Christoph Brach and Daniera ter Haar form Raw Color, a multidisciplinary studio based in Eindhoven (The Netherlands). Their work is ‘raw’ because it dives towards the core, striving for simplicity. And it’s ‘color’ not only because they strongly master the art of colours, but also because it’s an element present in all the different fields they explore – graphic design, photography and product –, uniting and highlighting their work’s diversity. We got the chance to talk to them and covered themes like design ethics, collaboration in the creative field and, of course, the concepts and processes behind their polychromatic work.
Daniera and Christoph, first of all, who are you individually and how did your paths cross?
My name is Christoph Brach and I’m originally from Germany. I co-founded Raw Color together with Daniera ter Haar. She is Dutch and we both met through our education at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, which I would say is the grail of the Dutch design movement. It’s a very open and experimental school, there’s a lot of networking, and a lot of the well-known designers studied there.
Before going there, I studied Graphic Design in Germany, but I wanted to go abroad to get some more experience. Quite quickly, I came across the Design Academy, which looked like a brilliant education where I would get exposed to a lot of interesting concepts. During our education, I met Daniera and quickly got into a relationship – we are also a couple in the private sense.
What’s your background in the design and photography field? What were you doing before starting Raw Color?
After finishing the course, we started to work on our own projects, but never with the intention of actually starting a studio. At the beginning, those projects didn’t have a very wide exposure, so together with other designers, we set up some exhibitions during the Design Week or we went to the Salone del Mobile in Milan. We were actually co-founders of the collective Dutch Invertuals. We thought, “if nobody is asking us for work, we can just do it ourselves and create a platform”.
We did a lot of self-initiate projects, which I think were very important to define our profile as a studio. We still do that, it helps us to ask questions that a client would not. Often, clients come to us and say they need a new logo, a photo shoot, a website, or whatever application, but for our own projects, we can come up with installations or more experimental work. So this is actually how we started, but apart from that, we also had some side jobs, of course.
Raw Color Metalmagazine 5.jpg
Why the name Raw Color? How is that reflected in your work?
That was the name of our first collaboration together, which is still in the very bottom of our website. It was a research into the pigments of vegetables. We sort of created our own colour system, a bit like Pantone. It actually got a good exposure, which took the project to some exhibitions. We were still collaborating under our own names, but you know, ‘Daniera ter Haar and Christoph Brach’… no one can remember. At some point, we were looking four our studio name and, funny enough, we already had received a lot of posts addressing us as Raw Color because it was the project’s title – but people considered it was the name of the studio. So it started as a project name but became the name for our big project, our studio.
What I like about it is that the ‘raw’ stands for something pure or something essential, which we always reflect on our projects. We always go to the essence, to the core, towards simplicity – we find it really important. And ‘color’ is also nice because it represents something visual, being our work so multidisciplinary – colour can be found in graphic design, photography, textiles, etc. So in that sense, it represents the diversity of the studio.
The type of work you do lays in the centre of a triangle whose vertices are graphic design, photography and textile design. How do you unify the three fields in your work?
Sometimes, we only work in one of those areas alone, like when doing a graphic identity or a photo shoot. Instead, in some cases or clients, two different parts of the triangle are used together, like when we worked for the Dutch furniture brand Arco: we did the identity for them, but also the strategy and the art direction of the photography, among other elements. It’s very fluent. Sometimes, the different fields exist next to each other; sometimes, they are combined, while in other assignments, they’re separated. We’ve also worked for the Textile Museum in the Netherlands, and for them, we did graphic design, sometimes we did photography or advised on that, and we even did some textile work – in that case, the three areas of the triangle were united.
In your project Blend, for Nanimarquina, you really experimented with the visual perception of colours. Could you tell us a bit about the result of this collaboration?
In this textile collaboration, you also feel the link to graphic design, I would say. In graphics, when you print, you can do the full surface of a colour or you can add a screen effect – that’s shown in the rugs we’ve created as well. Between two sections, one dark red and the other light blue, we place another one where you see lines of both colours that create a new shade when blended together. So from five wool shades originally, we ended up with twenty different shades approximately in the end.
Raw Color Metalmagazine 7.jpg
How do you approach colour in projects like this?
I think it’s something that comes very naturally. Even if there isn’t graphic design in a literal sense, you can feel that the knowledge and logic are still there. What was also nice was that the Afghan wool we used had the shades of the sheep. Its colour isn’t super regular, it sometimes gets some grey lines.
I’m obsessed with your project The Fans. How do you ideate such innovative objects? Does it come from a lot of experimentation? From what you observe in your daily life? What mainly inspired you to do this one?
I think it’s a little bit of both. We experiment a lot, but we also follow our intuition many times. Before we start this kind of projects, there’s usually a first spark, something like, “Oh, maybe we should do this or do this and that”. We really like to follow our first impulses or ideas and then, of course, develop them and experiment their possibilities. Then, we also like to have some sort of systematics and rules to follow. We always combine freedom of experimentation with structure in our work. The key is in trying to find a balance so that it’s not too stiff and not too open.
You took a similar approach in Graphic Time, taking an ordinary object (the clock) and making it more interesting and graphic. We can feel this functional time piece in a different way. How do you hope the viewer will perceive your piece differently in comparison with a normal clock?
Normally, to represent the hours, minutes and seconds, there’s always the clock hands that move around the object. We thought it could be interesting if we explored this kinetic graphic line in a different way. We also noticed that nowadays, everyone is so busy with their mobile phones (which tell us the time very exactly and straightforwardly) that we don’t wear watches anymore. ‘Time’ is always in our pockets, so we thought that if we are going to hang up a clock on a wall, it should be a really nice sculptural object rather than something too functional. You can read the time, but in a sense, we see it as something between a functional piece and a kinetic artwork.
