Bielke & Yang on eight years of creating the identity for Norwegian Presence at Milan Design Week

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Poppy Thaxter
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Bielke & Yang on eight years of creating the identity for Norwegian Presence at Milan Design Week

With a track record to be proud of, Oslo-based studio Bielke & Yang have been designing the Norwegian exhibition’s identity at Milan’s Salone del Mobile event, every year, for eight years. Taking place during Milan’s Design Week, ‘Norwegian Presence’ showcases the very best of Norwegian design and manufacturing, with exciting emerging and established designers on the roster each year. We caught up with Partner & Designer Evan McGuinness about the team’s journey working on the exhibition’s identity, from the very beginning up until 2022. He recalls the challenges, timelines and typefaces that have formed their experience of working on the annual project. 

Norwegian Presence 2022

PT When you get the brief each year, what is your first action?

EM When we get the brief can vary, which is tricky! Usually, after the Exhibition Director has settled on a theme for the year and the exhibitors have been chosen we have a clearer idea of the focus for that particular year, so we can start working on a concept. 

For example, in 2021, we knew the exhibitors would be the same as in 2020, but it would be a digital-only exhibition with a series of talks on several topics. We developed an identity that embraced that context and aesthetic cues, very dynamic with a focus on animated type and a bold digital palette. This was totally different to 2022, where we wanted a tactile, slow, editorial feel to the overall exhibition experience, both in digital and physical spaces.

Usually when the team is set our first action is to arrange meetings with each member of the team, or a joint meeting where everyone can raise their initial thoughts and hopes for that year. Then we can get a better picture of what we want to achieve with the identity for that particular year.

Norwegian Presence 2021

The evolving content makes each year inspiring to work with.

PT How does the exhibition’s evolving content inform the changes to the identity each year?

EM It has a massive role in each year’s identity, if not the driving element. The content informs everything from the exhibition design to the colour palette, to material animations in 2019, even the silhouettes have been used as key graphic elements of the identity in 2017.

The evolving content makes each year inspiring to work with, as we see Norway’s best, emerging design talents entering the industry. They are pushing the industry forward in so many ways, and the format of the exhibition now where there are designers and manufacturers in the same room together encourages sharing of knowledge between the Norwegian design industry. 

The evolving content has also resulted in many collaborations for us as a studio on other projects. Be that interior design, photography, film, product design, it has opened up the vast pool of Norwegian design talent for us, which we are very grateful for. 

Norwegian Presence 2020
Bielke & Yang on eight years of creating the identity for Norwegian Presence at Milan Design Week

We created a typeface that would retain a core skeleton.

PT Where did the idea for the custom typeface come from? And why do you choose to return to it each year?

EM Each year before the exhibition received its permanent title, Norwegian Presence, every aspect of the identity would change each year; the title, content, colour palette, exhibition design, photo style, everything. Which made it difficult to build on any recognition we may have established in the year prior. Therefore we needed to create an identity for the exhibition, while also allowing it to be refreshed year on year and not act as a restraint for the theme of that year. We decided we could create one component that would remain consistent throughout the future lifespan of the exhibition, the typeface. While simultaneously allowing it to bear much of the identity for that specific year. 

Together with our long-time collaborator and type designer Bobby Tannam, we developed a concept around the very idea of presence. The exhibition represents a specific moment in time and exists, in a sense, for only a few days (during Milan Design Week) and then remains tied to that exhibition. Again, feeling recognisable, but at the same time something new. We created a typeface that would retain a core skeleton; the same proportions, x-height, cap-height, and weight, but the exterior expression changes to represent the theme of that particular year. Staying the same but constantly reinventing itself.

Norwegian Presence 2019
Norwegian Presence 2019
Bielke & Yang on eight years of creating the identity for Norwegian Presence at Milan Design Week

PT How long does it usually take to conceptualise and develop everything?

EM The process can take up to six-seven months, especially now as we are focusing more on the digital aspects of the exhibition experience than in the years prior to the pandemic. 

Norwegian Presence 2018
Norwegian Presence 2018

PT After 2021’s digital event, what was your mindset when approaching the 2022 edition?

EM We were excited. Excited to see a physical exhibition again, all the works collected in one space and see how they complimented and contrasted with one another to represent contemporary Norwegian design. But mostly to be in Milan, see people from all over the world celebrating design.

Our mindset was to move away from the focus on digital the previous year, and the digital focus globally. To create something calmer, more bookish and editorial with many details people would need to take their time to explore in the physical space. But most of all celebrate the tactile process of making, which was accomplished through the sound design and cinematography of the films by WillyNikkers, to the delicate, refined exhibition design by Kråkvik&D’Orazio, typographic details of the exhibition design and not to mention the location, Galleria Milano and the spectacular painted ceiling. This was perhaps the first year where we felt the physical and digital space align, which is something we are excited to continue developing into next year’s identity. 

Norwegian Presence 2017
Norwegian Presence 2017

We are the only member of the exhibition team that has been everpresent over the past eight years.

PT What are the biggest challenges of working on this project, and how do you overcome them?

EM As we are the only member of the exhibition team that has been everpresent over the past eight years, we’ve had the pleasure of working with many, many, many talented people from exhibition designers, curators, photographers, filmmakers, designers, manufacturers, sponsors, chefs, woodworkers, printers, the list goes on! We love working with so many people, but it can also come with its challenges, in particular communication. To ensure that everyone feels heard and is included in the various processes when they should be. The solution here, of course, is more communication, but maintaining that level, so no one falls out of the loop is something we’re always working to combat during these processes.

PT What has been your favourite or most memorable year of Norwegian Presence? 

EM I would have to say this year, 2022. For all the obvious reasons, being the first event post-pandemic, there was a special feeling in Milan. However, I would also say it’s due to the holistic implementation of this year’s exhibition; it felt like a coming of age.

Graphic Design

Bielke & Yang

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