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Making Typography Dance — DIA Studio

DFF 21 Mar

Founder and Creative Director of New York-based DIA Studio, Mitch Paone, takes us through the fascinating world of kinetic identity systems before his arrival in India to speak at the Design Fabric Festival.

  • 5  Bespoke Undulator2

The identity system for BESPOKE

After a stint at freelancing for motion graphics and film production studios, Mitch Paone decided to start DIA Studio in 2008 as a motion graphics firm with co-founder Meg Donohoe, who is now his wife. The studio’s early years were spent on freelance projects for different design studios and production companies, where Meg handled the project management, while Mitch focused on the type design and other creative aspects. Over time, the studio’s work shifted from film and motion projects to more identity and branding-related work, for which they are now known best. With the addition of designer Deanna Sperrazza to the team, DIA further developed its visual aesthetic and skill set to create a rich, kinetic dimension for the brands they work with.

DIA has worked on some extremely cool projects, from creating type animations for brands like ApplePrimaryNike and Bespoke to developing covers for In the Loop, a compilation of remixes by DJ and producer A-Trak. Today, they are constantly churning out the most commanding visual identities, merging their love and deep understanding of typography, kinetic identity systems and graphic design to produce some of the most intriguing works we’ve seen till date.

Mitch Paone talks to us about the world of kinetic identities, the workings of the studio, and the importance of trust between designers and their clients.

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DIA’s conceptual typography for A-Trak’s In The Loop box set

What is it about the world of type and motion that has you hooked?

I’ve always found it fascinating how a typeface can carry so much cultural, historical, and emotional weight without any additional graphic element or color. I’m a performing jazz pianist and composer. In parallel, my jazz piano studies and practice have given me a rich understanding of music history and theory. The same subjects of culture and emotion in type are even more present in music. I knew very early on that I was on some sort of mission to make these interests collide. These disciplines naturally led me to working in motion graphics and film.

Around 2012-2013, our studio’s work evolved into focusing more on identity and graphic design projects and veered away from commercials. We began experimenting with type and editorial design using the techniques we learned in VFX and film and found the results to be seductive. We’ve been digging deeper and deeper into this ever since.

Basically, film and animation closed the gap between my obsessions with type and music. Now we can finally make typography dance, and turn dance into typography!

What's been your favorite project to have worked on till date?

I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. To give a hint... it’s a music related project for a company whose name rhymes with Snapple.

What's the overall creative process like?

Fast paced, generative, and improvisational.

We churn out as many ideas as possible in a short period of time. We then take a step back, react, and curate. We generally lead our design exploration with generative techniques using animation and code, supplemented with traditional design software. We find the results to be more dynamic and they offer more flexibility across platforms than if we just used Adobe Illustrator and Indesign, for example.

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The identity system for NIKE Basketball

How different is the process when you’re working for a brand versus personal projects?

Our personal projects are focused on learning something new. Our client projects are where we put what we learnt into action. The only difference in the process is that client projects are strategically driven and the personal projects are simply learning for learning’s sake.

How does place inform your work? Does having a base like New York City (NYC) seep into the DIA aesthetic somehow?

Surprisingly, I’d say NYC has little influence on our studio’s work aesthetically. Our team and collaborators come from all over the globe. At any given time, we could be working with a type designer in Prague, an animator in Washington DC and an illustrator in Seoul on the same project. However, the kinetic approach to our work is definitely influenced by our NYC location. The culture here is driven so much by tech innovation, advertising and entertainment, so it’s natural that our work is predominately screen-based.

Who are some contemporaries whose work you enjoy?

The works of Ludovic Balland, Francois Rappo, Dinamo Type Foundry and Braulio Amado! I find them all quite impressive.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

Managing clients’ expectations. Our work tends to challenge any status quo so we need make sure our clients have a good understanding of our process and that we have good collective chemistry or else, the project will most likely fail. There always is a slight leap of faith into the unknown with both us and our clients. It all comes down to trust!

The studio’s response to ‘The Meaning of DIA’

You’ve been around for nearly a decade now. What are the design trends that excite you?

One big trend I’ve seen in the last few years is the globalization of “cultural/artbook” typography. This is thanks to the the Internet and Instagram designers around the world who are influenced by design ideologies that were once very exclusive to hyper specific communities and schools. So obscure work that you could only find in an artbook store in the Netherlands is now accessible to thousands of people across the globe.

Regardless of what people think about the context of this kind of work and its lineage, the interest and accessibility of this work is resulting in a more detailed and meticulous typographic approach globally. This is a good thing!

Mitch Paone will also be speaking at the Design Fabric Festival on 31st March.