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Greatmade: ‘How can we design something unique without a custom lettering or type?’

Specialists in creating typography from scratch, Greatmade are pushing the boundaries of design with their illustrative style and hands-on traditional print techniques.

Greatmade is a collaborative creative studio, the work of designer Michael Schinköthe and illustrator Stefan Kowalczyk. Their unique style combines illustrative digital design with ‘old school’ print techniques like letterpress, lino-cut and silk-screen printing to take typographic design and branding to a new level.

Micha and Stefan’s passion for experimentation is evident in their wildly diverse projects, they seem as at home creating a ‘top to bottom’ design for a basketball shop as they do creating animated video installations and custom fonts. As they are also adopters of both Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo, we couldn’t wait to take a look ‘behind the scenes’ at their studio and process…

Can you explain a little bit about what you do and how Greatmade came into existence?

Stefan: Our intention is to do what we like, cast our skills together and create something great out of it. At Greatmade we do communication design with focus on a working experience across all media. Generally, it all starts with a collective conceptualisation process. For the final implementation, we use our personal capabilities in graphic & type design as well as illustration. But depending on the nature of the project, we partner up with our network for relevant crafts and other disciplines like architecture or programming.

Micha: Greatmade was founded back in 2010 as a blend of illustration and lettering. We still love to figure out exceptional solutions, combining the craft we developed after all this time.

What skills do each of you bring to the team?

Micha: I would consider myself as a multidisciplinary designer, I just can’t resist digging into any subject and finding a solution. Sure, there is a certain passion for everything related to glyphs but lately it became more an obsession with characters.

Stefan: I started as an illustrator, but through our collective process I found myself interested in conceptualizing projects and products. Now I’m going a bit deeper into animation but still love the analog illustration process.

Your studio is a really hands-on space, can you talk us through what equipment you have in the studio for print and design?

Micha: At the moment there is no ‘heavy’ printing equipment within our studio because we are located in the 3rd floor of a former residential building, but we have access to an old ‘Heidelberger Tiegel’ and a ‘Korex’. Both letterpress printing machines are located at different spots in our city. For silkscreen printing we generally use the studio of a friend. She is located in Leipzig. So, depending on our projects we leave the office for some days and go on printing vacation.

Within our studio we have a lot of ‘light’ hardware for linoleum printing, a basic inkjet equipment and a foil cutter for tiny textile productions. Not to mention tons of pens and brushes, a tiny photo studio and a good library filled with printed resources, same as a great art book collection. Last but not least, there are some desks for ‘analog’ work and two digital workspaces.

As it turns out we are going to leave the current office space in 2018. Therefore, we hope to gather all of our printing hardware around us in the new studio.

Your branding and typographic work is so striking, where does your passion for fonts and lettering come from?

Stefan: I guess, this one is up to Micha.

Micha: I love the complexity but at the same time the simplicity of letter shapes. I never believed in creating a brand using an existing typeface even if there was no budget. How can we design something unique without a custom lettering or type? There is no way, at least not for me.

“How can we design something unique without a custom lettering or type? There is no way, at least not for me.”

We love your silkscreen printed t-shirt designs and letterpress designs, is there something about seeing your work printed in this traditional, analog way (as opposed to digitally) that you love?

Micha: Traditional print techniques come with a variety of happy accidents, flaws and restrictions. And those often-considered shortcomings are enrichments to me because they add character to a print. By the end of the day, we simply get the feeling to have created something, something we as designers have lost with all the technology around us.

Stefan: Therefore, we try to be aware of analog processes and techniques, we see them as a powerful resources in our tool palette for crafting designs. Even if there is a digital outcome in the end it is good to have a knowledge of traditional techniques.

Lino printing
Silkscreen printing
Explain a bit about your printing processes. How do you take your digital designs from the computer to letterpress or silkscreen?

Micha: This is gonna be be very technical, so let me try to boil it down. Both letterpress and silkscreen drafts need to be drawn or painted directly on the overlay which will be exposed to light as they use a light sensitive polymer to either create raised surfaces on printing plates or a screen. So, most of the time we are printing our overlays, but you can draw them as well using a black or red ink… you just need to experiment a little and you will figure out the best way for yourself.

