29 Sep #NewPerspective | Hannerie Visser’s Playful Sensory Experiences
Scottish Leader, a whisky brand known for their singular richness, recently introduced a new look and reformulated recipe. Inspired by their tagline ‘A New Perspective’ we’re spotlighting five local creatives who embody this notion in their way of working; people who are re-inventing, re-looking and re-interpreting the everyday to question convention.
First up is Hannerie Visser, the force behind Studio H – a multidisciplinary design studio based in Cape Town. Since founding Studio H in 2013 she has firmly positioned herself as South Africa’s leading culinary-minded experience designer. Working across industries, Hannerie and her team collaborate with creatives and chefs to bring together food, people and brands through curated experiences so unique that they simply cannot be translated into words or pictures. Whether it’s a festival, a dinner or a launch, everyone knows that when you get an invite to an event she’s been involved in, you go! Read our conversation with Hannerie about her fascinating work and what it entails.
Your job description is quite unusual. How would you explain what you do?
Being an experience designer, I study the impact that science and psychology have on the senses. At Studio H, our objective is to create long-lasting memories associated with our clients’ brands. By manipulating the environment and the effect thereof on the senses of our guests, we manage to create immersive experiences that test the comfort zones of guests and in return build memories.
You’ve managed to carve a career out of your personal interest. Did you do so consciously?
For 15 years I worked in an environment where my days were filled with budgets, board reports and meetings with printers and magazine distributors. After we won an international award for an issue of VISI magazine that really pushed the boundaries in the magazine publishing genre, I realised I needed a more creative outlet and decided that it was time to move on. At the time I was the publisher of the mag and Sumien Brink was the editor, she is still one of my favourite collaborators. Steve Jobs once said that if you wake up in the morning and don’t look forward to your day at work for more than a few weeks in a row, you need to do something else.
How did Studio H come about? What led you to starting a company that produces work that is so specific and unique?
I guess what we do is an extension of my personality and what I believe in and I am lucky to work with an amazing group of people who understand it and execute it perfectly. We are also lucky to have great clients who trust us with their brands.
What does being a culinary-minded experience designer and brand consultant mean from day to day?
It’s never ever ever the same. Last week we built insect hotels out of wine boxes and delivered silk worms via Uber. This week we have four events in two days, and next week we’re dropping off helium canisters at womens’ magazines as part of a marketing campaign. We are also in production with one of our biggest annual events, the Secret Festival – a platform for local and international creatives in the food and wine industry to share knowledge, collaborate and co-create. We are also launching a weekly farmer’s market at Spier from the last Saturday in October, where we really want to push the boundaries of what a market can be.
What are some of the challenges of finding and doing such niche work?
Well, at the moment we are running a small silk worm farm from our office and we are are totally obsessed with them. They just started making cocoons – it’s beautiful! But the challenge is to keep up with the mulberry leaf supply for the worms. On a more serious note though, when you change the way things are normally done, and do things that are different, it sometimes take a little more convincing – of both clients and suppliers. Luckily most of our collaborators say they love working with us because we make life interesting.
Whether it’s a pop-up shop, a dinner or a launch – your events alway incorporate an element of surprise. When conceptualising experiences, is there a format you follow?
I’ve been doing a few talks recently at conferences and for the first time put together a formal checklist for our experiences. We now have a 20-point checklist that we follow. Processes and formalities often fall by the wayside when you start a new company, so it was quite nice to be forced to analyse and review our creative process. In general my philosophy is this: if the answer to the question “Has this been done before” is “Yes”, we do something else instead.
Much of your work includes traditional methods or antique elements, but you’re always re-inventing these by putting a new and exciting twist on them. Why is it important to always re-look at things from a new angle?
Nostalgia is a very powerful and effective trigger that we often use when designing an experience. We are constantly researching and testing traditional and ancient methods of cooking, growing, preparing and serving food and drinks, but the challenge is to apply these learnings in a way that is relevant to the current market.
Your work always has an air of playfulness to it. How do you manage to juggle work and play so harmoniously?
I believe that playful elements re-train adult brains to re-look at everyday objects or situations and find a new perspective, like when a child sees something for the first time.
How do you want people to feel after engaging with your work?
They need to want to share what they experienced with someone – whether it’s telling someone about it at their next dinner party or posting it on Instagram. But most importantly, the experience needs to be effortless, guests should never feel like they are on a game show.
What are some of the other things that inspire you and influence your output?
Travel, street food, cook books, podcasts, science and gadgets like UV lights. Did you know that quinine (found in tonic water) glows in the dark under UV lights?
What have been some of the highlights in your career thus far?
Definitely starting Studio H, working with people like Marije Vogelzang and Bompas & Parr, winning the Drinks International Award for the Spier Secret Courtyard pop-up wine bar (the team literally worked 18 – 20 hour shifts for three months non-stop to make it work), winning the Glamour Creative Business WOTY award and speaking at Between 10and5’s Creative Women Conference in August.
Being at the forefront of an ever-changing industry, what are some upcoming trends we need to be aware of – locally and beyond?
Elevation and celebration of the everyday meal and ingredients, simplicity and a humble approach to food, less fuss and gimmicks and an even bigger awareness of a sustainable lifestyle. Things like shopping at farmers markets and buying food and products assisting in living a mindful life will become easier and more accessible.
Watch out for more #NewPerspective interviews on 10and5 soon.