The Darling Buds of Rural Design

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That Zagreb isn’t the be-all and end-all and that one can indeed make a living from excellent design as a primary business strategy outside the capital is best displayed by the example of the Istrian, more precisely Poreč-based, design Studio Sonda. The award-winning creative collective with its exceptional works, for which it has gotten a series of both domestic and international awards during the past few years, and an ambitious and well-thought-out stance towards work and design, is the ideal creative haven to “escape” from the Zagreb tarmac into a completely different work environment within the “magical and magnificent“ Istria.

The broader (design) public probably recognizes the name Studio Sonda from when these Istrians won the Croatian Designers’ Association Grand Prix at the Croatian Design Exhibition 09/10 for their project BOOKtiga – a poster for the used books festival in Poreč.

These days the Sonda team received excellent news from the RedDot Award camp, (partly) due to the BOOKtiga festival. Namely, Sonda is the winner of the Red Dot Best of the Best award for this year’s version of the poster BOOKtiga 2012. (The description of the concept and work can be found beneath the award-winning poster on the picture below). In addition to this recognition they received the Red Dot for their newest addition – the announcement poster for the upcoming Film Festival in Pula, as they’re doing the whole visual identity this year.


“BOOKTIGA USED BOOKS FESTIVAL 2012 – BE(ING) OF MARGINS The topic is the marginalization of library in modern environment. A non-profit festival such as this one is usually always overshadowed by other more popular, commercial events with a higher number of visits. Also, since this particular Festival promotes the usefulness of used, it didn’t seem logical to buy space for advertising, but rather to use the space already taken by various commercial events. And so, with that in mind, bookmarks of sorts were made and were put around posters already up advertising other events, framing them and creating a kind of a visual margin. It’s a conspicuous way for the Festival to point out its position relative to other events without ignoring them or covering their advertisements with its own. Instead, it becomes their integral part, “a bookmark” of the main event. And, a bookmark has always been used to mark the “spot…”

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While we’re hoping to pay them a visit at some point and witness what it’s like to “have a design studio in the countryside“ for now we just had a chat with the Sonda team online. Keep on reading to find out what they told us in regard to their projects, awards, successful work in the heart of Istria and plans and projects that are “brewing”, along with overviews of some of their works. We interviewed Jelena Šimunović and Sean Poropat – Sonda’s CEO, and you’ll find out who else is a part of Sonda’s project in the interview.

Who’s hiding behind the name Sonda? How many of you are there, how many designers and is everyone in the office from Poreč, i.e. Istrian?

There’s currently seven of us at Studio Sonda: Sean Poropat, Jelena Šimunović, Ana Buršić, Tina Erman, Aleksandar Živanov, and we’ve had a recent addition of two young up-and-coming designers: Laura Bosazzi and Zvjezdana Vukić. We’re all from Istria, but from various parts of the peninsula. Aleksandar and Zvjezdana commute from Pula on a daily basis, Tina is from Žminj, Laura from Rovinj, while Jelena, Sean and Ana are from Poreč. Some of them are in charge of design, while some communication, but that’s inseparable today anyways… We’ve been acting as a creative studio since 2007. We’ve recently moved the Poreč office to Vižinada district, into the Istrian inland, so it’s become a standing joke that we’re: “The Darling Buds of Rural Design.”


standing; Aleksandar Živanov, Sean Poropat, Zvjezdana Vukić , Tina Erman i Laura Bosazzi, sitting on the lounger: Ana Buršić i JelenaŠimunović

Many of your colleagues designers (who come from larger towns than Poreč, Pula, Rovinj…) stay in Zagreb after graduating fearing that they’ll encounter a lack of jobs “back home” and that it’s necessary to stay in Zagreb “for success” in the design niche? What’s your take on that?

