With our Our Design Around the World series, we've explored design communities and met designers from countries like Brazil, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore and more. Now, we're learning more about design in the Middle East with Studio Koniak.
Run by Nurit Koniak and partner Natasha Boguslavsky, Koniak is a branding consultancy based in Tel Aviv. The studio does everything from art direction to branding to motion graphics to packaging, with a decidedly elegant and minimalistic style.
While it's clear the tech scene is currently exploding in Tel Aviv, but we didn't know much about the design community specifically, or how political tensions in the country are affecting it. Nurit shares her perspective with us in this interview.
First, let’s talk about your studio. Who is the team behind Koniak and why did you decide to open a graphic design studio?
I founded the studio in 2005. After about six years, I needed to expand the business, so I started to develop a professional team. One of my leading designers whom I love and adore, Natasha Boguslavsky, joined me around that time and helped me build the business. Eventually, she became my partner, and together we have shaped and defined the studio’s voice over the years. We focus on brand design and image making, with special attention to consumer goods – our greatest passion.
Tell us a bit about Tel Aviv’s design community. Is there a strong design presence and do many platforms or events exist that help you connect with other designers?
Tel Aviv is an amazing design destination. The local design scene has grown tremendously over the past ten years, and there’s a real dynamic ambiance everywhere. Somehow, despite the political difficulties, there’s a real creative hub with multiple cultural influences that fuse together into something new and intriguing. Gallery openings, restaurants and pop-up shops are springing up everywhere. There are lots of design collaborations because people are always somehow connected and the help is nearby.
Technology is thriving in Tel Aviv and many large tech companies have established a presence in the area. It’s been compared to Silicon Valley with the second-largest number of startup companies in the world after the United States. How does that affect the design community? Are most job opportunities for designers in the tech scene right now?
This is a very interesting development. Despite the cultural thrive, the economic reality is so grim that people in Tel Aviv cannot imagine buying their own property or living as a family in the city. Prices have gone far beyond anyone’s reach. So it’s obvious that designers opt for higher paying jobs in the startup scene. This has become a real goal for graduates. They prefer to play in a band or design posters after their day job hours. As a result, the independent design scene lost a lot of talented designers to corporations and startups.
How would you describe the design you see coming from Tel Aviv today? Do you notice a certain style/influence or is it influenced by your culture in any way?
I think what makes the Israeli design scene so interesting is the specific fusion of American, European and Middle Eastern influences. The Israeli design heritage is very tender since the country itself is only 70 years old, but our complex relationship with the Palestinians and our neighboring countries has had an inevitable influence. Israeli culture was never about opulence and abundance, so Israeli design is quite austere and minimal but manages to remain fresh.
You live in one of the most educated countries in the world. In 2012, it ranked third in the world in the number of academic degrees per capita. What is design education like there? Do most designers seek a formal education or do you see successful designers who are self-taught as well?
Design education is big in Israel with great schools and academic programs, and of course hundreds of designers graduating every year. But the design industries here are limited in their resources, so many of the students don’t really end up in the practice. People often migrate between fields within the design world or alternatively dream of working abroad to jump-start their career locally.
What would you say are unique challenges for designers in your community right now?
Our biggest challenge would probably be keeping our voices heard. Our current government is very right-wing and recent developments have given us reason to believe freedom of expression is at risk. In basic Israeli mentality, design is considered somewhat of a luxury and is often regarded as fluff – not being taken seriously enough. It’s very frustrating over time, and one needs to be patient and understanding to sustain in the industry.
“The clients look outward only to learn that the local work is actually better.”
As the world is getting smaller with the help of the internet, working with international clients is very common. Do you actively seek international work or has this happened naturally for your studio? And do businesses typically work with local designers and studios?
We have been lucky in the studio to work with international brands as well as Israeli brands. We love the versatility in working with both. Long-distance dialogue is possible these days, but there are many advantages to being physically close to your client and having an intimate talk to make progress on a project. Ironically, we’ve had quite a few Israeli clients approach us after they were disappointed with UK based firms. The clients look outward only to learn that the local work is actually better.
How much impact does your social media presence have on getting new clients and self-promotion in general? What works best for you?
Instagram is a very interesting platform in that respect. We feel like the era we live in a transitional period in media and its usage. Social networks are big, but their full potential is yet to be discovered. It has become somewhat of a replacement to websites, but it’s still lacking a formality and technical tools that could enable it to become a real business card. It’s great for self-promotion but it still feels very limited.
What does good design mean to Koniak, and how do you see it impacting your country’s society as a whole? Do you think it can solve larger issues it faces?
We never think about the long-term effect of what we do, but we always try to aim for a signature that’s very minimalistic and timeless in style. A test for good design would be to look back at something you did ten years ago and smile. In some cases the decade’s footprint is apparent and in others, you don’t feel the time passing at all.
How can all designers and design communities from other countries do a better job of communicating with each other? How can we become more engaged with your design community? Are there any blogs or specific magazines we can follow?
We highly recommend following Telavivian Magazine, a brand we designed a few years back and remains one of the most interesting local platforms for engaging in local creation. There are other great independent publications such as Milk & Honey and A5.
Thank so much for talking with us, Nurit! We appreciate your straightforward, honest answers and look forward to seeing how design in Tel Aviv continues to evolve.