Liza Enebeis: Curious creative director
‘Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the world feels more united. This may be a trigger in the future for how we can be more unified and achieve results as a world collective.’
Liza Enebeis is the creative director at Studio Dumbar and an initiator of DEMO, the Design in Motion Festival. Dumbar (now part of Dept) is an award-winning international agency with a Dutch heritage (see Eye nos. 1 and 19), focusing on ‘visual branding’. Enebeis is involved with all Dumbar’s leading projects, including the visual identity for NGO Alzheimer Nederland, Transavia airlines and the ‘brand refresh’ of the Van Gogh Museum. An MA Design graduate from the Royal College of Art in London, Enebeis worked in David Hillman’s team at Pentagram London for several years before joining Studio Dumbar. In 2004 she co-founded the podcast station Typeradio.org with Donald Beekman and the type foundry Underware. Typeradio (see Eye 98), co-hosted by Enebeis and Beekman from the beginning, has an archive of more than 500 informal, entertaining interviews with type designers, typographers and designers, all of which are available for free download. In 2018 Enebeis was elected a member of the international design association AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale).
Eye Does the term graphic design still work for you? Does it describe what you do?
Liza Enebeis I’ve been thinking about this, and recently I searched online and found ‘What do we call ourselves now?’, by Steven Heller [Eye 63, 2007], which was exactly what I needed. Graphic no, design yes. ‘Graphic’ is too narrow. Studio Dumbar has undergone some big changes and we are now part of Dept, an agency that focuses on everything digital. You can see how much it’s really pushed us to think further. In the past few years our way of working has transformed, from one designer working in isolation, to working in a team that is a combination of a motion designer, a sound designer, a type designer, a visual designer and a creative coder. Our project output has also changed. The majority of projects begin with motion, and we also design our own tools. Technology has really influenced the way we design and what we design.
‘Amersfoort’, one of Studio Dumbar’s ‘Cities in Motion’ animated displays commissioned by Exterion Media and seen at DEMO (Design in Motion Festival), Amsterdam Central Station, 7 November 2019.
Top. Portrait of Liza Enebeis by Philip Sayer.
You work as part of a big, mainly digital agency, but you have always been involved in public-spirited projects in support of the design community, such as Typeradio, your ‘agony aunt’ column Letters to Love Liza, the Instagram account Books Love Liza and now DEMO, the Design
in Motion festival. Why do you do this?
I do Typeradio because I love to ask questions. I am curious – and I have had that since I was a child. I used to make ‘pretend radio’, so when the chance came by, I had to do it. With DEMO it’s exciting that we can share the work, find a voice for everyone and share it in a public space. In a way, this is also part of my role in the studio – directing and guiding the other designers without preconceptions and preconditions.
But I guess the underlining idea with anything I do, whether I work with designers in the studio, or on DEMO or Typeradio, is really about exposing and showing the best of design to a bigger public. With DEMO I saw the potential of outdoor media and simultaneously realised that we see so much beautiful work in a very isolated way. It came from the urge to put the two together.
Posters for independent string orchestra Amsterdam Sinfonietta, 2018, which echoes the animated music graphics Dumbar makes for the ensemble.
Has Typeradio advanced (or changed) your understanding of design and typography?
I think it definitely made me appreciate type designers – I admire anyone who chooses to take this path. It’s an example of extreme dedication. Typeradio is more about the person than the work itself.
These extra activities must have been very time-consuming. Have you ever had moments when you wished you had done something different?
If you enjoy what you are doing time is irrelevant. I am also completely convinced that time does not exist, though not everyone shares this opinion. It’s the only way I can explain why one day feels short and the next too long.
Brand identity for Jeugfonds Sport & Cultuur, a foundation for youth engagement with sports and culture, 2018.
And while we’re talking about Typeradio, do you have any rituals?
Ha ha. I enter a plane with my right foot. I need to put everything in order before I start any task – whether it’s to have breakfast or start working. I don’t wear colour – I am convinced it will bring me bad luck.
While talking to other designers for this issue, several have touched on concerns such as mental health, the lack of diversity within design, climate change …
Almost every conversation or concern you listed has come up in the last few years between friends and colleagues. Most topics are not only designer ‘issues’ but topics that reflect our current state. We don’t all, though, collectively share the same concerns. We have all been living in our own centre of the universe, and what is important to one person seems irrelevant to another.
VBMS wordmark on a publication for the firm formerly known as VSMC (Visser and Smith Marine Contracting), 2015. Dumbar worked with this leading offshore power cable installation company to devise a new name: VBMS (Volker Wessels Boskalis Marine Solutions). Dumbar’s identity design is used throughout the company, from websites and annual reports to sea containers and high-visibility workware.
