Luc Benyon

Knie – Designing The Circus

Luc Benyon
Knie – Designing The Circus

Around a month ago, the streets of Zurich received a breath of fresh air with the arrival of new posters for Knie Circus. The circus has a rich design heritage, as we'll find out, and so design studio Pol, along with illustrator Gregory Gilbert-Lodge, had a lot to live up to.


Luckily, they've certainly made the most contemporary poster for the circus in some time.


It's bright and vibrant, with an illustration that just keeps giving. The colour choices couldn't be more 2016. The type is playful with its cheeky angle and in the way in tucks behind the hounds-tooth clad clown. Most importantly, it makes you want to go to a night under the big top. 


I got in touch with Juliane Wolski and Marc Zenhäusern at Pol to see if they'd like to talk about the poster. Whilst making sure to give due credit to Gregory Gilbert-Lodge, they gave us some great insight into the creation of this magical design.

First of all could you Introduce Pol, what's your approach?
Pol is a design studio, founded 10 years ago and based in Bern.

Today's composition consists of Juliane Wolski and Marc Zenhäusern. We mainly work in the cultural field and in close collaboration with artists, museums and cultural institutions.

We offer idea driven and content-focused design solutions for likeminded clients from start-ups to small enterprises and across a wide range of disciplines, including art direction, identity design, editorial design, book design, web design, scenography and exhibition design.

We see graphic design as a craft and we always try to achieve the highest possible quality, by paying attention to the details and having a strong focus on content and typography.

The Knie Circus poster recently caught our eye in Zurich.  Can you explain the existing Knie identity?
Circus Knie has always worked with different designers and illustrators for their posters. The current logo-type was designed in the late 1940s and became the only consistent corporate element since the 1980s.

Circus KNIE poster 2016, F24, Zürich #gregorygilbertlodge #illustration #poster #knie #circusknie #circus #atelierpol

A photo posted by Gregory Gilbert-Lodge (@gregorygilbertlodge) on

The current poster is fantastically striking, and has caught everyone's attention. What was the brief from the circus to Gregory Gilbert Lodge?
In this year’s programme David Larible, one of the world’s most famous clowns, is not only the main act but literally leads the spectators through the entire show. It was the client’s request to have a whole-body illustration of Larible as the key visual of the identity.

As using the clown as the motif was the main brief from the Circus, we only wanted to make sure it set itself apart from the 2014 issue where Larible was the key visual too.

#circusknie #knie2016 #knie #smile #premiere #davidlarible

A photo posted by Circus Knie - Cirque Knie (@circusknie) on

It was a personal goal to make it look like an “old classic” (like the designs from Herbert Leupin, Eugène Fauquex and Hans Falk). We especially wanted it to feel more reduced than the previous versions, while tweaking it with modern elements to become a contemporary poster design.

Why do you think illustrator Gregory Gilbert Lodge approached you?

Gregory Gilbert-Lodge has been a close friend for years, and we’ve worked with him on various projects. 

We make a great team having a very similar taste in design and the same demands. We think that working in a team was the right decision for this project.

What role does typography play, and how do you ensure a balance between type and illustration?

In close collaboration with Gregory Gilbert-Lodge we made sure the clown interacts with the logo type, while trying to display the logo as prominent as possible. 

There were so many different formats and locations to place the posters So we chose to leave a lot of space and use a warm, cautious colour for the background, and use a friendly, yet highly readable typeface (GT Pressura from Grilli Type) for the locations.

What was the process of coming to the final design like? Do you have any images of ones that didn't make the cut?

The brief was very clear, and because we had only very little time for the initial design process, the basic arrangement was found rather quickly. 

There were a few tests where the houndstooth pattern was used for the background, but basically it was the fine–tuning of the very minimalistic typography that had to be discussed over and over again with the client.

Besides the size of the sponsoring logos, the colour of the background was the only point that didn’t come to an agreement throughout the Knie family.

I've seen an online video of the posters being screen-printed. Are these for sale?

Yes! The famous silk screen printer Serigraphie Uldry printed these and they are available in the web shop of Circus Knie.


How does it feel seeing people's reactions to the posters around town and on social media?

Marvellous! We’ve gotten lots of positive feedback to the design and everyone who knows David Larible could tell that it’s him on the poster. They literally travel through entire Switzerland with the circus until the end of November, which is amazing!

You guys have loads on. What's the next project Pol are excited about?

“Bromance and Sisterhood” is a self-initiated exhibition by the Stadtgalerie Bern and the Off space Grand Palais, that we passionately run besides our studio. 

Furthermore we look forward to the Sommerakademie of the Zentrum Paul Klee, wich is guest curated by the renowned artist Thomas Hirschhorn this year. That will take place at the Kunsthalle Bern. We’ve been designing everything from invitations to posters and their annual report for a few years now.

We’re also working on several small book designs, like the publication BePArt, that collects most of the important public art in and around the city of Bern.

And hopefully we get to work on some more exhibition design soon, like we just did for the literature exhibition “Friedrich Glauser – Ce n’est pas très beau” at Strauhof Zurich. We worked closely with the scenographer Simon Husslein for this project and love seeing design and typography come to life in an entire room or exhibition site.