It’s a known fact that the situation in our country isn’t the simplest one and maybe it’s easy for us to speculate considering we live and work in an economic and tourism-wise highly developed region, but we’ve always somehow held the belief that reality is 10% of circumstance, and 90% of an individual’s reaction to those circumstances. Creating opportunities isn’t something that happens overnight, rather it’s a result of year-long attempts, one’s general attitude and contemplation. To a quality creative personality, either returning or staying in their hometown shouldn’t present an issue, but a challenge or motivation, and it would certainly be easier if there were mechanisms to facilitate this. As Croatian design is a tool that can easily stimulate the country’s development and economy. Hence it should be widespread and present in all parts of Croatia.

Of course, the connection of an individual to the HDD (Croatian Designers’ Association) as the most important institution of design in Croatia is highly significant, participating in professional competitions, attending lectures and exhibitions as well, the major obstacle being that for the most part, the majority of those activities are organized in the capital. However, it’s not impossible to merge interests in professional challenges that aren’t in a local community, with serious work located in that same community.

Anyways, the world today is a global village, with the Internet, a solid transport infrastructure and cheap flights it isn’t impossible to educate oneself or have clients from any part of the world.

Are your clients all from Istria or is your location insignificant in the pretext of getting work?

The majority of our work comes from Istria, but we have no problem in taking on work for clients that are farther away. For example, we’ve been designing skis and the world campaign for the women’s collection of Elan Skis for seven years running, and as we’ve made a name for ourselves in that line of business, we also have other clients from Slovenia. With that experience, we don’t have any problem in working with clients outside the peninsula, country…

You won the HDD Grand Prix for the BOOKtiga poster in 2009, and now the Best of the Best Red Dot for BOOKtiga 2012. Both posters feature recycling as a design concept? Is that some kind of tradition you apply to BOOKtiga’s posters or is this a design niche that you find attractive and interesting regardless?

It’s simply just that kind of assignment. If a manifestation promotes the usefulness of used things, it’s only logical that communication follow suit. We have lots of other projects where recycling isn’t the primary focus, as they promote some other product or task values. In any case, we hold that design and communication always need to be useful for society, the client and the target audience.


“BOOKTIGA Used Books Festival 2009 – During the Festival it’s possible to buy, sell, or exchange your own or someone else’s used books, and a part of the earnings is donated to charity. Since the Festival is oriented towards society and people, the goal is to make the library, as the organizer, as well as the Festival itself, as accessible to the audience as possible. It needs to have that touch of familiarity and it needs to soften up that stereotypical perception of library as a solemn institution that invokes awe. At the same time, it’s extremely important to emphasize the element of “used”. It’s essential to point out the possibilities of using the resources at hand, to give the proper value to second-hand things; present them as something that has the potential of being good and valuable, as well as in a good shape, methodical, and intelligent; and with even more impact than the new items.
In time of adversity and eco-disasters, every individual should feel the responsibility. We, as designers aware of our environment and the impact we have on it, have shown that reasonability by recycling last year’s posters. We have turned last year’s leftover posters into an advantage – they were recolored in a way to highlight the “second-hand” element (the bits and pieces from the old poster were visible) thus pointing out how a second-hand item used in an intelligent way can – in effect – be worth more than a new one. A live-person’s signature used instead of the computer typography symbolizes the personalized approach. The same concept is applied throughout the campaign; a recycled radio commercial, a reprint of various sponsor T-shirts and bags…”


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How do you view the fact that both Croatian and foreign professionals that were a part of the judging panel of aforementioned awards, seemingly assigned strong values to recycling?

As far as the panel of judges is concerned, recycling most probably wasn’t necessarily their primary focus. Fostering economic development, creating new moments, reviving already forgotten brands, creating thought-provoking instances, invitation to interaction… These are all things that are taken into account, but of course always have to be in line with the task at hand. Certainly no one today values design or communication based on nice packaging or the “window dressing” effect without a strong underlying base. Design is being recognized for creating new values.

BOOKtiga brought you another major award, so it seems that this collaboration is a successful project, and very much so at that?

