Leading House for Design and Transformation in Germany
Interview with Heinrich Paravicini, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Owner of MUTABOR, Germany
In 1993, Johannes Plass and Heinrich Paravicini, along with other members, published a design magazine – MUTABOR – at the Muthesius College of Art in Kiel. Five years later, in 1998, they founded a design company with the same name. The Latin word “MUTABOR,” which is a magical word from the fairy tale Kalif Storch and means “I’m going to change,” has now become the motto of the company.
"We always aim to deliver projects that are good enough to win awards."
Today, based in Hamburg and Munich, has been one of the three largest independent design companies in Germany for the past ten years. In the Horizont Ranking for the most creative service providers and agencies in Germany over the last 10 years, MUTABOR is the only design company in the top 20. With an interdisciplinary team of over 145 members, MUTABOR works in five units: Identity, Strategy, Experience, Architecture, and Technology. Always with the spirit of thinking in a human-centered and future-oriented way while pursuing high creative standards and perfect craftsmanship, MUTABOR engages in projects all over the world. Its clients include Audi, Bahlsen, Clariant, Daimler, DFL, Faber-Castell, Hyperloop TT, KNF, Merck, Vodafone, and Volkswagen, to name just a few. Their holistic transformation processes have been taking national and international companies to the next level and setting new standards in digital branding and digital design solutions.
Interview conducted by Package&Design Magazine
Over the years, the design works of MUTABOR have won more than 500 design awards. Among them are those from the iF DESIGN AWARD 2020. MUTABOR won 7 awards, including 2 that won the iF DESIGN AWARD 2020 Gold. Package & Design conducted an exclusive interview with Heinrich Paravicini, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Owner of MUTABOR, and selected some exceptional design works of MUTABOR.
First of all, congratulations on MUTABOR’s 7 projects’ winning the iF DESIGN AWARD this year, including 2 of them that won the iF DESIGN AWARD 2020 Gold. “” – 30 fish, one fish disappearing every year – please talk about the creative concept behind this gold award-winning work. During the developing process of this project, did you think about how design agencies should fulfill their social responsibility for environmentally sustainable development?
HP: First of all, thank you very much for the congratulation. In fact, when we get approached by clients, we always consider if the proposed project is in line with our code of conduct and the rules we agreed on. One of them deals with social responsibility. This does not mean that we have particular sympathy for NGOs – we challenge every kind of client – and they challenge us just the same. We ask: is the business of the client contributing to progress, innovation and sustainability? Does the client care about these topics? And do we share a mindset that enforces a better life on this planet? That’s why we would never work for military purposes or health-damaging goods like tobacco. In the case of FishAct, the decision was easy: We were instantly sure, we have to help these guys bring on their task by giving them some great design solutions – and we did it almost for free.
Fish Act - Stop Overfishing
Fish stocks have decreased by 87% since we began collecting data. If we continue like this, our seas will be empty by 2048. The NGO FishAct is determined to prevent this. They turned their new logo into a campaign. It shows a swarm of 30 fish, one for each year that remains from 2018 to 2048. Each year one fish will disappear - unless there is a measured improvement in marine fish stocks. On a microsite, the logo becomes a living infographic about the world's fish stocks. Visitors can learn about threatened species or the state of individual seas – or donate directly to FishAct.
The other iF gold award-winning work is the book design for , an analog techno music club. The concept of this work is very special – with a playable vinyl cover. How did this idea come out? What was the most challenging and interesting part of this project?
HP: The idea came during a brainstorming session with the club guys. Initially, they just wanted to have something special for their 5th anniversary. And then we came to analog music – and analog media. This led us to the book idea. And in the end, we asked ourselves: what if we could design a book that can be played on a turntable – making real analog music? The most challenging thing was the production of the book – and it worked out pretty well in the end.
City Logo for Hamburg
MUTABOR's official city logo for Hamburg, Germany's bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games (2016)
In the Horizont Ranking of the most creative service providers and agencies in Germany over the last 10 years, MUTABOR is the only design company in the top 20. What advantageous qualities do you think MUTABOR possesses to have been able to achieve this?
HP: We have always believed that we could only stand out from the crowd with excellence. Even when we were a team of 5 people, we entered awards because we wanted to show the community what we were capable of. This commitment hasn’t changed – even after having grown and expanded our skills across many fields of design. Exceptional quality is key for us and also the biggest motivation for our team. As proof: every project that we entered in last seasons’ iF and Red Dot competitions won an award – whether it was a logo, a website, an annual report or a trade show.
