Rinzen, a design and art collective formed in 2000, began as a casual group of six Australians. What started as a simple alignment of aesthetics quickly matured, and before long the members of Rinzen found themselves representing one of the world’s most successful, ongoing collaborative efforts.

Today, Rinzen’s five remaining members sprawl from New York to Brisbane. Their work has been published in over 100 books, their style is mimicked the world over, and their name has become – according to many designers – something tolerably close to legendary.

“For the first couple of years we did actually share a single studio space, so were able to go through a teething process of long hours, arguments, good meals, and bad clients, that bonded our little band into the Voltron-like entity it is today.”

Format: For our readers who may not be familiar with you, could you please tell us about Rinzen and the people that it is comprised of?
Rinzen: Rinzen is a design and art collective, working collaboratively and individually on a wide range of projects from poster, album, book and t-shirt designs to projections for musicians and bands, large-scale immersive environments, and soft sculptural installations. We also make music, animation and design toys. Our work is cheerful, optimistic and celebratory. It’s not ironic. It often draws on myths, legends, spirits and dreams. Alphabetically we are: Rilla Alexander (Berlin), Steve Alexander (Berlin), Adrian Clifford (Brisbane), Karl Maier (Melbourne), and Craig Redman (New York).

Format: You formed after working together on RMX, an audio and visual remix project. How does remixing reflect your role as a collective team?
Rinzen: The remixing seen in our RMX projects is the most overt, concrete example of working collaboratively on/over each other’s design; the day-to-day collective workings of Rinzen are much more subtle and fundamental. We influence and inspire each other, and the aesthetic of our output is an amalgamation of what we’ve all brought to the table. For the most part, each project we take on is executed by one or two people (though sometimes more if the scope or requirements demand it).


Format: Building and maintaining such a strong collective seems like it should be a challenge, yet despite the Rinzen team’s varied locations, it is one of the most well known design collectives around today. Is your success something you can explain?
Rinzen: I think we have benefited from having a fairly cohesive group aesthetic. We’re not a collective in the sense of having a lot of wildly divergent styles all thrown together into a pot. Our common visual goals were one of the reasons we thought it would be a good idea to work as a team in the first place, and in doing so we’ve been able to all help build upon those initial ideas and make something quite fluent and (hopefully) interesting. Two other factors that have been instrumental in maintaining a workable group structure: we were actively friends before joining forces, and for the first couple of years we did actually share a single studio space – so we were able to go through a teething process of long hours, arguments, good meals, bad clients, etc., that bonded our little band into the Voltron-like entity it is today.

Format: Was it your books that garnered you a lot of initial attention, or was it something else?
Rinzen: It was a combination of things, one of which was certainly the publication of the first remix projects, which were a reasonably unique concept at the time in the staid world of design. The other was our website, and the fact that at that time (2000/2001) a lot more clients were actively sourcing designers online and were increasingly comfortable with working at a distance. So the two things worked hand in hand; the RMX projects were an interesting and press-worthy calling card, and the work on our website was vibrant and unique enough to solidify any interest into commissions. From there it sort of snowballed, with more interesting client work, more self-directed projects garnering more exposure, and so on.


Format: Rinzen’s members represent several artistic styles, but all share a common obsession with vector images. What is it about vectors that you love so much?
Rinzen: Vectors are a hard taskmaster, but once you gain some fluency in working with them, the precision and aesthetic possibilities become insatiable cravings for people – like us – who want to retain an anal-retentive amount of control over all aspects of print production and who worship great super-flat 2D art and design. Much of our background is in the reductive world of minimal, modernist design, and we cut our vector teeth on things like logo design in our early professional careers. The ideal of mass-produced art in the age of mechanical reproduction resonates strongly with us, so it was a natural evolution to attempt to extend the vocabulary of these sharp tools into more and more complex and personal illustrative directions. From there the whole thing took on a life of its own, moving from practical concern to cultish fanaticism. In recent years we’ve incorporated more hand-worked approaches into what we do, but the lessons learned from the precise and reductive vector aesthetic remain an influential factor.

Format: How has working as a group allowed you to do things you might not have experienced otherwise?
Rinzen: From an organizational standpoint, it’s allowed us to grow a viable studio/business with more able-hands and ideas to make light work of heavier loads. From a creative standpoint, it’s been a constant source of challenge and inspiration, working with other passionate people with whom you share an aesthetic ideology. The volume of experience, both first-hand and intimately vicarious, increases fourfold, as does the ability to process those experiences and get feedback, have arguments, or seek help in productive ways when needed.


Format: Together you represent some of the most experienced designers around today. What are your personal thoughts on the current state of the design world?
Rinzen: There seems to be a much closer intertwining of the different strands of visual endeavor than ever. Graphics are influencing and being influenced by fashion, film, music videos, etc., in an ever-accelerating feedback loop. Design has always been something of a bastardized field of endeavor, a kind of creative catchall, so it’ll be interesting to see if the profession itself morphs into some other über-thing, or just splits into a bunch of increasingly specialized skill-sets. Beyond that, the same tendencies seem to be still at work; the pendulum of critical and popular taste swings back and forth between the usual extremes of complexity vs. simplicity, clean vs. dirty, computerized vs. handmade, etc. In the future we’re still just hoping to see the same thing that has always delighted and inspired human beings – exciting ideas manifested in beautiful ways.

Format: What’s next for Rinzen?
Rinzen: We closed out 2007 with a some far flung conference appearances, workshops, and one extremely yellow exhibition, so at present we’re recharging the batteries and looking to make an assault on 2008 with hopefully more of absolutely everything, including the long-awaited (or should that be long-delayed?) Rinzen retrospective mega-publication. Fingers crossed!

More Info: http://www.rinzen.com/


Carmel Hagen

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