CLRS&Co. is a multidisciplinary design studio that, in their own words, “positions diverse work spaces around the same table, forming a platform for attentive translation of the obscure into a precise, handmade geometry.”
Together with Creative Director and founder Marcii Goosen, CLRS&Co. has four permanent Art Directors: Claire Johnson, Dale Lawrence, Franco Fernandes and Bruce Mackay. Also part of the CLRS&Co. studio are Copywriter Sean Christie, Interior Designer Christine Joubert as well as Creative Coordinator and Photographer Mareli Esterhuizen.
Drawing on the strength of their conceptual ability, CLRS&Co. produce work across the disciplines of graphic design, photography, visual merchandising, copywriting, illustration and installation.
How, when and why did CLRS&Co. begin?
Marcii Goosen (founder): CLRS started life in mid-2011, the result of a pre-existing relationship I had with the The Design Company (TDC), which is the holding company of CLRS&Co.
Having previously owned an advertising company, and suffered the pressures of that world, I was hesitant when TDC, where I had been helping out with visual merchandising, asked me whether I would be interested in leading an in-house design studio. I made all these outrageous preconditions regarding what I considered to be essential physical, spiritual and psychological freedoms, then waited for their rejection call.
They came back and said let’s give this a try, which was a little bit of magic, a bit of a miracle, and adding to this miracle was the fact that the first client was a 120 year old Namibian department store called Wecke & Voigts, which has a 120 year German graphic art design heritage. I linked up with illustrator Dale Lawrence and designer Claire Johnson in order to execute the job, which was a resounding success. As work began to flow in they found they were doing less and less freelance work, and two years and seven months later they’re two of four permanent art directors at CLRS&Co.
Every single person who works at CLS&Co. is hand-picked by the team. We’ve never advertised the post, and as such the dynamic here is wonderfully familial.
How do you reconcile different ideas and viewpoints at CLRS&Co.?
MG: We’re a design studio, and our strength, according to a flash office poll, is our conceptual ability. By that we mean our ability to create skeletal systems for brands that are so original and graceful that a lifetime’s worth of completely unique communication can be hung off each. In the bloodless parlance of industry we’re primarily in the business of developing creative platforms for brands that are new, in need of refreshment or even reinvention.
We like to think we’re at the radical end when it comes to exploring what a brand was, is and might be. We will, for example, go out and live amongst our clients’ clients, to really understand who is being served and how, and we keep at our research until we hit on a certain special something that we feel could animate the client’s brand for ages, guiding future communicators without imposing limitations. That’s our big strength, but of course we also execute campaigns, and do many other things besides.
In what ways are you alike?
Dale Lawrence (Art Director): We have a very unique dynamic, where everyone believes that, through collaboration, whatever we’re working on can only be done better. There is no individual ownership of anything. Credit is always authentically due to the studio.
Do each of you work on your own projects in addition to the work you do with CLRS&Co?
Claire Johnson (Art Director): Dale Lawrence and Bruce Mackay are both recognized artists. Dale makes prints, Bruce illustrates. In my spare time I haunt the Michaelis Art Library, reading anything and everything, and (Photography Director) Mareli Esterhuizen runs a successful photography school called Fast Forward, and produces conceptual photography for exhibitions.
(Interior Designer) Christine Joubert and (Art Director) Franco Fernandes both do occasional freelance jobs, too.
MG: I’ve kept myself busy domesticating the German arts initiative called PAPERGIRL and setting up the YOU, ME AND EVERYONE WE KNOW market at the Labia Theatre, which is now on hold. Our previous copywriter, Ethne Mudge, was a poet, and our current copywriter, Sean Christie, is a gonzo journalist for the Mail&Guardian and others.
Wedding Invitations for Marcii and Rob
How much of the work is outsourced?
MG: We outsource production, printing and so forth, and we outsource industrial design to the talented Max Basler. We outsource certain photographic jobs, too, and have been lucky enough to collaborate with the likes of Nico Krijno, Melody Deas, Francois Visser, Darren Gwynn and Adam Letch.
What have been some of your favourite projects to date?
MG: Speaking for myself and those who worked on it, definitely Wecke & Voigts, the 120 year old Namibian department store. The first time I visited Namibia Mr. Dieter Voigts, father of Adriane, the current boss, opened up his cupboard, which contained original hand-drawn typography dating back to 1913. You could literally track every German arts movement, including Bauhaus, through Wecke &Voigts’ archived marketing material. It was an honour to work on this brand, in fact, because we learned an enormous amount about our own craft, and felt pushed not so much to refashion the brand but simply to keep up their incredible standard.
CJ: Another project that was quite special was Full House, a furniture store business based in the Western Cape that sells largely on credit to clients who cannot ordinarily pay for furniture upfront, like farm workers. The business has always put a lot of effort into educating their clients about credit, and only employs people from the town in which each store is located. We were tasked with the creation of a very bold and simple language that would speak very directly to this culturally and linguistically homogenous target market, which is not accustomed to being addressed directly. Getting to a point at which we felt we could do this meant that we all became ethnographers for a few months, visiting long term clients’ houses in Wellington and several other small towns. This immersion resulted in some pretty memorable design ideas and copy lines.
MG: Now that I think of it, these two memorable projects had two things in common. The owners were exceptionally friendly, visionary and easy to work with, and the businesses were located in dramatic, often far flung landscapes.
Tamboers Winkel Identity
“CLRS in situ is an independently published periodical to share an in situ artwork at a chosen underrepresented landscape.” Could you tell us more about it?
MG: Everyone in the office has artistic talent, and we wanted to create a platform for exercising these talents and showing them off. To begin with we talked about creating a CLRS magazine, where each volume would take a specific colour as its theme. The idea was quite raw, though, so we thought some more about what we might like to do and realized that a. we all draw our inspiration from nature, and b. we all love installation art.
We decided to create an installation art work in nature, focusing not so much on the outcome but on the project’s research and conceptualization processes, which would be similar to the manner in which we arrive at creative platforms for our clients. What might we arrive at, we wondered, given unlimited space and fewer creative constraints than we experience in our professional lives? We started exploring locations at our own expense and then pitched the idea to TDC, arguing that, since the exercise would raise the profile of the design studio in an unconventional way, it would be appropriate to use our marketing budget to fund it.
They agreed, and we soon trekked to Kalkoennes on the outskirts of the Montagu Mountain Reserve, where we read up on the area’s history, explored its cuisine and ultimately unfurled 70 metres of orange fabric from a cliff face. For a while it twisted and rippled against a background of some of the most tortuous sandstone strata you’re ever likely to see, and that was that, we furled it up again and came home. We were not attempting to save the farmworker, comment on man’s disconnection from nature or anything weighty like that. It was a case of l’art pour l’art, and the big thing for us was to actually pull it off, and to then publish a record of the project.
I suppose you might say CLRS in situ was conceived primarily as a cathartic exercise, and it worked, because we all returned to the office feeling less creatively claustrophobic, and very much look to the next in the series.
In situ Volume 1: Kalkoennes
What is in store for CLRS&Co. in 2014 and beyond?
MG: We’re moving to own premises in early 2014. We also want to develop our photographic studio and our photographic offering, because in 2013, after Mareli joined, we’ve done exceptional work in that department. We definitely want to get more installation work, because we have all these wonderful ideas and we’re finding clients do love tangible artifacts. And we love working with Max Basler. We also want to start an art directors’ breakfast, where we offer talks on specialist topics within our industry.
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