“Design has such power.” RAWTY on teaming up, taking responsibility and designing for good
Based in Graz, Austria, RAWTY are a purpose-driven graphic design studio that uses design to help ambitious companies. With a focus on positive socio-ecological impact, the practice – consisting of Tessa Sophie Huber, Sophia Stöhr and Christian Leban – is driven by a shared understanding of design’s influence on the world. In our conversation, the trio tell us about their decision to unify as a studio, what the journey has been like so far, and what goals they have their sights set on.
PT Hi Tessa, Sophia and Christian! How are you three?
R We are great thanks! Hope you’re doing fine, too!
PT I am, thank you! When did you first meet?
R We met about three years ago at our former agency, where we all worked as designers. It was basically love at first sight and we became an inseparable trio since then!
After constantly hearing about the consequences of climate change, war and social injustices, we began to question our role as designers.
PT And why did you decide to launch a studio together?
R Last year was tough for us. After constantly hearing about the consequences of climate change, war and social injustices, we began to question our role as designers in this mess. Seeing the ‘Fridays For Future’ demonstrations walking by our windows, we thought there must be some way to use design to help change our future for the better. We realised that a change of mindset was necessary. We can continue to use design to create desires for unnecessary things people don’t really need, or we can use design to raise awareness for the problems we are all facing. We founded RAWTY because we wanted to work with brands dedicated to creating a positive impact. We want to tell their powerful stories in unique ways to help shape our future and culture together. Being able to work with our best friends and making our own decisions also played a big role.
PT What was your experience in the industry prior to RAWTY?
R [insert your average industry experience here] It really wasn’t anything new. Great people, exhausting work environment. We definitely learned a lot and had some exciting projects, but what bothered us was that ‘the client’ was used as an excuse way too often. Designers have a social responsibility. We can’t just do stuff because ‘the client wants it like that.’ If it’s bad for people or the planet we have to speak up. Design has such power. You can use it to mislead or to inform, to hide or to empower, to follow or to lead. That is why we started our own studio, because we need to take responsibility – our choices, our work, our clients. If we don’t like it we don’t do it or we speak up and suggest a better alternative. Unfortunately, this also means turning down some clients, but that is also an important part of the journey and an important signal. The coolest thing you can do is care (for the planet and the people).
We believe creative freedom and a safe place to explore ideas is important to find new solutions.
PT What is RAWTY’s philosophy? And how do you capture it in your studio branding?
R Our philosophy and branding are all about humans and nature coming together. To recognise that we are all connected and influenced by each other is crucial. ‘What we stand on is what we stand for’ describes our intentions pretty well. We want to work with and for our earth.
The name RAWTY stands for the raw, untamed nature of our planet. It feels like wild waves crashing against rough rocks or the sensation of touching the bark of a tree. Our goal was to visualise that feeling. We used a variable font that mimics the process of growth and decay and additionally enhanced it by the motion design. As a contrast we chose a modern, clean font in black and white to communicate our messages clearly. We wanted to create a design studio that had the compelling personality of a brand. Our branding is scalable on a continuum from clean and calm – with a lot of space for client projects – to fun, playful owned content.
PT Can you tell us a bit about the logo?
R We wanted to design a logo that stands out. A logo that has a natural, analogue quality while being strong and clear in all sizes. ‘The Floosh’ – as we call the flower underneath the typeface – represents our love for nature. We borrowed from the graffiti aesthetic for a flowing and rebellious feel. Combined with the bold and strong typeface it’s a logo we’re proud of. Our studio branding sets the tone for the kind of design we want to explore in the future.
PT When setting up your own studio, were there any lessons you brought with you from previous studios you’ve worked at?
R We believe creative freedom and a safe place to explore ideas is important to find new solutions. Previously, we’ve learned to be fast and critical of our own work and that you should always have a reason and strategy for each decision in the design process.
PT What goals did you have in mind?
R One goal was to show that economic success and climate action don’t have to be opposites – in fact, we believe that changing the way our economy functions will be crucial on the way to a better future. We want to inspire other creatives to think about the positive impact they can have and adopt a holistic design process to encourage transparency, circularity and regeneration in their work. Of course, it’s a work in progress and we are learning together as we go. Let’s make eco-cool again! ;)
PT Can you summarise a few of your favourite projects so far?
R So far, we worked in very diverse fields and enjoyed the challenge of diving into new topics while searching for leverage for positive impact. We worked on projects ranging from branding a CO2-conscious restaurant, to creating a campaign for the Technical University of Vienna, to designing a poster explaining our vision of ‘The Good Life 2030’ (that was exhibited in Tate Modern – whaaaat). Our most recent project was the rebranding of a school – stay tuned for that.
PT What is it like working in Graz?
R Small but good but small. There is a really great social business scene and startup community. But what makes Graz special is the amount of greenery and the proximity to nature. It keeps us healthy and our minds fresh.
PT How do you normally structure your workday?
R Okay, let’s talk about the plan and not mention the reality. Lol.
We usually start at 9am with a quick ‘cereal’ (that’s our term for stand-up) and then dive right into work. Emails won’t be opened until about 11am because a focused workflow in the morning is important to us. Then we all have lunch together and usually take a walk around the block or to the botanical garden that happens to be next to our co-working space. The afternoon usually looks similar with another focus block or some meetings and calls. We typically end around 5pm. We also just launched a four-day workweek. So far it works like a charm.
PT What industries or fields do you most enjoy designing for?
R We were lucky to have a wide variety of clients so far that show us trust and give us creative freedom and we think this is what makes it special. It’s not the work in a specific field that brings the most joy, it’s supporting good, sustainable solutions in a multitude of industries. And seeing clients grow and succeed with the help of our design is the most joyful part.
PT Who would be your dream client?
R That’s a tough one. Stella McCartney? Tekla? Patagonia? Parks Project? WWF? Honestly, as long as we can help a client with good design to make this planet a bit better it’s a dream project. One step at a time, right…
PT Outside the studio, what do you enjoy getting up to?
R As you might expect, we love nature and spending time outdoors. Parks, forests, mountains – they are all our favourite kinds of places. Individually, Christian loves skateboarding, photography and ducks. And backcountry skiing (like a true Austrian boy). Sophia enjoys rock climbing and is one hell of a chef. We are just lucky that NOMA closed – otherwise, she’d probably work there and not at RAWTY. Tessa loves listening to Pink Floyd, painting, camping and skiing (like a true Austrian girl). Either as a single activity or combined. Of course, we like meeting new people, too, so hit us up if you are in Graz.