Interview: Design by Toko | Yellowtrace


Whether or not you’re consciously aware of this – if you live in Sydney – the chances are you will know the work of . Their graphics are currently pasted all over City of Sydney hoardings (I walk past one every day on my way to the studio), and their work, varied in scale, can often be experienced throughout the design realm which most of us occupy. I’ve personally admired Michael & Eva for as long as I can remember (Nick and I often say – God, they’re good), so it’s quite shocking it’s taken six years of running this site to pay our respect to their highly-considered approach and super-clean aesthetic of militant precision.

At their essence,  is a graphic studio producing thoughtful and contemporary solutions in the varied domain of commerce and culture. From concept, design to realisation, the studio offers a full creative service within branding, digital, spatial and print design. Since it’s inception in 2001, the studio has worked on a wide range of projects in equally as many industries. Small-scale to monumental, local to global, start-up or established, it is the studio’s pursuit to discover the ultimate potential of a project or brief, resolving each design task with clarity, creativity and authenticity.

You just wait till you read this interview because these guys are ‘the shit’ (translation for non-Aussies – ‘they are the real deal’) and I guarantee you will love them.


Circuit Wine New Zealand, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
Identity and packaging design for Circuit wine from the beautiful hill sides of Waipara Valley, North Canterbury New Zealand.

Taylor Art Book, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
Book sleeve for the photographic portfolio of Juliet Taylor. Handmade and individually poured using two tones of coloured resin that reflect the colour pallet of Juliet’s intriguing photographs.


+ Hello Michael & Eva, welcome to Yellowtrace and thank you for taking the time to e-chat with us. Could you please give us a quick introduction on yourselves? When did you first decide you wanted to become graphic designers, how did you meet, and what path led you to where you are today?

We are founders and creative directors of Design by Toko and . Design by Toko is a graphic design studio creating contemporary design solutions in the varied domain of commerce and culture. We build brands and identities, design books, campaigns, signage and exhibitions, develop websites and brand strategies. Toko’s clients include , , , , , Future City and many many more.

The Print Gallery is our new venture and sells limited edition serigraphs, screen prints and lithographs. The primarily vintage and very rare works are acquired from auctions, galleries and collectors worldwide. The style pays homage to minimalism, op and pop-art, concrete kunst, hard-edge zero and late modernism. We hope to offer a more affordable alternative to the general art gallery and provide access to exciting artists and movements rarely seen in Australia.

We met at the Academy of Fine Art and Design in Breda, The Netherlands, in the late nineties. Toko was established in Rotterdam in 2002 after several valuable years at agencies in the USA and Netherlands. We relocated to Sydney in 2006 and run Toko from our office in Rushcutters Bay with a compact, dedicated and very talented team.


Cult Exhibition, Cult Exhibition Chair, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace by Toko | Yellowtrace

Cult Exhibition, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
Branding & exhibition design for Charity event by Cult & Republic of Fritz Hansen which saw 20 Australian Creatives Reinvent the Series 7 Chairs.


+ What are you seeking to portray in your work? Is there something that is fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your process?

We approach every project from a conceptual point of view. We are not at all interested in latest trends and creative fluff. So fundamentally you could say our work is minimal. We prefer to call it honest. Our output is honest, sometimes very direct but always a surprise. A surprise for us and the client and that’s how we like it. Although we seek simplicity we do not mind a more elaborate approach if it serves a purpose and adds creative/conceptual value or evokes a particular reaction. We try to evolve as creatives and stay clear from a world obsessed by referencing ‘others’ fuelled by blogs and search (image) engines.


Print Gallery, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace

Print Gallery, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace


+ How do you go about establishing a concept and an overall direction/ look & feel for a project? Do you have a particular process you follow?

The process is relatively straight forward. A workshop or creative brief will provide us with enough fuel to research and discover the, hopefully, ultimate potential of a project. The look and feel is only a small part of the process and is organically dictated by the concept and never a preconceived aesthetic idea. So yes – form follows function.


AGDA Poster Tasmania, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
Invitation and poster design for creative industry event ‘AGDA Extra Bold Extended’ in Hobart, Tasmania.

Sydney Design, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
Sydney Design poster.


+ Who or what are some of your influences? What other designers and creative’s in general do you admire?

We actively try not to get influenced, but art is our ultimate source. Art is open for interpretation unlike design (any design). Design has a purpose and is therefore specific (well, it should be) and is therefore not a great influencer. That said, amazing architecture does make us happy. We admire people like , , , , and , but that’s only a small selection.


