Pedro Ajo and Christopher Noort on the Isolation Nation Shirt and their collaborative practice

Working together at Rotterdam based Studio Dumbar, the two designers Pedro Ajo and Christopher Noort have been collaborating on a regular basis for the last two years. One of those collaborations has been their Isolation Nation Shirt as part of the Arte Antwerp Challenge a few months ago. “I was working at Studio Dumbar already when Pedro did his internship there”, Christopher tells Collide24, “We hit it off directly and I remember being really excited for him finally joining us as a colleague.” When the Belgian label Arte Antwerp launched their competition this year, encouraging people to design their personal shirt design, the two friends spontaneously decided to participate. “We hit on the idea during the beginning of the lockdown, when we were all working from home and barely having any contact with other people outside our own houses”, Pedro explains, “It felt (and still feels) like a really weird and somehow memorable moment in our lives, and we wanted to transform that energy into some sort of designed object.” Aiming at creating a language that would resonate with the current world situation, Pedro and Christopher came up with an ambiguous design that can be seen as a political statement and a parody at the same time.

“A few weeks prior to the competition me and my girlfriend updated our ongoing playlist ‘Bas Lijntjes’”, Christopher tells us, “We went a little overboard on the branding as a little side project. Somewhere in this process I came up with the phrase ‘Isolation Nation’. Pedro liked it and instantly said that we should make a ‘shirt or something’ with it. We kept talking about it and couldn’t really let go of the idea. When Arte announced the challenge we had some context to actually release our concept.” By using an “ultra-corporate language” and fake logos of non-existing organizations, they simulated a political network that seemed to be connected through some sort of invisible, planetary scale collaboration. Although they wanted to address the effect of Covid-19, the shirt should outlast the pandemic in the end. “We wanted to make something that would be still cool to use even after the whole Corona crisis was gone. So we tried to reach an in-between point, to take that concept and make it a bit more abstract so it would last longer on time.”

During the whole design process, the duo had to work very quickly and intuitively – not only because of the tight deadline of the challenge, but also due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. “It was still pretty much at the beginning of the whole Corona thing, so there was this small feeling of ‘we need to be the first ones to make something out of this, and it needs to happen now, because soon it will be too late’”, Pedro states.

Before they met at Studio Dumbar a few years ago, Pedro and Christopher have taken their first steps into the world of graphic design separately. “When I was a kid I grew up doing graffiti, so that has always been a big inspiration. In the last years I’ve been researching a lot about a particular style of graffiti called Pixação, that is endemic from São Paulo”, Pedro tells us, “I find it really fascinating, to the point that I decided to do my graduation thesis about it, and I would love to continue researching further on that topic in the future.” Having Spanish, as well as Brazilian roots, Pedro has always been eager to learn more about identities and nationalities, trying to find the elements in his cultural background and history “that defines you as a person and consequently as a designer.”

After his studies in graphic design in Madrid, Pedro has worked in the industry for several years at various studios and agencies. At some point he decided that it was time to move out of Spain and landed a position a Studio Dumbar in Rotterdam. “That experience really changed my perception of what graphic design was at that time, and it gave me a lot of motivation and strength to keep pushing my practice and trying to become a better designer”, he tell us. Apart from graphic designers like Wim Crouwel, Peter Saville, Eric Hu, Harsh Patel, or David Rudnick, he draws a lot of inspiration from his surroundings – especially from “all my friends and the people that I got to work with so far. They all had a huge influence on the person I am now and helped to shape the way I work, think and understand the world in general.” After several years at Studio Dumbar, Pedro now feels ready to take on a new challenge and become a full-time freelancer in a few months, which “is really exciting, but scary at the same time.”

Christopher has been introduced to the world of graphic design at the young age of 13 – a time when he was very active in the fora and chatrooms of online games. “Underneath your messages was a small section where you could display a message and/or picture. I later found a whole sub community that was purely focused on creating these ‚signatures’”, he explains, “There where competitions, people shared tips and full tutorials, you could get feedback and collaborate with other people. I’ve got super involved and ended up learning a ton of photoshop skills at an early age. From there I’ve never let go. If I look at what I’m making now I think that I still get influenced by this principle of ‘learning and making together’.” Those early steps into the graphic design world led him to studying Graphic Design at the Willem De Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, with a minor in Digital Craft. At the moment, the graphic designer is living and working in The Hague, focusing on branding and identity design at Studio Dumbar. “The first half year at Studio Dumbar had a bizarre impact on everything I did work wise. Working in such a talented environment comes with its ups and downs”, he reflects, “I started out with a lot of excitement, that quickly turned into doubt and uncertainty (can I keep up the pace, can I handle the pressure, can I design as well as the rest of the team). Eventually I’ve pulled myself out of this and I’m now at a comfortable position.”

As most of their work is commissioned by clients, collaborating on the Arte Antwerp Challenge has been a welcome change from their day-to-day job for Pedro and Christopher. “Having no boundaries, no communicative side goals and no target audience felt like a warm welcome in these weird home bound times. It brought me back to the days in art school and gave room for more daring creative choices”, Christopher tells us, “The project was mostly done out of fun and distraction. The biggest challenge was the deadline to be really honest!” Collaborating with other creatives plays not only an essential role in their own design practice, but is also at the heart of Studio Dumbar’s ethos. “At the studio, collaborations between designers with different abilities and expertises happen constantly. This allows us to take any project to the next level, and achieve results that would be impossible to achieve by working in a more individualistic way”, Pedro states.

Looking into the future, Pedro is currently working as an art director for the Colombia based music label “Insurgentes”. “So far I’m finding it very interesting, and I’m looking forward to continue working with them in the upcoming months. Apart from that, I hope to be developing some more personal projects in the near future, as well as working on the redesign on my website and a few other things”, Pedro tells us about his upcoming projects, and Christopher adds jokingly: “I just hope to survive 2020 mainly, let’s take it from there.”

Pedro Ajo

Christopher Noort

DARKSIDE by Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington

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