Interview with Vrints-Kolsteren
Interview with Antwerp-based graphic designers Naomi Kolsteren and Vincent Vrints.
Dennis Moya: Hello Naomi and Vincent how are you?
We are great! We just moved into a new studio space. We are still decorating it at the moment…
DM: Can you introduce yourselves?
NV, VV: Vrints-Kolsteren exists of us two: Naomi Kolsteren and Vincent Vrints. We live and work in Antwerp, Belgium and started Vrints-Kolsteren around three years ago, but we have already been working together since university. We also love having an intern around in the team.
We both studied illustration at Sint Lucas Antwerp, where we were given a very open education that focused on personal exploration.
DM: How did you come to start up the studio?
NV, VV: When we were still in school, we started a collective called Studio Fluit together with another classmate called Eva Mundorff, we mostly focused on illustration and graphic design and kept busy with organising exhibitions, making self published zines…
Our work was always very experimental (a bit crazy) and filled with humour. It was a way for us to get in touch with a lot of different fields and after a while we knew which direction we wanted to go in with our future work. After our school time we both worked at different studio’s for a while.
V. Vrints: I worked in the Netherlands at Studio Dumbar and got in touch with the legacy of Dutch designers like Wim Crouwel and Ben Bos. Their way of working and simplicity inspired me very much. That is something I never saw before in Belgium.
N. Kolsteren: What I learned from working at different places was that I was ready to start my own business and go in my own creative direction. I also got into photography which is an important part of our work today.
DM: Where does your interest in design come from?
NV, VV: We are both very visual persons. We both liked drawing when we were kids and it made sense to have an artistic profession. We’re not just interested in graphic design, we also like to explore in the field of art, architecture, illustration, movies… Our travels are very important to us because it is a way for us to get in touch with different cultures and refuel in a creative way. Inspiration can come from anything. For the last two years we have visited Japan. For us it was a mind-blowing experience, literally everything we came across was so different. The architecture, typography, packaging, road signage, nature, museums, tea ceremonies…. It made us look at things in a different way.
DM: Your projects have strong typographic designs. Where does it come from?
V. Vrints: my fascination for typography is quite strange because I’m dyslectic, but maybe that’s why I see letters as shapes instead of reading them and seeing them as purely functional things. We always try to design in a very pure and simple way without adding unnecessary elements. The typography is often the content and purest way to transmit a message in a very direct yet open way.
In general we use quite neutral typefaces, we often end up using the classics. For example: Univers, Helvetica, Times,.. We think it’s always interesting if the typeface has a timeless character, so the design will not be outdated too soon and by using a neutral typeface, we want to leave room for the design to speak. If too many elements want to stand out, the message can get lost… so simplicity is key.
On the other hand, we believe custom letters can add a unique character to the design.
DM: Would you like to talk about one of your recent project?
NV, VV: We recently finished the new identity for the Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp and the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp. The Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp is one of the oldest art schools in the world. Both schools belong to an institute called Artesis Plantin. These three names had to be a part of the identity and couldn’t be abbreviated. That aspect made it a tricky task to begin with. We looked for a way to combine these three institutes in a democratic way and to show the diversity and the innovative spirit of the school by building the identity on a simple grid. This grid can be filled in dynamically to create an identity for a school that is constantly changing.
The word mark is applied according to the structure of the grid. Each institute has its own typeface representing the history and atmosphere of the specific schools. The institutes have a fixed spot on the grid at the bottom left. They can be combined or used by themselves, depending on who is communicating.
On the one hand, the identity can be used in a very strict way, by the communication department of the school, but on the other hand it can be used very freely by the creative students and teachers of the school. The elaborate colour palette also leaves room to play with different colours for different purposes. The assignment was actually an open call that we won. We worked almost a year on it and was the biggest project we’ve done so far. It’s nice to see the school implementing the design and to see the identity come to life right now.
Working for a schools means working for a lot of people and that can be challenging at times, but in the end we are very happy with the result. We really liked working on a large scale identity, because this is one of the reasons we started the studio.
DM: How do you feel about the current design scene in Antwerp?
NV, VV: We used to feel that we had to move abroad because there isn’t really any graphic design history in Belgium. But we found out that it can be a good thing because it means that there is a lot of freedom because nothing is expected.
There is a lot going on in Antwerp in the field of art, culture and fashion and those are exactly the kind of clients that we like. Antwerp is also kind of a small city so most of our clients even know each other, word-of-mouth is how we get almost all of our new opportunities.