Collaboration is at the heart of Uniforma, a studio based in Poznań, Poland, and founded by Maciej Mach and Michał Mierzwa. Spanning commercial and cultural work across its entire production, the studio has enjoyed enormous success over the years – and its founders have their vast and in-depth experience to thank.
By merging their UI / UX and art and culture backgrounds, the duo can tackle whatever files come their way. This includes the recent identity of the Short Waves Festival 2021 – an international short film festival that took place over the summer. Here, the studio’s founders present their latest project to us, while discussing their meeting, their design philosophy, and what they hope to achieve in the future.
How did you meet and form the studio?
Uniforma is a design studio located in Poznań, Poland and managed by Maciej Mach and Michał Mierzwa. It all started in September 2018, but we both already had over 10 years of design experience. Currently, six people work in our team. Before deciding to run the studio together, we were both independent. Maciej has always focused on UI / UX, working for brands like Warner Music and Audi, but mostly for startups in Europe and the United States. In addition, he is also an academic professor at the Warsaw School of Form, where he is responsible for user interface workshops at the Communication Design Department.
Michał has years of experience as a designer working for art and culture. He was responsible for the visual identities of many commercial brands and cultural events that took place in Poland. Some of these were co-hosted by him, so it’s safe to say that he knows the industry from scratch. He’s a VJ, artist, club visual creator and live artist.
Around 2013, we both met at the Citadel – a creative co-working space in Poznan, where we shared the studio with designers like Krzysztof Domaradzki (StudioKxx), Piotr Buczkowski (Tato Studio) and Tom Biskup. After a while our paths crossed again and it turned out that we really enjoyed working together. Web design wasn’t Michał’s thing, and Maciej felt the same about branding and content creation. It turned out that we could help each other but, most importantly, create something that we couldn’t do on our own. This is how we decided to start the studio.
What is your design philosophy and what projects do you generally like to work on?
We like to work on projects where we can mix different skills within our team; using 3D or motion design as the basis for an identity, or a website is always very exciting. It’s fun to see how visual assets move from office to office and how collaborative work can impact final designs. A setup like this has worked really well for festivals like Short Waves and projects where a strong creative concept is fundamental to branding. We always look forward to working with people who appreciate this.
How did you come to define your visual language? Is there a particular moment, moment or place that inspires you?
We’re constantly on the lookout for new ways to do our work, but the foundations of our visual language are typography and layout built around strong visual content. We never take shortcuts when it comes to these three things. It’s always a process with a lot of revisions, testing and endless discussions within our team.
What inspires us the most is culture in its multiple dimensions. We strongly believe that we use visual codes to reach a specific audience in both cases, which we design for cultural events or commercial brands. Getting to know the culture and way of life of a certain social stratum and then experiencing them is the most exciting part of our job. It also keeps us inspired and motivated as the world around us is changing all the time.
How is a typical day going for you, and what software do you use?
We use a mix of different software like Photoshop, Illustrator or Figma, but the fun part starts when we introduce 3D and motion design into our projects. For those, we use Cinema 4D with Octane and After Effects. We use Figma not only for UI design but also for concept development. The ability to work live with our team and our clients has had a huge impact on the way we work today. Many designers have trouble showing work in progress. What we value most is being open about having someone sit next to you, taking what you just did, spinning it around, adding something new and to give it back, so you can see a whole different perspective.
This is something we learned at the Citadel. Krzysztof, Piotr and Tom have their fingerprints all over our projects at the time. We try to teach our team the same.
Our day usually starts in the kitchen. We arrive at the studio around 9am, and there is always someone there to talk about what’s going on. After a few minutes, everyone is talking, drinking coffee, having breakfast, and suddenly it’s already 10 a.m. We really enjoy spending time together. During the peaks of Covid019 in Poland, we couldn’t bear to work remotely.
Tell us about the identity of the Short Waves Festival 2021 – what was the brief like?
Short Waves Festival asked us to design the visual identity for their brand and the 2021 edition. We started with the overall identity because we knew that the system we were about to create would establish the ground rules for future creations. We say system, not a set of rules, because Short Waves Festival, as a brand, releases dozens of visual posts every month: visual posts that, on the one hand, need to be flexible enough to keep audiences engaged, but on the other hand On the other hand easy to use by junior designers and volunteers.
The theme of this edition laid the foundation for this year’s visual identity: MirrorMirror, because it is first and foremost our new normal, our experiences, our changes and our different reality that prompts us to examine ourselves more. intensely. The pandemic has dramatically intensified Internet immersion and dual functioning in online and offline mode. Not only does a mirror reflect reality, but it also creates it – just like movies which exhibit the complexity of being here and now.
What design details did you use and why?
For the overall branding of the Short Waves Festival, we decided to go for brutal simplicity; a basic black and white layout resembling classifieds ads with sections divided by lines creates a framework of creativity within them. It allows designers to prepare a wide range of visual messages, from very formal announcements to fun and creative compositions full of complicated elements. This is completed with a set of additional elements such as a short version of the name or icons of the festival.
The motif of a mirror reflection inside a pendant is at the heart of the poster, illustrating the 13th edition of the Short Waves Festival and the Mirror Mirror motto. He takes a closer look at contemporary humans layered and extreme, bored and intrigued, narcissistic and uncertain, alone and surrounded by people, introverts and extroverts. One mirror includes one person, while the other remains dark and mysterious.
Overall, what is your main goal with identity?
As the festival is over, we already know the answer. For the first time in the festival’s 12-year history, a system that was created clearly guided attendees through the complexities of the festival program. According to the organizers, visual identification in Poznań could affect up to 20,000 people per day. The introduction of the festival on the online platform and social media in times of pandemic showed identification to the world. Over 8,000 participants in Poznań and online took part.
Visual ID responded to the hybrid form of the festival, with its mature style perfectly suited to the expectations and tastes of the audience. The flexible system made it possible to consistently adapt many elements to the various festival activities, such as performances, workshops, offline and online events. The most important thing was that the identification did not die with previous editions of the event, because ultimately it identified this event and is then used and developed based on the system created. We receive words of appreciation from all over the world and from Poland. And thanks to a new visual identification, the festival stands out from other similar events; it brought freshness and a new perspective to the overall environment of short film festivals.
What’s the next step for you?
No idea, but that’s the most exciting thing about it since the whole industry is constantly evolving. Currently we are more and more in the creation of content because we find that it gives us joy, but on the other hand we see that the era of visual identities seen as a system of rules set at the beginning of the existence of the mark is over. Brands need to stay fresh, so their visual identity needs to be constantly on the move, attracting audiences with new engaging content.
We love working on complex identities and design systems, but we see the balance changing. Branding books are getting simpler and easier to unleash the potential of designers working on videos, illustrations and creative assets used in everyday communication. As identity writers we have to consider this, and as graphic designers we like that there are fewer restrictions and more room for creativity.