Design Direction

Bandung-based environmental design practice Nusaé cross-pollinates architecture and graphic design for spaces that engage and enrapture

Interview Patrick Kasingsing
Portfolio Nusaé

Selamat hari, Team Nusaé! Coffee or tea?

Andi Rahmat, Founder and Principal Designer, Nusaé: Hi Patrick! Greetings from Bandung, Indonesia! As for your question, most of our team members are coffee drinkers, myself included! But we’re just casual coffee drinkers and not die-hard caffeine dependents! We take our coffee at a leisurely pace.

You are a multi-awarded Bandung-based graphic and environmental design studio. What about the city of Bandung energizes the firm? Have there been plans to expand to the capital?

Bandung is the first city in Indonesia that offered a design major in its university. The city is well-known for its design pedigree and being a creative hub, where a lot of famous artists, designers, and musicians first started their careers. These folks then usually take their career to the capital, Jakarta, where they are more likely to find an avenue to the international stage.

Far from the frenetic energy of the capital, Bandung has a comfier and chill vibe, literally too as the temperature here is much cooler compared to other cities in Indonesia as the city is nestled amidst mountains. Bandung is also a relatively small city, so it’s easier for many creative individuals across disciplines to connect and support each other. There are also plenty of creative workshops here that designers can partake. It is ironically this slower pace, the ability to forge more intimate creative relationships, and the overall creative atmosphere in Bandung that energizes our studio.

Before starting my own studio, I had quite a long career in Jakarta working in multinational advertising agencies like Lowe and Leo Burnett; when I started Nusae in 2013, my first client was predictably from Jakarta. In 2019, a majority of the projects we were working on were Jakarta-based, so it made sense to open a dedicated branch office there. However, we are still proudly headquartered in Bandung. Jakarta may have more opportunities, but Bandung is where our creativity is fostered and nurtured. It is vital for us to be in a place where we feel supported and invigorated as creatives, and I know no other city that supports creative workers and designers more.

Your practice of graphic design ties in very closely with the built environment through environmental graphics; what attracted the team to this branch of graphic design and how is the process like for this vital design field that in some aspects can make or even break a space?

We want the designs we make to be beneficial to people in their daily lives in a more direct manner. At first, it is because of our love of typography. We believe that typography and its ability to organize and convey information when combined with signage or wayfinding systems can aid people directly in navigating areas and getting from one point to another. Since our discipline involves interfacing with built space, we also relish collaborating with people from various creatives disciplines, especially with architects. Collaboration is where the process of design starts and ends. We believe that good quality design is more likely to be the fruit of good collaboration. This is why in our team, we have creative individuals from various disciplines who share the same vision in creating designs that exhibit harmony. Especially for a field that affects human behavior like environmental graphic design, it is vital that we forge good collaborations in our work and prioritize design that balances utility and aesthetics so that we enhance rather than degrade our surroundings and contribute to the overall improvement of a project’s environment.

Branding, editorial design, and environmental graphic design for Indonesian Pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale 2019, with photography by Taba Sanchabakhtiar
Branding and environmental graphic design for Lembur Urang with architecture by Pranala Associates

We notice a pristine, streamlined aesthetic pervading your body of work; what attracted you to this minimalistic approach? What are your design priorities for such an approach?

We always prioritize functionality in our design. We want our designs to be harmonious with its environment, strengthened by good aesthetic value and sensibility. There are many variables in our approach that require our utmost attention to achieve our aims: proportion, composition, high-quality typography, and design elements that are systematic, disciplined, and detailed.

For us, minimalist design is the result of a long process of elimination and filtering to present only the essentials. Simple aesthetics is just half the story for minimalist design; it should also possess depth and good detailing. We want our designs to be direct but with depth, without being vulgar.

You have a young workforce coming from various disciplines; How is it like working with and mentoring a team with different specializations? How do you keep the team energized and inspired?

We have an internal culture book that is the main guide for all of our team members. In this book, our team can learn about Nusaé’s vision, missions, operational system, and our fundamental values, so that all the ideas and work we produce will be uniquely ours and different from other design offices. To keep the team motivated, we regularly hold internal workshops with various themes, both design and non-design-related. We also continually update our book collections in our office library for everyone’s reading pleasure.

Our issue is dedicated to the function of beauty in various creative fields; Beauty comes in many forms of course, but what for the team constitutes beautiful design?

For us, beautiful design is one governed by a good system, harmonious with all intersecting aspects, and heavily contextual. We also believe that good design results from a good process.

Nusaé Culture Book

Would you say that beauty is something designers should aspire for with ferocity in every project?

For us, beauty will reveal itself in a design organically after its function is fulfilled. Therefore, beauty for us is all-encompassing in that goes beyond the visual and is intrinsically connected to a design’s purpose fulfilled. In our thinking process, we always prioritize the functional aspect of a design so that it can be relevant to its purpose. After that, we think about how to make a design memorable utilizing our distinct touch to create strong design character.

In each of our work, we always focus on the process. We believe that good ideas can be riper and capable of achieving visual beauty when a particular idea is continually processed and refined. In this process, we can end up creating a hundred studies, sketches, etc., before we get to choose promising efforts to develop further.

Let’s talk a bit about your multi-faceted work for the Bintaro Design District project; how was the process and experience like designing for this initiative? What are you most proud of in this project?

