Zoo Estudio: “We go against the current of standardisation to make ground-breaking and unique projects”

A ground-breaking design is born of an original idea that reflects the brand or the product and how it combines materials to bring this idea to fruition. Zoo Studio is well aware of this, thanks to its acknowledged experience which has reaped multiple awards in branding, packaging and publishing projects, as well as other disciplines, that are fused together to convey the messages and the particularities behind the brands. We had a chat with Gerard Calm, co-founder and designer, and Xevi Castells, creative director and graphic designer, about these and other aspects that colour the way they work in the projects handled by the studio.

Who is or who are Zoo Studio and what are your specialities?

There are eight of us, and our specialities encompass everything that could reasonably be needed in graphic design. We do global projects that branch out into different areas. In recent years, publishing design has been a big thing, but we have also worked a great deal with packaging and brand identity. These are basically our core activities.

How do these different working areas fuse together?

This is exactly why we say that rather than a specific discipline, we do global projects, which merge different domains. In actual fact, our forte consists of seeking a concept or an idea that represents a brand or a product and maintaining this consistency and message across the board, be it in packaging or for a corporate piece, for example. Many times the pre-design rationale and development proves to be much more interesting than the actual application. We feel more comfortable doing these global projects, as this process gives birth to each piece.

Do you have any speciality in packaging?

We live in a country where food is very important and this probably explains why we do a lot of projects for the food industry, but we also work in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, the financial sector, etc. We are not confined to a single sector and neither do we want to be.

The geographic setting in which you work also has a say in this, which is why there are many studios that focus on designing labels or packaging for wines and are then labelled as specialists in these specific products. We believe that focusing on a single and specific type is very boring and would rather explore different sectors and product types.

You also do publishing projects. How do you innovate in a sector in which everything would already appear to have been invented?

We learn everything we can about our clients: what they do that makes them different to others who have already done the same thing. Sometimes we get lucky and discover things that enable us to come up with a ground-breaking project. For example, the book that we did for the “L’Escaleta” restaurant has no covers, it is simply the inside of the book inside a case. In this way we reflect the values of their cuisine and the way they do things, which is very close to the customer and transparent, with a “raw” book-object.

Or the book for “Disfrutar”, the renowned Michelin two-starred restaurant, which is comprised of two volumes, one of which is a box file. This format is not run-of-the-mill, it is based on the way the brand works, in order to highlight the unique way that the Disfrutar team documents and archives absolutely everything it does.

When all is said and done, we are swimming against the current. The industry is highly mechanised in order to make very standard things, a book with given characteristics, for example, and when you try to break away from all that to do something pioneering you encounter problems in bringing your projects to fruition.

You mean that when you implement your most ground-breaking projects, you find it difficult to do so due to the standardisation of the industry and the loss of the more old-school way of doing things?

Exactly. What happens is that virtually all printers have very big and very fast printing machines and they have been trained to use them by the brand, and there are very few artisans left who do different and manual jobs based on the experience they have gleaned over the years. Or we also encounter those who simply do not want to get involved in a very difficult project.

We often end up with semi-artisanal processes that go beyond the machine’s capabilities. Some ideas or concepts to be represented call for very specific finishes that cannot be achieved with industrial processes, so we need to find someone who can do it in the traditional way, who knows how to tweak a machine to get the results and deliver added value.

How does a material like paper help you to convey that distinctive trait that lies behind a brand?

Sometimes the material, or paper, is everything. Because sometimes, although design is important, everything changes totally depending on the substrate you apply it to. There are even projects in which the material is the main asset. You need to know your materials and have resources, or if you have a specific paper in mind then know where to go for it to be viable. For example, we did a very special packaging, “El Tresor”, with paper pulp, in which to remove the object from inside you have to break it, instead of designing it to be kept. The material gives you that possibility. 

Moreover, we believe that a design that does not ultimately yield a tangible object is a project in which something is missing. That is why we have a great regard for the materials we use. The design should be “touchable”.

Is there any other project you are particularly proud of on account of the result or because of what you created with the material?

Apart from the ones we already mentioned, the bottle for the “Costenc” wine is innovative, not so much because of the material but rather on account of what we did with it. We represented the erosion caused by the waves and sand on the label and the bottle through a nuanced effect on the glass and by giving the paper an eaten-away look.

Is an award-winning design, like the ones you have accumulated in your career, achieved by following trends or by departing from them?

We do not use trends as the foundation of a project. We take the product or the client as the idea or the concept on which the entire project is based. We may be influenced by trends, although unconsciously of course. But since projects are underpinned by a unique or highly single idea, even if what is “in” may have an influence, it is the distinctive trait that ultimately prevails. Perhaps the only trend that is to be found at the core of many projects at this moment in time is the pursuit of the utmost sustainability, although in aesthetic terms this is not a consideration for us. 

The truth is that we do not even have a style of our own: each project is unique, and we think that the designer or maker should go unnoticed and that the entire focus be on the brand.



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