Go to the portfolio site of Alexander Engzell, founder and executive creative director of Bonne Marque, and you’ll be greeted by a pretty intense intro, followed by an interactive exploration of his work. You’ll also be joined by some energetic music (expletives included).
When PRINT asked its latest Designer of the Week how he’d describe his work, he turned the question back on us. So we journeyed back into his portfolio, where words like “powerful,” “stimulating” and “daring” come to mind. There are strings of beauty and magic in there, too. And most of all, it’s evident that Engzell practices what he preaches—that designers should challenge users under the assumption that they’re smart enough to figure it out.
Engzell’s clients have included Condé Nast, Johnson & Johnson and Volvo. He’s won a hefty number of awards. And on his website, he notes that Mélissa Petrucci describes him as the Kanye West of web design.
We invite you to read on to hear from the creative himself, and form your own opinion. How would you describe his work?
Name: Alexander Engzell
Name of Studio: Bonne Marque
Locations: Plovdiv & Stockholm
Where do you find inspiration?
The creative should be “inspired” by everything with which they come into contact. What is inspiration? It’s a desire to create, a purpose to design. Great design makes me want to create. Bad design makes me want to create. The feeling an underground Japanese hip-hop track gives me makes me want to create. Being bored to death in a business meeting makes me want to create. I can’t think of one instance in life that doesn’t “inspire” me to create. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. Inspiration is my brother.
Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
The guy who designed the plant-pot. That shit is genius. I mean tell me, where would you keep your plants without that design? Nowhere, man. There’d be soil all over the place.
Inspired by a tattooed Yakuza, the eleven-year-old Horiyoshi III visited legendary tattoo artist Yoshitsugu Muramatsu and ultimately became his apprentice [by] age 25. Branded with the honorary title, the man was destined to become a legend. He uses the tebori technique, which is traditional Japanese hand-tattooing. Of his work, he is quoted to have said “The creatures depicted take the person’s breath away once they are on his or her skin—and then the two start breathing together, in unison. Human history alters the look of the animals and plants I paint, and when the person wearing them dies, so too do they.”
French fashion designer and creative director of Balmain, Rousteing is arguably the finest young designer out there right now. Inspired by Asia, which is something that resonates strongly with me, this man’s talent is rare, but his unique creativity also has something to do with his background. His young age and race always made him the minority in his work, so you can only respect him even more. Check out his Instagram. Incredible.
Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
Two stand out.
Involve Digital is a brand that approached us not long after our bold “Born Makers” rebrand of Bonne Marque, which was when we turned into a black-on-black no-nonsense creative agency. They approached us because they saw what we were about and wanted exactly that for their own brand. Having my own brand as the main source of inspiration brought about different challenges than I was used to. There was a tight deadline too. The working process for this project was one I will always remember. Three creatives working with unreal focus for two weeks to complete a complete rebrand and impressive new website for Involve Digital.
The result was so powerful and the working relationship so smooth that Bonne Marque and Involve Digital are now looking to team up permanently, with us being the creative force and them being digital marketing and new business: two sides of the same coin, joined by similar aesthetics, principles and desire to succeed on our own terms.
The second, Hunter Farmer, was a project with which the Bonne Marque team embraced a completely new direction. By unleashing the free talent of our senior art director, we commissioned fine-art pieces and then similarly permitted our writer to retell the brand story of Hunter Farmer into an actual story based on two characters: the hunter and the farmer.
Are you still following? Designing a website around such a strange and bold concept was a genuine test of my reputation as a minimalist designer. I had to bring everything together as much as possible, while at the same time ensuring that the corporate message of Hunter Farmer—[which is] a recruitment agency based in London—was not lost through our fine-art storytelling of a hunter leading a pack of unicorns through the burning streets of London, bringing them to the safe farmland and nurturing them until they are ready for the wild again. This was all about strong branding and treating the audience as though they were intelligent, which I feel is becoming rare in this web design industry that too often spoon-feeds the users everything they need. Our work with Hunter Farmer encourages the user to explore.
Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
Vogue. Designing for such a prestigious and instantly recognizable brand brings its own challenges. Our work with the Condé Nast publication launches Vogue Arabia, an event that will go down in history. I had to create a new and distinct Vogue while retaining the strong branding of classic Vogue, and design an enormous website. The scale of this project was immense and the design the most important in my career so far.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
After a chaotic 2015, I’m beginning to define some clear goals, both professionally and personally. Having Vogue as a client restores my faith once more than big brands can still make bold decisions. I am keen for Bonne Marque to pursue brands of a similar stature and remind them what it was that made them great to begin with. I hope to clean our industry of awards corruption and its unprofessional clique mentally. It’s just a young industry. It needs guidance. Personally, Tokyo is never far from my thoughts. First, a visit during which I will get a full-upper body traditional Japanese tattoo. Secondly, relocating Bonne Marque and fully embracing a new culture.
What’s your best advice for designers today?
You live and die by your work. Imitate great design to learn, yes, but if you want to be treated with respect then ignore trend and focus on making something original. If there’s one certain way of being no one, it’s by trying to be someone else. Be something new, however fucked up that might be.
Additional work from Engzell: