Duration: Ten months.
Location: Amsterdam and Utrecht, Netherlands.
Key creatives: Mischa Appel, Michaël Jovanovic and Thomas van de Geest. The three of us met and studied graphic design at the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht (HKU University of the Arts in Utrecht) and graduated in 2018. Before that, Mischa and Thomas studied media and graphic design at the Grafisch Lyceum in Utrecht. Michaël studied graphic design at SintLucas college in Eindhoven, Netherlands, and before that, he attended culinary school.
Career path: Before college, our paths were quite different. One commonality was that we all have creative families, but all three of us had to discover design for ourselves. It was an act of faith that we all chose a career in graphic design; simply doing the things we love led us to each other and to design. While we studied at HKU, we each felt a strong connection to physical—and maybe more traditional—views on graphic design, enjoying how it enabled us to create visual languages, environments and objects.
Upon graduating in 2018, we went our separate ways to work. Mischa and Thomas began working as freelancers for different clients in the cultural and commercial fields, engaging with museums, fashion stores, photographers and music festivals. Michaël started working at the creative agency …,staat in Amsterdam, where he created work for numerous international clients. This period offered us the opportunity to define our own ideas about graphic design and our relationship as a designer to the commercial and cultural arenas. This broad perspective on the creative scene made for the perfect starting point to start a studio together. After working in these separate situations for two-and-a-half years, we founded HouseTMM in March 2020, combining all our practices into one and creating a broad, diverse client base.
Cultural influences: We look at design and art through multiple lenses and different media in our current culture, from modern art museums and galleries to our current Instagram landscape. We’re very aware of the different areas in which art manifests itself, drawing influences from contemporary art, classical and modern graphic design, film, music, fashion, architecture and technology—among others. It sounds like a cliché, but in our current world, with so much to take in, you can’t help but be inspired and motivated by all kinds of creators. We try to engage with this connection to the creative world in every project we take on, knowing that by doing so, we’re adding something to visual culture.
Favorite projects: no thing-ness, a photo book we recently finished with photographer and artist Joost Termeer. Joost also graduated from the HKU the same year as us. We started this project as a collaboration and not a commissioned project, enabling us to art direct and work on all parts of the project, from editing, to concepting, to designing and printing materials. From start to finish, the book is a product of input from both parties involved, and in our eyes, no thing-ness has evolved from a showcase of Joost’s photographs to becoming a completely new piece of its own.
Work environment: Talking about our environment takes on a totally different meaning in today’s climate with the COVID-19 pandemic. As we mainly work from home and are not able to attend any galleries, exhibitions, parties or other cultural hotspots, we find that we focus and put a lot of effort into staying motivated and inspired. Physically, however, it’s fun to work in two different cities and meet new people and clients in both places. While they’re no London or Tokyo, Amsterdam and Utrecht are home to a lot of creative people—and ones with exciting projects. The Netherlands has a rich history in graphic design, and if you apply this to today’s society where you can reach the whole world online, we are in a great position to show off our work and talent and push our studio forward.
Approach: Our signature comes from the way we work together, not necessarily in the way a finished project looks. We start each project by laying out a rigid and clear system based on a few design principles, actions or decisions. Our work has a running thread or justification beneath its surface—even if it doesn’t look the same at first glance. We like creating designs, objects and systems that create themselves after you’ve laid the groundwork.
Aspirations: We aspire to create a studio that becomes a household name in the field of true graphic design: not just a big name that people know because we work with big clients and brands, but a studio that people and creatives appreciate because of the quality of our work and our distinct vision on graphic design. When we went to college, we did not have many studios and practices that truly inspired us. Now we want to become that new practice that inspires students, creatives and artists, and we want to attract clients and collaborators because of this attitude.
Anything else? There’s not a lot of talk about the difficulties of starting a creative practice from scratch, so creatives aren’t aware of what they’re getting into. This can be exciting, as it sometimes feels like you’re on an adventure. But at times, it can also be stressful, as there’s real-life consequences when it doesn’t work out as you’ve planned. We feel very lucky that, so far, we’ve managed to grow and continue to build our studio. But it should be more accepted and encouraged to note the insecurities and uncertainties of starting a business in the creative field while simultaneously having to figure out your finances, as well as where you want your business to go from a creative perspective.