Bintaro Design District (BDD) is an annual design event that was first held back in 2018. The festival was initiated by a group of architects headed by Andra Matin, Danny Wicaksono, and Budi Pradono, together with graphic designer Hermawan Tanzil of LeBoYe. They were inspired to create BDD from the international design festivals they frequented abroad. In 2018, they observed that the creative industry (especially the design industry) was blossoming in Bintaro (a satellite city located in South Jakarta) and the surrounding areas. So through BDD, they aim to give designers and other creative practitioners a platform to build connections and be part of a larger ecosystem with a broader audience (both within Indonesia and globally) through knowledge sharing and work showcases. I was honored to be appointed as the creative director for Bintaro Design District in 2018 and 2019. Naturally, we had to postpone the festival back in 2020 because of the current pandemic; the founders are presently refining the concept for the next BDD.

As for the experience, the team greatly enjoyed it! Nusaé was given the task to design the visual identity system of Bintaro Design District. The vision was to create a visual identity with a strong character, uniqueness, and quality that is on par with other international design festivals. Nusaé designed all of the visual aspects of the event, its promotional-communication needs, plus its environmental graphic design elements.

In Bintaro, we observed that there are still lots of badly organized visual implementations in its public spaces, so we didn’t want our work to be a part of the problem. We aimed to offer potential solutions through design to improve the surrounding areas. We are very proud to be a part of this movement because we believe that an event such as BDD has the potential to change the lives of the people of its community for the better.

Creative direction, branding, and environmental graphic design for Bintaro Design District

You also worked with noted Indonesian architect Andra Matin for the environmental graphics of his exhibition Prihal. How was it like working with the architect and the many creative collaborators involved? What were some of the challenges you encountered, especially as the exhibit is the first solo show by a local architect held in the prestigious National Gallery of Indonesia, and perhaps the biggest attempt so far to consolidate the oeuvre of one of Indonesia’s brightest architectural stars in one venue? What was the overall message your environmental design approach sought to communicate for the exhibit?

For me, Andra Matin is a mentor, a role model for Indonesian modernist designers and architects. I first got to meet him back in 2009, then in 2015, we had our first professional collaboration on a branding and signage project for a resort in Batam, Indonesia, which was followed by a project to design a traditional market in Bandung. Until now, we frequently collaborate with Andra Matin on his projects. One that we are particularly proud of is our work for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018 in which Andra Matin was awarded one of the two Special Mentions by the jury. This is the first time an Indonesian architect has been awarded in that prestigious event.

It was in 2019 when we were asked to be involved in his solo exhibition that showcased his architectural works to mark two decades of his career. The exhibition was curated by Danny Wicaksono and Artiandi Akbar. In this exhibition, Andra Matin involved two design studios: Nusaé and LeBoYe. LeBoYe was tasked to design the exhibition logo and the communication materials, while Nusaé was commissioned to design the exhibition’s environmental graphics.

Our environmental graphic design for the exhibition is grounded by the principles of simplicity and functionality. In the process of working for this exhibition, we were challenged to create an environmental graphic design that is in tune and unobtrusive to the spatial aspects and works that were being showcased for the exhibition. We wanted our design to serve its function first and not be a source of distraction to the overall visitor experience. Our design is the platform and the stage, and not the show in itself. The preparation for the exhibition took a quite long time, as befitting an event of this nature. I believe it was for about one whole year in which we held meetings every two weeks with all parties involved; we did mockups, adjusting and discussing the graphic elements, environmental graphic design studies, among other tasks.

Branding and environmental graphic design for Ria Miranda Exhibition at Senayan City, in collaboration with FFFAAARRR Architect.
Branding and environmental graphic design for Ria Miranda Exhibition at Senayan City, in collaboration with FFFAAARRR Architect.

The realm of design is as much an exercise in service as it is in self-expression; however, the ego can sometimes get ahead of the design brief; what steps or techniques do you have in place to keep the team in check? How does one balance self-expression and service especially in a field that prioritizes clarity and utility such as environmental design?

We believe that design is as much a product of one’s thoughts as it is a part of the larger cultural fabric. To keep our egos in check, we remind ourselves of our purpose as designers; our design should be beneficial for life and the environment first and foremost. Design expression of course matters in our field as our voice is what sets us apart from our peers. However, it is how we use this distinct voice that truly matters. We put extra effort into setting the right proportions between function and expression, which we do so with intensive research and discourse within the team and my peers.

Other than working on commercial commissions, we also have self-initiated projects to express ourselves more liberally and to broaden our horizons by collaborating with people from various disciplines. Some of our pet projects include: The Bintaro Design District, Seminyak Design Week, Bicara Design, the development of Kampung Ilmu (or Village of Knowledge), a development for a new district of Tulang Bawang Barat (Tubaba) in Lampung Province, and also our self-published zine, Saturasi.

You already have a covetable client list; but would you happen to have a dream client you want to work with? If so, what project would you like to work on with them?

Our dream clients would include architects like Rem Koolhaas, David Chipperfield, Tadao Ando, and Peter Zumthor. Maybe someday we can design the branding and the environmental graphics for their projects. •

One of Nusaé’s initiatives, a design publication, Saturasi.

Design that harmonizes at nusae.com

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on linkedin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *