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Kasper Florio — Black and White
The Swiss graphic designers Larissa Kasper and Rosario Florio founded their eponymous design studio in 2013.
Kasper Florio — Black and White

Based in the historic city of St. Gallen, they work for a range of local and international clients from across all cultural fields; most frequently music, art and fashion. We sat down with Larissa to discuss the style of their work, the current status of visual communication, and why they see things in black and white.

How did the two of you start working together? Do you have similar backgrounds?

Rosario grew up in an Italian family in a small town close to St.Gallen. Maybe our cultural background is the only thing that’s different, as both my parents are Swiss. But the way we grew up was very similar and full of little coincidences: we both have older brothers that became engineers, we love the Chicago Bulls and Public Enemy, and we were always drawing and inventing silly handwritings when we were kids. 

We met about 13 years ago, long before we started to work together. Rosario did an apprenticeship as a typographer and later studied visual communication at the School of the Arts in St.Gallen. I studied visual communication at the Zurich University of the Arts. That was the first time we worked on small projects together — mostly making flyers for parties organized by friends. We soon found out that we have similar tastes and strengths. 

In 2013 we finally founded Kasper-Florio as a collaborative space of exploration in book design and visual identity, currently working within the fields of art, music, architecture and design. Rosario is also teaching at the School of the Arts in St.Gallen, and I just finished my masters at ECAL (École cantonale d'art de Lausanne) in Lausanne.

How does the city and the environment you work in influence your work?

St.Gallen has a strong tradition in book design going back to Rudolf Hostettler, Jost Hochuli and Max Koller. But today most of the ambitious people within the field are moving to bigger cities like Zurich. 

In the past five years we’ve built our own little community, sharing the studio with good friends. It’s a nice, big space full of light, and there’s a small kitchen with a big table where we usually come together to share and discuss ideas or have a beer after work. So what mostly influences our work is probably not St.Gallen itself but the opportunity of having this studio and being surrounded by inspiring people. Furthermore, Swiss culture in general, its heritage and tradition in graphic design, and our personal interests and visual goals is what also drives us. 

What are the biggest challenges you have to meet when running your own studio? 

To make a living in Switzerland can sometimes be a little hard. But at the same time we’re free and we’re responsible for ourselves only, which is an empowering and wonderful feeling. To be able to find an idea or a solution to a problem, to work it out in a concept, to present it to your client, to see how it works out (or not) and to learn from this as a result, we think it’s a great gift. 

How far can we go in abstraction? Using black and white or a grayscale scheme can help us make very precise decisions in those contrasts.

Do you get inspired by other fields of art and design?

We love traveling; for us it’s the best inspiration imaginable — the vivid pulse of a city, the raw beauty of nature, and, of course, art. Traveling is capable of taking you into new and undiscovered fields, while revealing a familiar subject in new ways at the same time. Georg Simmel once said, “What an artist can do and what a logician can’t, is to extend a term without losing the content.” To extend the term and to always find new ways of doing so is something that motivates us. 

How would you describe the style of your studio? 

Rather than describe a style, we’ll mention our interests when we’re searching for visual expression. Abstraction is one of those interests. Most of the time we start with language and typography, which can already be seen as an abstraction of images. Simplicity is also an important approach in our work. It conducts a balance between idea and realization, and helps refine the message. 

Do you think that despite the fact that we live in an image-based world, text is also reclaiming its position in communication?

As mentioned above, working with text and typography can already be a form of abstraction. Maybe text as a cultural component and transmitter of information hasn’t lost that much of its importance today, but the way we experience it certainly has. 

Text is still a clearly defined form of communication which enables us to transmit a message more or less precisely — if you want it to of course — while a picture remains more interpretable. To read an image and compose it at the same time has to be learnt like a language. In the past few years, communication through images and the exchange of “snapshots,” especially, has created a new form of information exchange. The uncountable streams of images online are often a mere juxtaposition of ghostlike content. Nobody knows where a single picture originally comes from; sources and authorship can get lost. The context of other pictures can change the original message of an image. It’s very interesting but also dangerous. But regardless of the source or context, the combination of text and image remains very important. 

You’ve worked on a book with Maria Guta. Did you enjoy working with photography? 

We art-directed and edited the book together, but also did most of the photo shoots as a team. It was a new experience for me being so closely involved in a photography project and working almost without any typography. To create a narrative without the use of language was something new for me and a very enriching experience.

What projects are you working on right now? 

Together with Samuel Bänziger we started a publishing house called Jungle Books, where we conceive, design and publish artist books and some exhibition catalogs. Right now we’re working on two books about Swiss artists Jiajia Zhang and Valentina Stieger. Both will be released in the next couple months. Another ongoing project is our typeface Monument Grotesk, which we started one year ago. 

What are your thoughts on the future of graphic design?

It’s likely that through an accelerated access to trends or a kind of globalization of visual ideas, the interest in good design can actually grow. But we think that innovative or avant-garde design will remain a niche product. The constant search for new ways of expression, new forms, new imagery or a new type of visual communication will rarely or never appeal to those that prefer the conventional. The commercialization of trends or the understanding of unconventional graphic design usually happens so much later, that the ambitious explorers behind those designs are already moving on to new territories. This not only takes a sense of curiosity and experimentation, but also courage and the risk of being misunderstood by some. 

You’ve just graduated from ECAL. Was studying there a significant experience for you in the development of your skills and style? 

Eventually, every possibility to work on a personal project results in a development of a practice, and that’s what made those two years at ECAL worth it for me. I used to split my time between school and the studio, and I often traveled across the country, which sometimes made me shift my focus. But I definitely gained a lot of experience and improved my skills in type design. 

Why do the two of you prefer to work in black and white, as opposed to color? 

During the working process we’re usually initially focused on content and composition. Every color transmits certain emotions, which in turn have an effect on the message. To us, simplicity and abstraction helps transmit the message in a very direct, yet open way. 

Color is something that's very subjective. Everyone has different associations if, for example, they see a green square. One person may be reminded of the coat of his grandmother, but another may be reminded of the ugly peas he was forced to eat as a kid. We’re more interested in observing and finding out how different content can be stripped down to depict the most important information through specific compositions of letters, forms, shapes and contrasts. How far can we go in abstraction? Using black and white or a grayscale scheme can help us make very precise decisions in those contrasts. — 

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In this publication we have collected stories from the designers and artists that inspire us with their creativity and skill. Whether working in fashion, design, photography or architecture, they share the commitment to process and have a strong, personal voice.

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