It’s about a nice festival which has its audience and which has, from its beginnings, and with limited funds, successfully managed to attract attention with its somewhat unexpected performances. To us, it’s very important we convey both the spirit of the festival and the mere information surrounding it, as well as the incredibly enthusiastic people who run it. That’s why we’re always joining forces to come up with new stuff. They want our advice on the program, festival events, and we’re open to their thoughts on improving the proposed concepts.

Most often, and literally, we’re laughing so hard we cry at these meetings and in such an atmosphere good solutions come naturally. A case in point is the fact that the festival has been going on for five years running. The awards as well…

You did the whole new visual identity for the Pula Film Festival, and were awarded for the poster with the Red Dot Award. How hard or easy was it to do visuals for the festival that’s recognized and well-attended, while at the same time doesn’t have any type of (aside from the logo) strictly defined or recognizable visual identity thus spinning a new storyline every year?

That’s precisely the very thing we pinpointed as the festival’s main problem. The easiest thing would have been to do a bombastic campaign or an amazing catalogue cover, but we believed that we should start from scratch. A festival with a 60-year tradition deserves its own level of recognition and that’s why we focused more on creating a foundation for a visual identity that’ll be more long-term and connecting the festival with its audience, thus the award-winning posters are but applications of the new identity we wanted to present to the public applying all possible means of communication the festival uses.

Hence from now on, if everything goes smoothly, the Festival will be using its new visual identity on whose foundation all further campaigns will be built upon, thus removing the need to spin a new storyline each year, but rather build upon the existing story we’ve begun with joint efforts. Judging by the public’s reactions, and this award, we’ve managed to lay down a solid foundation.

How important are awards to you? Do they garner new business or are they important just within the context of establishing yourself on the professional playing field?

Both. Sometimes we delve into edgy or at first glance misunderstood solutions. In that context awards are indeed important to us as they confirm we’re on the right track. And the international personalities from the design world who participate in the judging process do carry a certain weight.

How do you view contemporary Croatian design from the perspective of Poreč and Istria (probably somewhat less directly bombarded with design-related events), and (from your experience) have people in the last few years become more aware, educated and sensitized to (good) design?

They certainly have. High-quality, affirmative and engaged design undoubtedly exists in Croatia, but isn’t nearly enough recognized as such. It should be facilitated with a clear strategy on a national level. It’s like a golden hen on the verge of discovery saying: I’m here, pay attention to me!

Furthermore, there are numerous colleagues working abroad for prominent agencies, who’d like to come home, but don’t see how they’d make ends meet if they returned to Zagreb. Likewise, as we mentioned earlier, the young people who fear their very survival by staying in local settings… And we once more come to the conclusion that it shouldn’t be this way.

We’re aiming, at least within our field, to make some sort of foundation that will enable quality people to develop themselves professionally, but it would be loads easier if a general awareness about the importance of this issue existed. On all regional levels throughout Croatia. Along with support.

In addition to the BOOKtiga and Pula, what else has been brewing in Sonda’s creative lab these past few months? What projects are you currently working on?

We just finished the 13/14 women’s ski collection for Elan, which is the best yet and we’re working on their global promotional campaign. We’re doing all the materials for the Pula Film Festival in order for the identity to take hold in the first year of implementation, followed by visual identities for the Motovun and Rovinj University Extensions, respectively. The website we did for Glas Istre is also set to be published shortly.

We’re also doing the Hartera Festival promotion with Mrle from the popular Rijeka band ‘Let 3’ who’s always brimming with genius ideas, so this year the festival is being promoted through “augmented reality games” that can be download to mobile phones and lead to secret locations at the festival. It includes superheroes, the real and surreal, a crazy hand dripping with beer and all kinds of silly stuff. We also have loads of other projects in the works.

However, what’s most important, we’re looking to make an estate in Istria, where all interested individuals will be able to work and professionally develop, where creative minds from all over the country will be welcome to come and exchange experiences, teach and learn.