CH33 Chairity, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
Charity event by Cult and Carl Hansen + Søn. Toko was selected as one of 14 designers reinterpreting the Hans J. Wegner CH33 chair.


+ What are some of your methods to staying motivated, focused and expressive? And your top 3 main sources of inspiration and references you are drawn to regularly?

We need no methods to stay motivated. We love what we do and our ambition keeps us going. We find inspiration in art and therefor read many artist books and visit galleries and museums as much as we can. We have no ‘go to’ inspirational sources and prefer it like that.

If we would have to name a source of inspiration it is probably our plethora of conversations, (preferably with a glass of wine in our hands). Having passionate discussions about ideas, aspirations, ambitions and anything else that keeps us going.


Chen Lu Identity, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace

Chen Lu Identity, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
Chen Lu’s brand Identity.


+ What do you feel is the most challenging part of being a graphic designer today? If you could change one thing about your industry, what would it be?

There are several challenges facing graphic designers today.

Everybody is a designer. We salute clients who appreciate and understand the value of good design and what it can do for them. We are as good as our clients. Unfortunately these clients are hard to find and it is not getting easier.

Reference culture. The ease in which creatives ‘borrow’ from colleagues is shocking and one of our most profound frustrations about the creative industry. Reference culture is really hurting the industry on many levels.

Accessibility. Creativity is not allowed to grow and mature. Accessibility allows immediate adaptions and ‘borrowing’ creating rapid trends that disappear even faster.

The introduction of accreditation (like architecture) for the design industry is something we would like to see introduced. Basically some law and order.


Courtesy of the artist identity, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace

Courtesy of the artist identity, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
Logo and identity for Courtesy of the Artist.


+ What advice would you have to emerging designers who want to follow your path? What was some of your biggest lessons learned since starting your practice?

So, so many lessons. Running a business is about running a business, and not so much about creativity.


Danish Design Exhibition Branding, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
Danish Design Exhibition Branding.


+ What are you most proud of professionally? And what has been your favourite project so far?

We are probably most proud of the fact that we have been able to practise design, independently, as Toko for almost 15 years. The fact that we do what we love and are able to work with amazing people without selling our soul is pretty amazing. We are proud of the fact that we have been producing creative, conceptual and sometimes challenging work by sticking to our philosophy and creative heritage.

Our favourite project is a project with Anthony Burke and Gerard Reinmuth as the creative team responsible for the Australian Exhibition at the 13th Venice International Architecture Biennale – the world’s most important architectural event. The complexity and scope made this project our most challenging to date.


Biennale di Venezia Exhibition, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
Biennale di Venezia exhibition and identity design.

Kingspan Branding Print, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
Kingspan branding and spatial design.


+ Any interesting/ funny/ quirky facts you could share with us about your work and what you do?

Getting calls for take away food and/or reservations – mistaking us for the amazing Toko restaurant… Only happened a couple of times but always hilarious.

+ What’s next – can you share with us your vision and some of your goals?

We are currently working on some very exciting projects e.g. several publications, several identities, an exhibition, the revamp of a chair, websites and an interior. The diversity of the projects is what we enjoy and is what we will actively pursue in the future. We are also working on a new Print Gallery show here in Sydney.


Ride Walk Campaign, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
Sydney Ride / Walk Campaign concept and design for the City of Sydney.

City of Sydney Hoarding, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
City of Sydney arwork and identity design.


Let’s get real:

+ If I was not a graphic designer, I would be…

Michael: Architect.
Eva: Artist or Vet.

+ Your most treasured belonging?

Michael: Eva and Pip.
Eva: My little family, photos and memories of our many travels & adventures.

+ What’s the best mistake you have ever made?

Michael: Moving to Australia (a mistake according to friends in The Netherlands when we informed them about our plan).
Eva: Besides moving to Australia, going to the academy of art, according to my grandparents the end of my otherwise decent future.

+ What’s one thing other people may not know about you?

Michael: I am taller than I look.
Eva: I am feistier then I look.

+ It’s not very cool, but I really like…

Michael: Pink.
Eva: Visualising data.


Long Story China, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
On invitation of the China International Design competition and exhibition at the Capital Museum of China in Beijing, Toko created a monumental 4,716 page book, celebrating each Dragon year since it’s origins (2697 BCE).

Parramatta Signage, Deign by Toko | Yellowtrace
Centenary Square Parramatta Signage.


[Images courtesy of . Photography credits noted.]


About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

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