Not starting over.
Mirko Borsche is busy. The designer and his studio in Munich, Bureau Mirko Borsche, tackle creative work for a myriad of clients, from art magazines to sports- wear brands and opera houses. When juggling so many tasks and ideas, a lot of creative agencies in the busi- ness blindly produce works, only to have them rejected by their clients upon presentation. But Mirko hates to start over. In our interview, he explains how he avoids just that, how his hometown, Munich, provides a con- stant stream of inspiration, and he tells us what’s even more important to him than his work.
Interview by Anna Peuckert
Photography by Søren Jepsen
Tell us about what you are working on right now.
Right now, we are working on Kaleidoscope and Spike, two very different art magazines. Spike is published in Berlin and Vienna, and Kaleidoscope is from Milan. We’re also tackling a project for Nike Basketball with Lebron James and just finished our work on Tush, a beauty magazine. Apart from that, we are responsible for Zeit Magazin every week, the magazine in- cluded in German newspaper Die Zeit, as well as occasionally taking care of Die Zeit as well. These two projects are our ongoing work. We are also responsible for the new identity of Neue Sammlung museum in Munich and just finished the work for the Bavarian state opera’s upcoming season.
How do you approach a new project?
We try to talk with the client a lot. I am not someone that sits down and just starts to create. I’m much more interested in the content and concept of what the company wants to achieve; where they want to be positioned; what they want to achieve in the next years. Then I’m super keen to find out what they ac- tually like. I focus on their taste, not mine. What I try to get out of these conversations is to see whether we could be good partners or if they just came to us because someone referred them. So I see if they know our works and if they have any idea of what direction they want to move. Before we even start the work, I try to answer all the questions that might come up during the process, the strategic goals and all the other things. And then we sit down and I start the first draft phase. We as a team here at the office play around with a lot of ideas and try many different things. In the end, the cli- ent only gets presented one or two, a maxi- mum of three different drafts that we like.
And you all work together on this?
Yes, for a short amount of time we all will work on this one thing together. In the end, we pick the one to three ideas that are the best and then it’s the people who came up with these that finish the outlines. I go back to the client and present this one idea, or maybe two or three. We do it a bit differently to other agencies: These proposals are in a very early stage, I mainly use them to see whether I un- derstood what the client is looking for and if I managed to translate that into our work. I real- ised that people tend to panic when you
present them with a finished product and they get a feeling that they can’t influence the out- come anymore. I hate to have to start over. So I try to avoid this by showing off early stage work, as a basis to discuss where things might be going. If we agreed on an idea, we continue in that direction. We’re not the type of office that shows up at your door every three months after a phase of creative radio silence with a whole bag of new ideas. We send pdfs con- stantly and we talk constantly. So the client is completely involved in the process.
This is something that is important to you?
Absolutely! As you can see, we are a small of- fice. We have our own idea what design is, but what we don’t want to have is one very dis- tinct design language that we apply to every client. To avoid that and to keep our products as diverse as they need to be we need the client with all his interference and objections to make each work unique.
Still, is there a specific Bureau Mirko Borsche aesthetic?
There are definitely similarities in the imagery and in the way we utilise typography, but I’m convinced that our projects look very differ- ent to a layman. And that is super important! Especially if you have clients from the same field. We produce three different art maga- zines, for example, two of them direct com- petitors, and we want to make sure that they don’t cannibalise the other’s readership.
Do you turn down clients because you feel they wouldn’t be a good t for you?
Yes, a lot. And that works both ways. Many cli- ents also realise we aren’t the right agency for them and move along. We easily get 40 to 50 requests per year that don’t work out in the end for this reason. Other agencies would probably decide to stick with them, no matter the circumstances, but that doesn’t work for us. It’s a bit brutal, because once you turn someone’s work down, chances are they won’t approach you a second time.
Has this always been the way you worked?
It evolved. My background is in mainstream advertising, and there I witnessed for eight years how you can chum up to clients and just force the creative process. Lock the crea- tive team in for three months and at the end you presented to the client. Depending on how daring the idea was you ended up with an 8% chance that the client would move along with your proposal. In the end, I just didn’t want to work for the trash can any- more, throw out three months of work over and over again because the clients didn’t ap- prove. It wastes way too much energy and money.
In the end, that must lead to happier clients as well.
People ask me a lot how I manage to sell all those »crazy ideas« to our clients. First off, I re- ally don’t think our ideas are that crazy, they always fit the brief. It’s an antiquated graphic designers’ idea to label something as »crazy« just because you approach it differently to everybody else. And secondly, I always argue that I don’t have to sell anything to anyone, we develop these ideas together with the clients,
they are collaborations. Sometimes I hear a cli- ents’ input and absolutely hate it. But we take them seriously, and sometimes this stupid idea ends up taking the whole concept to an- other level.
Where do you find inspiration?
That’s hard to say. In the end, it all comes down to my private life. For a long time, no- body cared about graphic designers. That has changed tremendously in the past five to six years. I’m sure that will change again soon, like all things do, but at the moment, my job has put me in the spotlight quite a bit. So my private life is very important to me.
What role does Munich play in that?
Munich is the most important thing for me. People just assume that I am based in Berlin, and it couldn’t be farther from the truth. A gi- ant contrast to Berlin that I enjoy so much is that people here are extremely friendly. Mu- nich is a rather small city, I can go anywhere by bike, I know my way around, and I never get bothered. In Berlin, I get approached all the time, lots of people are asking to work for me. That never happens here. And I am a nature lover. In winter I go skiing and in summer I go to a lake or lay down at the shore of the Isar riv- er. Our whole office goes down there in our lunch break and we have a swim. Life takes place outside in Bavaria. I love my job, and I am very happy that I can earn my money doing the thing I love, but I’m not so obsessed with de- sign that I will let it ruin my private life.