BVD was founded in 1996 in Stockholm by Carin Blidholm Svensson and Catrin Vagnemark with two clients: IKEA and H&M. Since then, they’ve designed packaging for Vitra and McDonald’s, updated the Coca Cola’s brand and won multiple awards along the way, all by applying their philosophy, ‘Simplify to Clarify’.
To round off 2019, BVD has relaunched their digital presence to highlight this way of thinking. We spoke to Design Director and Partner Rikard Ahlberg to find out more about it.
The Brand Identity: Congratulations on the launch of the new website. How did the process of creating it begin?
Rikard Ahlberg: Thank you! We’ve been neglecting our digital presence for some time. Inspired by the feedback we get on our philosophy ‘Simplify to Clarify’ we felt a need to manifest what it really means for us and for our clients. Also taking the opportunity to talk about the natural connection between simplicity and sustainability. Basically building a platform that better communicates our offer, but also internally inspires us to creatively evolve and showcase in new dynamic ways.
TBI: Tell us about ‘Simplify to Clarify’.
RA: Complexity is good. It means there are many ways to see things, many perspectives and possibilities. But in this world of mass-communication, you need to be careful. If you try to communicate everything you end up with nothing. If you don’t remove the unnecessary and choose the things that really matter, you won’t survive as a brand, or as a human being. With our philosophy and method ‘Simplify to Clarify’ we find the core, the essentials, what you really need, and we bring it forward in the most impactful way possible. Making sure that what you want to say cuts through the clutter and creates impact. It’s really the reason why we all here at BVD go to the office every morning and what we believe in for the future. We feel it in the dialogue with our clients, and we see it in the world around us. There is more need for simplicity than ever before. Both in design and in our way of living. And of course, in our lives design is crucial.
“It was all about the stripes – using what they already had but in a new way.”
TBI: Can you talk us through how this way of thinking has impacted one of your clients?
RA: There are a couple of projects that come to mind that I think describes the effect of ‘Simplify to Clarify’ in a good way.
We were asked by the Swedish Forest Industry Association to oversee their vision statement. The management all had different opinions on where to go, and there was loads of info and reasoning that pointed in different directions. We said we would like to present the way forward on one page. We were told ‘that’s not possible’ and suddenly the project was stopped. Six months later our client came back with a 600-page document that they didn’t know what to do with. We took them through our ‘Simplify to Clarify’ process and ended up with a consensus in management, a clear direction that everybody could align on. Summarised on one page, with one single word in obvious focus. A defined core and brand strategy that became the starting point for all communication in all channels, starting with a new visual identity and a printed vision statement to clarify it.
With Swedish 7-Eleven we went from an I-don’t-know-what-store-I-am-in-situation to clarifying a new healthier offer, updated visual identity and packaging that is recognised from far away, instantly and that will be around for a very long time. 7-Eleven was repositioning themselves from the unhealthy choice to a smart and convenient destination, and the new visual concept did just that. And it was all about the stripes – using what they already had but in a new way, a simple but very bold visual expression that really cuts through and clarifies the brand. Before you didn’t really want to put your coffee cup on the meeting table, but today that’s not a problem.
Our latest project for IKEA Food is another example where we through our way of thinking are making a difference. The challenges regarding disposables, the enormous amount of trash, the awkward situations for takeaway customers. These preconditions really triggered us. In close dialogue with IKEA and the packaging industry, searching for innovation in materials that better supports sustainability. Reinforce functionality in the structural design, how to simplify usage and handling. And to find a distinct but inviting IKEA tonality in all branding, both structural and visual, crucial for old and new markets. Yellow, blue and Hej! Simple and clear, the IKEA way. Lots to say here of course, but as a first step we are very curious to see the outcome and we are looking forward to further contribute to the evolution of materials and packaging for sustainable development, via ‘Simplify to Clarify’.
“Design for the sake of it is totally irrelevant.”
TBI: BVD has been working with IKEA for over 20 years. What has been the key to maintaining that relationship?
RA: BVD and IKEA are related in more than one way. Our philosophy ‘Simplify to Clarify’ is very close to IKEAs way of thinking about ‘Democratic Design’. We share the same opinion in the fact that design for the sake of it is totally irrelevant. We are both extremely focused on the job that the strategy and/or design should do. And we have been growing together. We were early to develop smart and bold in-store communication that attracted IKEA and H&M for example. The IKEA start box is a legendary packaging by now, communicating globally without words. And the latest project together is all about more sustainable food packaging when it comes to materials and reducing waste, a topic that, of course, is a top priority as the world looks today. But it also includes functionality, to help visitors make the right choices, and making life easier for many people. Definitely a vision worth fighting for.
“If you try to communicate everything you end up with nothing.”
TBI: How does the typeface Moderat capture the essence of BVD?
RA: It has that smartness and timelessness of a geometric sans serif, but with a little warmth and friendliness. A quirky little twist in a functional context that I enjoy. I think it’s one of those typefaces that looks beautiful no matter what you do to it. That is a good thing for our digital platform with responsive typography, and for internal use as well. At this point in time, we are not able to create our own bespoke typeface, but that’s on the to-do list. Right now Moderat suits us. Hats off for talented Fabian and Fabian at Tightype.
TBI: How do you make sure sustainability is at the forefront of every you do?
RA: Because of it being a constantly evolving topic we keep ourselves updated through dialogue in workshops and events, internally for BVD and externally together with clients and co-ops with people and organisations that can complement our knowledge, and that we can learn from. Also, we always address our engagement in chemistry meetings with possible clients and make sure it has its place in the actual project brief. If it’s in the brief we can rest assured there will be a result which includes sustainability. But it’s a challenge sometimes. Sustainable development is never a stand-alone question, it’s always a system question and always related to other parts of a process. Luckily, today most brands have an environmental policy that they need to comply with.