Marion Dönneweg:
Estudio M, Barcelona

Marion Dönneweg and Merche Alcalá García, Estudio m Barcelona

Marion Dönneweg, one half of design duo Estudio M – the other being Merche Alcalá – spoke to us about their winning the Identity category at the 2013 Restaurant & Bar Design Awards, and what they are planning next.

What has been the effect of you winning the UK and International Identity category at the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards last year, and how has it influenced your design plans for future projects?

It is too early to see the results of winning this award, but we don’t think it will influence our plans for future projects, as we are open to any challenge. We believe in the long term trajectory, when you see your previous work, and that everything has a specific weight and consistent direction, then you know whether you are doing well. But winning this completely unexpected award has been great feedback that tells us the world is interested in what we do, and we are really happy to know that the small ones can compete with the big ones in terms of creativity. We are very excited about this award.

Tell us about the winning project, Eyescream and Friends, and how you were inspired to create it.

This is a Taiwan-style “shaved” ice cream (but made with Italian gelato), with a texture somewhere between sorbet and ice cream. It is a kind of very particular, even ugly substance: an amorphous mass of ice cream with lots of sauces and toppings dripping over the top and the sides. The project was kind of complex because this type of ice cream is unknown in Europe, meaning we had a teaching job to do as well, to overcome people’s initial logical distrust of it. This ice cream is just not very attractive.

Instead of trying to hide this fact, we decided to make a virtue of it by building a creative strategy around it, from within the product itself: working very closely with the client (Joad López and Federico Mendoza), we started a “deconstruction” of the ingredients, developing a sophisticated yet very simple packaging (a kind of tray that three different containers fit into). But the key creative twist was putting two sugar eyes on the top of this ice cream mountain, making it a character-monster that looks you in the eyes, and immediately gives it life and personality. The effect you get with some simple eyes is just amazing. From there, the naming came almost alone: Eyescream, which in English is pronounced like ice cream, but also makes direct reference to the eyes. Resuming the creative process, we think it is the right decision to face the reality of a brand instead of hiding from it or pretending it is different. Problems often force us to find creative solutions that we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. That’s why we are apprehensive about projects that don’t have any such problems.

Give us an example of a really great food and drink venue that is design-led, and works well for customers, and why this is?

There is a restaurant in Barcelona called Flash Flash that for us is a good example of what happens when you mix things up. The proprietors are two good friends (a photographer and an architect) who are passionate about eating well and being well catered for, and they decided to open a restaurant. They went looking for a special and unusual idea. And a restaurant with a wide selection of tortillas, was the result.

Regarding design … How difficult it must be to remain austere when you have a good idea behind. They were absolutely rigorous with the idea of ​​”less is more”. White was the colour of the project, and red was the accent. But let the black silhouette of a woman chase you through the walls of the room taking pictures. So far, it might seem like one of many good projects designed these days, but when you find out that the restaurant opened with this design over 50 years ago, it’s just amazing.

Which hospitality operator would you love to work for and why?

There are many. But for example we would love to design a VIP lounge in an airport. How many times we have been sitting in one of this lounges and thinking “what a lost opportunity”. They are meant to make us spend time in the nicest way possible, and turn out to be cold and unfriendly. Being offered peanuts, a coke and a newspaper are the best you can expect? We would like to be treated as human beings, and especially in an airport where we can be bored, or nervous, tired, anxious or just pissed off. And there are so many different ways people use an airport. Some just drinks a beer and run away, others have to spend hours with little kids (anybody travelling with kids will know what I mean), others want to sleep, etc. It’s a beautiful challenge to think about this particular mood and needs, and design a space that embraces them all.

What trends do you foresee for the next few years in designing for this sector?

We think that more and more brands will not be limited only to offering beautiful spaces, however spectacular and original they are, and will realise that the user experience, the dialogue between the client and the brand in its space, is essential. A space is a unique opportunity to transmit, and can interfere – in a good way – to make the client understand and value ​​the brand. Spaces should have a clear strategic concept, not only in an aesthetic way, and give a solution to specific problems and requirements. We love to work together, being an architect and a graphic designer, because this gives us a different approach to problems, and we complement each other perfectly, when thinking.

Because we are convinced that if you think about something together from the beginning, it certainly becomes a consistent thing, one discipline building on the other. Imagine what an architect can see in packaging, or a graphic designer in a wall. If the interiors are done by one and the graphic design by another, surely everyone is working in a different direction. It may not disturb (at best), but it is unlikely that they will complement, let alone work together to make a brand “talk” in all its manifestations with a single, coherent voice. We always try to have an emotional link with the customer, and this is not achieved simply by decorating a space with the logo or corporate colours, we think it needs much more subtle and intangible languages. Our work requires intuition and common sense. It sounds so obvious, but is so difficult. We like to take a raw idea without baking, and knead it until we like what we see. Sometimes cupcakes became muffins. And sometimes we recommend our client to refocus or rethink the product itself.

Can you tell us any of your plans for 2014?

The project Eyescream and Friends, that won the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards in the Identity category, had a lot of attention and was very successful. The owners are working on a big franchising project in many parts of the world, and we will be responsible for developing this evolution of the brand. It’s a very delicate job to decide how the soul and personality of a brand can be multiplied without just copying and pasting.

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