With 145 employees in its Hamburg and Munich offices, MUTABOR works in five units: Identity, Strategy, Experience, Architecture, and Technology. So how do the five units usually collaborate after taking over a new project?
HP: There is no specific rule to that. Some projects stay in their units because it just fits the clients’ brief. If one client just wants an annual report, store design or an App – we deliver only that. Other projects apply to our philosophy of interdisciplinarity and have a more holistic approach. Especially in the two main fields of our business, “Corporate Identity” and “Tradeshow & Event design,” we work in bigger teams and merge our competences from the different units to reach a more holistic and cross-media output. We can really say that today we able to deliver 360-degree design & communication projects.
Under the leadership of the two founders, a 12-person management team leads the MUTABOR units and divisions. Could you talk about the structure and responsibilities of the MUTABOR management team?
HP: This is quite simple: Each unit is led by a duo of a creative and a business head – that makes 10 already. And then there is our CFO and our Head of new business. There we have 12 – and most of all – these are all great people that share the same MUTABOR spirit.
MUTABOR works in 13 countries. Does MUTABOR have offices overseas? If not, how do you conduct work internationally? Does MUTABOR have many Chinese clients? Please talk about your experience with Chinese clients and your opinion on the creative industry of China.
HP: Until now, we have not opened any foreign offices, because we have several collaboration partners that we team up with. But especially in China, we see great opportunities for us – since we already have two Chinese clients – and we employ some great Chinese colleagues that are happy to build more bridges to China. From today’s perspective, it is a realistic scenario to open an office in China in the near future. Our Chinese clients are VIVO, the mobile telephone company, and IMEX, a manufacturer of sanitary goods. Both are great clients, and we have some very good experiences working with them. Of course, there is the language barrier, but as we have some Chinese natives in our team, we encounter no issues driving and delivering the project as planned. And of course, we have projects in China for German companies like Volkswagen, Audi and BOSCH every year. I have great respect for the creative industry in China – and it is always inspiring to team up and share our European (German) design mindset and learn more about Chinese culture.
Over the years, MUTABOR has been setting new standards in digital branding and with digital design solutions. Could you talk about what kind of standards have been set?
HP: So far, we developed two main solutions for digital branding – one is a software for brand asset management that helps small & medium businesses steer their brands and give all partners access and best-case overview of all brand design activities. The other one is a custom solution package that we develop for large companies. There, we also work with AI-driven generators that make complex design processes easy to handle for all partners in the network. The first main project with these features will go live in summer 2020 for an international leading health-care and pharmaceutical company.
MUTABOR ran a “Master Class Brand Experience” in March this year. Could you tell us more about this activity?
HP: In our auditorium, we keep featuring several activities throughout the year to inspire and teach our team but also other people who are interested in our expertise. This Masterclass was set to discuss the new opportunities and influences we see in the Live Communication / Brand Experience Business. A business that will change forever now that the COVID-19 Crisis has been happening. The merging of digital and live experiences will be crucial for the future here.
You have been the president of the ADC Germany since 2018, and you have also been a judge of several international awards. So what are your judging criteria? What traits do you think a good design work should have?
HP: Good design has to catch the eye and the mind. You see so many nicely crafted things out there. But which one really follows an idea that touches your heart and mind? What is relevant and beautiful at the same time? These are the designs that matter and should be awarded.
We know that you loved watching Japanese manga shows when you were a kid. So did oriental culture also affect your creation?
HP: Absolutely. I grew up in France and had the chance to see a lot of Manga in French television (that was not broadcasted in Germany) – this got me into drawing. As a 7-year-old boy, I already sketched my first mangas. So you could say that without these influences, I would not be the person that I am today. And as a professional, I spend a lot of time in Tokyo – a city that totally changed my perception of graphic design. I love that city, and I also had the chance to visit Seoul in South Korea and Beijing. But I definitely want to see more of China.
Over the years, MUTABOR has won over 500 design awards, which is amazing. Does MUTABOR have a certain in-house delivery standard? Or do you have a standard for evaluating whether a project is good enough to enter design awards?
HP: As I said above: we always aim to deliver projects that are good enough to win awards. That is part of our mindset. The power of design mixed with the magic of interdisciplinarity, will end up in excellence. That’s what we believe in.
(Source: Package & Design, 2020, May Issue, p. 38-49)
About the Author
With a history of 47 years, “Package & Design” is one of the most influential professional design magazines in China which features packaging design, branding, product design, industrial design, interior design, architecture design, interactive design and design education, etc.