Stefan: The fact we love about it is this trial and error experience within the process. Even if the actual design is crafted for this purpose from scratch you can’t plan it completely. In contrast to digital printing you can recalibrate and print again so easily if the outcome does not fit. Often we have to cast printing plates again or cut it out of linoleum to adjust the final result which is kept in darkness till the end. There you will get things you never expected so you simply have to live with it.

Designs for the Stifflers basketball brand by Greatmade
Your design work for the Stifflers basketball store is incredible, explain a bit about this project to us and what it was like being able to design a store ‘top to bottom’ as you put it?

Stefan: René and Daniel from Stifflers saw our work at a local exhibition so they decided to let us develop the brand for their idea of a basketball/fashion store. They got in touch with us and proved themselves exceptionally open minded.

Micha: I would describe it as a very rare chance we had there. First of all, you need a client who has complete trust in you and is willing to explore and learn with you as you create the experience they are going to have. It’s a demanding but very rewarding way of solving a huge pile of problems. We had to get ourselves dirty, and there is nothing better than this.

Stefan: Exactly, it is great to develop a project like this and explore together what is needed to make a brand work. While working for Stifflers we had to come up with a visual language over a diverse range of media. It started with basic corporate identity elements, marketing materials and concluded in two store concepts and a shirt collection. Often clients have a list of designable things in mind and expectations, but in this case we focused on the experience and started designing things from there…

You’ve worked on a hugely diverse range of client projects. What has been your favourite commission so far?

Micha: No favourites so far… they are all nice.

Stefan: Yeah, we just have nice clients. And its really nice because they are all different. On one day you are in a long-term animation project, the next day you draw a gig poster or finalise a lettering. Then a local shop asks for a unique identity and you are in something completely different. We prefer to work with a client instead of working for him, and usually we do agree on this condition before we start a project.

Does your creative process differ between client commissions and creating your own artwork?

Stefan: I think the creative process is nearly the same. Of course, while doing our own stuff we don’t have challenging modification requests, which occurs naturally during client work. And the deadlines don’t have to be so tight. But I’m not sure if this is a real advantage.

Micha: To be honest, I believe we should treat our own projects the same way we treat our commissioned work.

Letterpress posters
What would be your dream commission?

Stefan: Its always great to work on projects or designs products we are related to. Creating things which encounter us in our daily life, on the way to work, in school or somewhere else in our environment. If design work is more than nice-to-have, delivers a message, and solves problems then it’s a commission I dream of.

Micha: Using my skills to help, educate, amuse or simply to inspire.

What or who has inspired you over the years?

Micha: Certainly there were guys like: David Carson, House Industries, Büro Destruct etc.

Stefan: Oh, there are many. I definitely celebrate Leyendecker, Rockwell, Mucha and Moebius. And artists like James Jean, Jeremy Fish and Jan van der Veken.

You’ve recently started to use Affinity Photo and Designer, how did you discover them and what inspired you to try them?

Micha: To be honest I was looking for an alternative as simple as this… over the last two decades I have been using Corel Draw, Freehand, Illustrator & Affinity Designer in this order… so I was very keen on trying the next thing.

Stefan: I remember Micha showed me the launch video about Affinity Designer and we took the chance to try it out. Compared to other tools we use there were some interesting innovation in performance and interface. In cases such as this, it’s like using a new pen. You try it out and if it fits, it’s a match made in heaven.

What has impressed you about the Affinity range so far and what aspects would you recommend to other designers thinking of making a switch?

Stefan: The thing I like the most is performance… even if you have a huge file with a lot of layers and many adjustments, the brush goes fluently. Secondly, the Affinity solution handles some things in a more clever way than some of its counterparts. Often you don’t realise what’s wrong or awkward in a software until you see an alternative that’s better designed.

“Often you don’t realise what’s wrong or awkward in a software until you see an alternative that’s better designed.”

Micha: I was amazed by the performance and the way you can apply and combine effects. By the way I love the Split Screen option.

Overall would you give the Affinity range a thumbs up or thumbs down?

Stefan: Thumbs up, both of them.

Micha: Sure, thumbs up. Still waiting for a layout solution.

You can view more of Stefan and Micha’s work online at