Your work has a lot of this physical sense, a feeling for materiality and tactility, which adds a certain intimacy to it. Why did you feel the necessity to work in this way? In an era where everything is becoming more and more technologic, do you ever feel pressured to work more digitally?
We do work digitally – we work on websites and digital applications. Installations like The Fans or Chromatology are all based on coding electronics. As for the paper shredders on Chromatology, they are connected to motion sensors. If you stand in front of the shredders, they get activated. By standing in front of them, you can control the installation. So I’d say we also try to embrace the digital world and apply it when we think it makes sense.
On the other hand, in the time of digitalisation when everything becomes less and less physical in a sense, I have the feeling that the more digital we become, the more need we have for tactility and for feeling materials. For instance, in the movie Her, I think that we see a very good example of this futuristic scenario. Yes, everything is very smart, filled with artificial intelligence, but if you look at the real atmosphere of the movie, it’s actually very warm and tactile. Usually, if you look at a futuristic movie, it’s filled with black and white, chrome, reflective materials; everything feels very distant, but I have the feeling that Her is a more human interpretation of how we relate to technology.
Personally, in our house, we surround ourselves with very natural materials that have a very tactile sense. We have this kind of preference for objects that really matter to us. We collaborate a lot with our friend designers – they did the kitchen and beds for us, for example. I think that to be surrounded by objects that you love, at least for us, is a very important thing that maybe later will even reflect on our work.
How was the process of creating Alphabet, Bold and Triangle for Chaumont? Must have been interesting to take your work and aesthetics to the streets. What had to be done or thought differently considering the fact that it was something dedicated to the general public?
That’s actually something that wasn’t so much in the back of our minds. In this case, the public is more like an abstract idea. Even though the rocks would end up near somebody’s house, we never talked to the people that live there. We had meetings with our clients from the Chaumont Graphic Centre, so we were never exposed to the viewers/audience. It felt more like a collaboration, just like with Nanimarquina. I always feel that for us, because we are critical, we take ourselves as a reference and reflection point. I always think, “would I like to have it in my own house?” or, “would I like to have this electric house right next to ours and look at it every day?”
Raw Color Metalmagazine 9.jpg
Do you follow design ethics? How?
We always think that if you do good, good things come back to you. We are five to six people in our studio, including Daniera and me. We consider it very important to treat our team well so that they get enough freedom and flexibility to do their work. And I think it’s good to have self-reflection as a criterion to judge a project, as well as to have good communication with our clients. Whenever we propose something, it’s always as a dialogue between the two of us. We propose different ideas, we can discuss them, and we always try to understand what the client needs. Also, in that sense, empathy – both with our own people and the client – is a very important thing for us.
We also teach at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, and I would say that the same comes for our students. I treat them with as much respect as I would like to be treated myself. Of course, you need to be critical and honest, but I think we should always be respectful and empathic to the other.
On the other hand, if we talk about sustainability, as designers, of course, we do produce things, print books and magazines, etc. So yes, sometimes, I wonder how good is all this for the environment. Though I believe that if you put a lot of effort into the development of something, it’s a way of being sustainable, since you’re sure it will last. To bo sustainable doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t buy, do, or produce anymore. Instead, it should be well-considered and then, after five years, you don’t have to throw it away.
The same counts for our house and studio. For example, we did our kitchen together with a friend of ours, and I think it will be here as long as we live in this house. We chose for it, developed it, and did the best possible– we consider it a way of being sustainable. And I think it’s like this as well for good publications or graphic work: if it is well done, people will cherish it and keep it.
How important do you find collaboration to be nowadays in the creative field?
I consider collaboration to be very valuable; it’s been very important to us. More than that, to be surrounded by people that have the same good intentions and are talented, people that allows you to reflect and grow. I always like the football reference in this case because it illustrates it perfectly: if you play in a very good football team, you will always become a better player; if you play in a bad team and you’re always the best player, you will not grow that much because there’s no competition, you’re not stimulated. And I think it’s the same for collaboration: if you are with a lot of other people that are driven and talented, that will also reflect on you and the other way around.
We also stimulate that in our students; Envisions is a Dutch collective, some of its founders are former students of ours. I find it really nice that they also saw the value in it and created this collaboration platform for designers. They’ve achieved so much in two and a half years, which again shows the power of working together.
Finally, what are your plans for the upcoming years? Something special you’d like to achieve in your career?
We always like to develop the studio in the sense of expanding our knowledge, discovering new areas. There’s something we noticed quite a lot in these past years: there’s been a lot of push towards product design. It’s something that we have experienced quite a lot lately, since it comes together with the development of our house and studio. It has been the first proper interior design project that we did: we structured the house, collaborated with people on it, and somehow it really reflected in interest from clients. So that’s something we’re really interested to look into.
Also, you mentioned Graphic Time and the project with Nanimarquina; those have been first explorations into product design, since we played with textile for the first one, and in the case of The Clock, we actually developed a product. We find it to be a very interesting development, this expansion of the studio, approaching this new field. When it comes to the triangle that we were talking about before, which was composed of graphic design, photography and material, I feel that the material is now becoming product design.
Raw Color Metalmagazine 6.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 8.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 14.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 13.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 16.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 18.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 17.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 15.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 21.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 19.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 20.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 25.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 22.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine .jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 1.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 4.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 3.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 2.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 11.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 10.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 12.jpg
Raw Color Metalmagazine 23.jpg