Sebastián Litmanovich, founder of Barcelona-based Tea Time Studio, tells Rob Carney how he combines the perfect ingredients to create stunning branding and logo designs.
"It's very similar to marinating some vegetables in oil, wine and spices, leaving it for a day and letting the elements get to know each other." While you might be fooled into thinking Tea Time Studio's founder and "alma mater" Sebastián Litmanovich is obsessed by food, the Barcelona-based Argentinean is actually commenting on his recipe for creating brilliant branding and design. And when he's completed projects for the likes of Nestlé, IBM, Telefónica and L’Oréal, who's going to argue with his ingredients?
First on the list is to, "Spend a huge amount of time researching the project and understanding the market," Litmanovich says. "When I've done that, I'll always then create some kind of concept board using a wide variety of elements, from visual to literature, films, music and so on, so I can begin understanding what the 'Brand Universe' is."
From here, Litmanovich looks to develop a strong and simple communication concept - always involving the client in all stages of the process. "After all, the client knows the market better than I do - I always learn so much from clients," he beams. "Then I'll work on creating different kinds of aesthetic solutions to communicate this main concept." And finally, going back to his opening simile, "Last, but not least, I start a 'work-rest' process, in which I work on the design, and then leave it for a few days after finishing it. This process repeats until I reach a very fine result that satisfies both me and the client."
It all sounds very organised and structured, but as you soon discover, there's more to Tea Time Studio and Litmanovich than order. "'Tea Time' represents the moment before starting something, when you think, and start creating some sort of concept board inside your mind, joining pieces from anywhere and creating a communication identity universe for your client," he says of the company's design philosophy. "This is the first step for me in the creative process, and the most important. I always prefer great concepts and straightforward, direct ideas. I try to keep a simple yet powerful communication message, and always try to use the lowest number of visual elements to express an idea. I am not interested in over-designed projects, or confusing messages."
Back in 2002, after closing the doors of his first design studio, Krovha, Litmanovich moved from sunny Buenos Aires to sunny Spain. "I decided to move to Barcelona looking for new challenges and a total life change," he says. "So Krovha closed its doors, and Tea Time Studio was born." You get the feeling that this Argentinean is very settled in one of the world's most celebrated cultural havens. "As Tea Time Studio, I've collaborated with many talented creative people here in Barcelona," he gleams. "I've made projects together with Leo Obstbaum (design director for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics), Alan The Gallant, Avalancha studio, DDB Agency, ROJO magazine, FiftyFifty collective and many more."
Litmanovich frowns when questioned on his inspirations. "Hmmm it is very hard for me to decide that," he says, purely because there are so many of them. But when you get him started he begins reeling off names and places such as Warhol, Glaser, Polanski, Rio de Janeiro and NYC. "Perhaps a good influence in terms of some kind of 'holistic work system' would be David Lynch," he says. "But definitely not in aesthetic terms." He continues, "I can appreciate a great corporate identity, a brilliant name, a stunning photo, and also I can appreciate the artist as a person and his or her philosophy independently of the quality or aesthetics of their art work. I guess the question of my biggest influences is one with a never-ending answer. I can mention Bauhaus School, SVA, Wallpaper* magazine, Oriental philosophy, or the latest BMX Bandits album."
He continues, going into specifics, "On some projects you can feel a stronger influence, like Cacahuetes' identity that is inspired by 60s retro TV shows, or Federico Aubele's Panamericana album that is totally influenced by Antonioni's 70s film Zabriskie Point in terms of image, colours and overall mood. Maybe humour is my 'timeless key', along with smart messages and ideas! In the end, everything influences everything, and I'm not very interested in being part of a specific trend."
The Cruma calendar has arguably been one of Litmanovich's most successful and diverse projects. Taking what is perceived to be a very dry subject (Cruma makes fume hoods for cleaning the air in factories, labs and other working environments), Tea Time Studio brought a visually stimulating approach to the calendar, while at the same time highlighting the company's eco-conscious philosophy.
"The company director and I developed a 100 per cent recycled and recyclable calendar using photographs from the Barcelona area; mountains and nature," says Litmanovich. "I remember Alex, the director, told me he is an amateur part-time photographer, so we thought it would be a good idea if he produced a Polaroid nature series, almost all of them being plants to represent the 'air cleaner' concept in a natural way.
"Our intention, and the approach we tried to take, was to create a not-so-perfect, very human style. We wanted it to be as far away as possible from image banks, or corporate photos.
"We chose recyclable papers and water-based inks. This calendar was intended to be seen daily by Cruma customers, so we tried to create a natural finish as a statement of the company's eco-responsibility."
Another company that called on the expertise of Tea Time Studio was The Japanese hotel and restaurant Iori located in Vielha, Spain. "The work for Iori Hotel was relaxed and positive. I had the opportunity to develop the whole project, from naming to design and concept, and I had a lot of time to think, conceptualise and work," says Litmanovich of the branding, stationery and website design project. "I followed my special recipe to the letter and created one of my favourite project results ever," he tells us.
In fact, it was more than just the branding and stationery Litmanovich was asked to create. "Tea Time developed the global identity, including the logo, icons, stationery, pins, packaging, signs, gadgets, website and much, much more," he explains. It just goes to show that Tea Time is a multidisciplinary, versatile company.
And how important does Litmanovich feel it is to be multidisciplinary in today's industry? "Very important and totally necessary," he begins. "Every idea or concept asks for a medium or format: some ideas work amazingly in motion, so you have to learn how to make them move. The same with graphic design - some are totally made to be printed, but some prefer to be screened. We have to be wise and flexible in choosing between disciplines, that's the most important thing. I feel comfortable working within any field - the process for me is quite similar. Creativity needs to be multidisciplinary, free and unlabelled."
Off the Radar is the latest album by Ally Kerr - the Scottish singer/songwriter who Uncut described as, "Inspired.... jangles with all the rainy loveliness of Belle and Sebastian." Litmanovich designed the album art as well as several promotional posters. He explains, "We wanted to have photographs of different people. We used one I took on a train, a picture of a child I took on the beach, and Ally also gave me a picture of himself. The colour combinations were really easy for me to choose and I think they express the exquisite, delicate music Ally made for this album really well. I tried to achieve a simple, yet rich result with the colour and font, but a kind of dreamy feel with the image treatment."
We leave Litmanovich as he continues to produce branding, logo, motion and all-manner of other work for his global client base, using only the finest ingredients. "Conceptual, clean and timeless," is how the designer sums up his company in three words; it would be very hard to argue with such a statement.