Parasol is a design company specialising in branding and design, with offices in Stockholm, Barcelona and New York City. We spoke to one of their Founders, Creative Director Ramiro Oblitas, about some of their recent branding work and how they approached it.
EM What’s the story behind Parasol and how you got to where you are today?
RO Parasol is a design studio founded in 2008 by myself and Saul (Taylor). I met Saul when we both started working for Tyler Brûlé at his advertising agency Winkreative (formerly Wink Media) in 2000. We were two of the original members of the group that at the time consisted of two or three staff, including Tyler. We soon understood that the environment was a true exception from the traditional agency set up. We flew all over the world giving presentations to a roster of clients we could only have dreamt of and we were always encouraged to take the lead. This unique opportunity gave us confidence and a realisation of our potential. After a year of long hours – primarily spent on planes and in airports – we won the biggest account in the agency’s history: the re-branding of Swissair. As expected, the number of visits to airports increased and we were commuting to Zurich’s Kloten airport three times a week. During our time at Wink we worked across a variety of industries and sectors, developing global brand identities, launching magazines on the international newsstand and working with the best talent in the world.
After such an intense period I took a year’s sabbatical in Brazil until I got restless and was asked to return to London and head up the design department at Saturday (now Wednesday) as Design Director. Saul had stayed on with Tyler as Chief Editor and Intelligence Director at Winkreative and eventually launched Monocle magazine as one of the founding editors. We always kept in touch and as chance would have it we both relocated to Barcelona – Saul in his role at Monocle and myself as a freelance art director. It was at this point we realised we were ready to start Parasol. The name has obvious positive connotations but is also a metaphor for our cosmopolitan experience and the knowledge and connections we gather under our Parasol and offer to clients. Our values are grounded in uncompromising quality, attention to detail and an enthusiastic approach to both work and life. I was born in La Paz, Bolivia, grew up in Sweden and I have lived and worked for the majority of my professional career in London, New York and Barcelona. Working with international brands across the entire globe has given us unrivalled insight into the cultural nuances within business and branding.
EM How closely do your studios in Stockholm, Barcelona and New York work together?
RO Each Parasol project is tailored specifically to the client and we assemble a bespoke team of collaborators from our studios in Stockholm and Barcelona. We recently opened an office in New York that is headed up by our partner Victor Abellan who was the COO of Apartamentomagazine. People from our three locations work together as a creative/strategic task force – a bit like producing a movie – and we travel between the three studios on a regular basis. This interaction also provides inspiration and stimulation which helps our process and feeds our intelligence gathering.
We reduced the shape of a birch leaf to create an abstract frame.
EM For various pieces of Björk & Berries print and packaging work, the diamond shaped lock-up bleeds off the edge. What is the thinking behind that?
RO We wanted the visual identity of Björk & Berries to encourage the packaging to become a bold and easily recognisable pice of communication. We reduced the shape of a birch leaf to create an abstract frame that could hold ingredients or other relevant content. The frame device allowed us to be playful and flexible in the way we approach various formats and shapes. It has the potential to exist in physical form detached from the products if necessary and can be reproduced in many materials, as yet unexplored to obtain unexpected identity signatures.
We partnered up with the typographer Göran Söderström of Letters from Sweden to build the family of characters.
EM What is the inspiration behind the custom typography for Design Sweden?
RO Design Sweden is an organisation dedicated to Swedish designers. It is an independent practitioners’ organisation founded in 1957 by members, for members. We wanted to provoke and influence the design industry by allowing the content to speak for itself. We partnered up with the typographer Göran Söderström of Letters from Sweden to build the family of characters. The end result is a set of characters and letter shapes with an extremely low x-height that maintains personality with a dark character shape even when reproduced in small sizes. The identity revolves around the typeface – everything is delivered in a slightly serious way so we needed the typeface to have personality and stand on its own with minimal design intervention.
EM Do you have a strict process for how you approach each project?
RO Every identity is different, and there’s no one method that guarantees success. Consistency is important, although in some cases it helps if the identity can be flexible. And of course it needs to communicate. We live in a time of constant visual bombardment and distraction. Any identity that stands out, or communicates something emotive to a viewer is the smart contemporary move. It’s about understanding the client, product and customer, and making a connection with a bold concept and intelligent thinking.
EM Why did you decide to wrap the typography around the spine of Alexander Lervik’s 15 Years book?
RO The content, the products, the photographers, the contributing editors and of course the product designer himself are all authors of the book in the end. We wanted them all to operate in a democratic way across the pages. This resulted in a dynamic typographic setting across the entire navigation where the names of the contributions are symmetrically placed in the centre across double spreads and section dividers. We treated the authors’ names with the same approach, wrapped around the spine and the cover of the book.
EM What is your dream branding project?
RO Getting a commission for a good cause that we believe in and using the power of creativity to make a difference.
EM Creating a toolkit for H&M’s in-store communications is some task! What was the process like of creating it?
RO H&M came to us and wanted us to help them with their overall communications platform for their entire in-store programme, which was a global roll-out task. At the beginning we spent much of our time concentrating on the UX over the various departments and all the existing labels. We had to be pragmatic based on schematics and wire-frame all the touchpoint interactions between the retailer’s offering to the consumer. We worked closely with Donald Schneider, the H&M Global Creative Director at that time and their internal marketing department to help them define the challenge of what was needed to be articulated, for what purpose and for what activity, be it seasonal or as a specific garment offer. We also had to consider all markets globally as they had started to create their own communication according to their specific consumers. The US market preferred to use more blue references as it was a colour that sold best while the French favored brown tones. In the end, we had to curate a toolbox of elements that had to cater to multiple markets with a restricted colour choice to use for various activities, for collections and for calendar events such as Black Friday, Chinese New Year, Mother’s Day and so forth. As such we were required to create a very simple design system of grids and typographic hierarchy for a vast amount of formats – from hang tags, picture cards, ceiling signs and windows to online adaptations. The toolbox filters input to result in clear and communicative output. The framework allowed the H&M in-house design department to follow a structured approach with endless possibilities to communicate to its audience. The solution is a clear and coherent expression using a flexible grid system that allows for great variety of content such as graphic, photographic or illustrative techniques.
EM Lastly, what are your favourite pieces of recent design work from around the world?
RO The latest Adidas x Parley sneakers made from up-cycled plastic waste from the ocean. The MUJI Hut prefab structures. Motion and design studio More and More’s ’50 Days’ project – this self initiated idea is very inspiring.