In just five years, Studio Mut – based in the South Tyrolean city of Bolzano in northern Italy – has established itself as an expanding, thriving and vibrant graphic design studio. As a uniquely complex region of Italy, South Tyrol’s identity is expressed in the bilingual (Italian/German) culture that makes it a place of expressive osmosis. Studio Mut’s founders Thomas Kronbichler and Martin Kerschbaumer took their studio name from the German for courage, spirit, pluck and the studio’s identity has been forged amid the fascinating constraints and inspirations of both city and region.
Thomas Kronbichler says: ‘We never actually think of ourselves as part of the Italian graphic design scene … as South Tyroleans we are, just from history … not really part of Italy, and we are not part of Austria or Germany, we are in a strange limbo land where identity is more connected to language and to multiple languages.’ He describes Bolzano fondly as ‘a really small city surrounded by mountains … imagine Switzerland in Italy!’
Kronbichler, who previously worked for Fons Hickmann M23 in Berlin, gives a concrete example of the way the region affects Studio Mut’s design: ‘If you’re designing a poster here, you have to do it in two languages, minimum, German and Italian, which means that you can’t do wordplay … and you can’t really do only type, because one language might appear more prominent than the other. As a reaction to that problem, we tend to be very focused on emotion. We ask ourselves, “Is the mood right?”’
Kerschbaumer and Kronbichler see this approach as a key element in Mut’s creative strategy. When they design a poster for the Trieste Estate festival, as they have done for several summers, the mood is the first thing they aim to communicate; text is secondary.
Communicating meanings in language and culture through imagery lies at the heart of the studio’s design philosophy. One recent project was a local guide to the cities of South Tyrol, with content provided by insiders, distributed and sold through local venues, called Josef – the popular local Christian name was suggested by Studio Mut. Despite the masculine name, the publication is written exclusively by women; this fresh and lively project shows their talent for narrative and visual playfulness.