It might feel like we are all taking action to save the planet but in some countries this is hardly a priority when basic human needs and rights are in question. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the world feels (and acts) more united. This may be a trigger in the future for how we can be more unified in addressing issues and actually achieve results as a world collective. Designers have the power to design and communicate messages in the most effective way.
How did DEMO come about, and how did you make it happen?
The idea started in October 2017 when Studio Dumbar took part in a poster exhibition. We are increasingly digital, apart from some posters, like the ones we do for the Amsterdam Sinfonietta. We had the idea for a more ‘organic’ exhibition, to show motion graphics work, some of which goes into these OOH [out of home] terminals, but also the sort of work you never see – including experiments outside client work – unless it’s on Instagram. We thought it would be great to do an exhibition not just for other designers, but in a public space like a railway station. If you do something like this in a gallery space, it’s still just speaking to your peers. Our partnership with Exterion Media was crucial to the success of the project. It began when Art Directors Club Netherlands asked me to give a talk to advertising agencies that worked on OOH installations and I realised that much of the work you see on these screens doesn’t consider the public space or the medium itself: what you see on your mobile is repeated on OOH. Yet designers and advertisers can really influence our environment. As Willem Sandberg [see Eye 25] said: ‘Look at your city and where you put your advertising.’
Why so serious, 2019, by Pia Osterloh from Gütersloh in Germany, currently studying design in Hamburg. Her first degree was in economics. ‘The task was to create posters for a design manifesto of our choice,’ Osterloh says. ‘Design should not take itself too seriously.’
Miradas Espectrales, 2019, by Simon François. The design was originally made for the cover of a book by Mexican curator Andrea Ancira García on ‘spectral figures’, her name for certain techniques within contemporary photography. François says that he always animated when he works on static images because he finds that motion offers ‘space for randomness’ and happy accidents.
The presentation highlighted how important OOH screens are in our society and how they make up the visual fabric of a city. It included inspiring examples of how to make a difference. In the audience were two people from Exterion, who said they would like to talk further with us. So we asked them if they would like to get involved in the idea of a festival, and they said ‘yes’. It’s not that current-day moving adverts are badly done. But the medium needs to mature. In one of my talks about design I say that you need to be aware of the context. You can’t design the same thing for your phone that you put into the city. It is possible to find better
ways to communicate if we approach these screens differently. It could be art, as in Times Square with artists such as Barbara Kruger and Rafaël Rozendaal.
Did DEMO meet your expectations?
Yes, there was an unbelievable response from everyone who participated.
Has it helped create a community?
The community was already there. What DEMO did was give it a public platform and inspire more designers to take their next steps in motion, which is why we also invited art schools to participate.
DEMO identity and ‘Cities in Motion’. Exterion Media commissioned Dumbar to design motion screens that show the name of the city for train stations in the Netherlands. The custom variable typeface changes according to a DrawBot script (written in Python) that animates every word. The letters move constantly in the changing framework of the grid, and each character is designed for vertical and horizontal setting.
What gave you the greatest satisfaction?
The day itself when all the screens switched from advertising to motion design and the impact it had on the station and our surroundings. No advertising for 24 hours in one of the Netherlands’ busiest hubs was impressive. We were overwhelmed and honoured that so many people travelled from abroad (as far as Brazil and Japan) to see the festival and we finally met heroes we only knew via Instagram.
Did anything surprise you about the experience?
What struck us was that the dynamics of the station changed – people were standing still watching OOH screens instead of running to catch trains.
What are your ambitions for the future of the DEMO festival?
Our hope is to make this a sustainable and recurring festival that we can organise in different parts of the world.
Design in Motion Festival
On Thursday 7 November 2019 the 80 screens normally used for OOH (out of home) advertising in Amsterdam Central Station displayed no advertisements for a continuous 24-hour period. Instead they showed motion work by designers from around the world for the first DEMO (Design in Motion Festival). DEMO was made possible by a partnership with OOH company, Exterion Media.
Morning Walk (2018) by Roy Terhorst of Dutch studio Thonik (see Eye 99). ‘The printed poster is simply the still form of an animation,’ says Terhorst. ‘In these walking cubes, only the bottom one is animated in its rotation, the top one is reacting to it, using the bottom cube as a motor. Together they can walk forever.’
The curators – Studio Dumbar creative director Liza Enebeis, plus Dutch interdisciplinary designer Koos Breen and Swiss motion designer Xavier Monney – invited students, studios and motion designers worldwide to submit their work.
They selected the best examples – 400 works out of 2738 entries from 70 countries – to display on Exterion’s screens. In addition, the Dumbar team organised talks about motion design at the station’s Royal Waiting Room and set up a DEMO info kiosk next to Lil’ Amsterdam. DEMO’s intention was to show good work in a constantly changing festival experience witnessed by both invited guests and passers-by. Photos by Aad Hoogendoorn for DEMO.
John L. Walters, editor of Eye, London
First published in Eye no. 100 vol. 25, 2020