which is really more of an art magazine than fashion magazine…
Working with photographers and architects, who have a portfolio of their own to showcase, should their identities always be ‘less is more’?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that every ‘identity system’ for a photographer or architect should be reductive and minimal. Some things should celebrate the maximalist, especially if the photographer or architect celebrates this aesthetic.
That said, we do tend to reduce the elements when we work and try to stay pure to the story of which we are telling. With photographers and architects, I try and always remind myself and our team that we are not creating a brand, but we are telling the story of the artist. Of course, this story can be told in a variety of ways, but I do think that the design and interaction shouldn’t overpower their work. It’s about finding the right balance between celebrating the individual and their work — which I love.
What do you consider to be the most important part of the design process?
Communication, vision, ideas and curiosity.
Which company would you love to rebrand, and why?
The United States. Currently, we are very much in need of a rebrand…