Russian design studio Shuka has unveiled a sexy new visual identity for the London World Chess Championship 2018 that everyone has an opinion about. The new visual shows two players intertwined over a chess board might remind us on a pose from the Karma Sutra. After revealing the new key visual for next year’s flagship event in London it was met with a rather passionate response among grandmasters: Hungarian grandmaster Zsuzsa Polgár questioned whether the racy image was appropriate for children. On the other hand professionals find Shuka’s design contemporary, brainy and super exciting. So in the middle of the catfight we decided to ask the designers themselves about their work.
– Please tell me a few words about you – who’s behind Shuka?
– Shuka Design is a small design studio located in central Moscow. At present, the design team consists of around 10/12 graphic designers and illustrators, according to commitment of work. Most of them graduated from the Moscow State University of Printing Arts, like the founders of the bureau Ivan Velichko and Ivan Vasin. Some joined the team after studying at the British Higher School of Art and Design.
The history of Shuka Design have started from a big project for Sun Microsystems, the company which does no longer exist. It was the work of Ivan Velichko who registered the legal entities registration a long time before we all got together and became who we are now.
– How do you think about graphic design in general? How could you describe Shuka’s philosophy and identity?
– We identify ourselves as an independent design studio. Our method fundamentally differs from network advertising/design agencies, that work with marketing departments of international companies on agreed strategies. Shuka works directly with business owners, although not the owners of global brands, but the leaders of industries. When you work with proprietaries, the big ideas are at stake. Neither you nor the owner is interested in producing the mediocre result. That’s why, if the result is successful the clients stay with us for a long.
Our design process сonsists of two generally accepted stages: conceptual and graphic part. The difference lays in a way we perceive the term ‘design concept’. Inside the studio the phrase is replaced with the word ‘character’, which better describes the result we, as graphic designers want to achieve. Every human being has its own way of thinking, acting and looking. In each of our projects we are trying to create an independent ‘design entity’ with its own rules of being and method of communicating with others.
– Do you have a certain field in graphic design that you prefer?
– We were branding lovers but then discovered there is user experience everywhere so today we work not in concrete field but with a specific approach. Time and project experience show it applies not only to branding stories but also to websites, typography, merchandise and whatever you can think about as a project for design studio.
– After 2016 New York this is the 2nd time you designed the overall visual identity of World Chess Championship. How did you get the job in the first time? Was it obvious that you’re gonna work together in the long run, or was there a new tender that you won this year again?
– Our relationships with World Chess began in 2016. The event agency approached us to create key visuals for World Chess Championship in New York. The event already had key visuals, but they were not related to the city where the Championship was taking place. Our main task was to trigger citizens emotional response, through the new interpretation of universally recognized symbols. Souvenirs with New York images were sold out in large runs. It was beautiful, but quite predictable design case. From that time it became obvious for both sides, that this is just the beginning of our business relationships. Two years later, we were offered to develop key visuals for the next Championship.
– What was the brief and how did you build up the complex key visual?
– The main task which we, as graphic designers had to accomplish was to change the conceptual direction of World Chess visual language to enlarge the target audiences. Our study found, that the younger generation is turned off by the elitism and closed nature of the chess community. Collective brainstorms led us to the idea, that chess is not the ‘game of best minds’, but rather the ‘game of people’.
Even though the chess is one of the most non-contact sports, the mental tension between players during the final match reaches its peak. In our work we attempted to illustrate the emotional aspects of the game, that are familiar to everyone. The two figures, whose bodies are bound together in the picture symbolize that the art of chess is not indifferent to humanism, love and freedom, human emotions.
The key-visual as well send us to availability of this sport. Imagine lovers playing chess, or a grandfather teaching his grandson how to play, friends on a picnic enjoying the game etc.
– I’m not into chess and from this distance I always thought that chess is something really old school, totally conservative and quite aristocratic. Your design gives a completely different definition about chess – like it was something really cool, clever, contemporary, open and stylish. Was it also an articulated expectation towards the design to be so fresh on purpose or did the idea come from you?
– Both. According to the brief we were supposed to come up with a design solution, that will dispel the myths about chess culture and attract the new audience. The client wanted the identity to become more ironic, recognisable and fresh.
– How did the organizers react to your work – was there any doubt or uncertainty or did it just go through straight?
– The key visual was immediately adopted. We had concerns regarding the FIDE’s reaction, but the Federation looked favourably on it. The only thing that we were asked to do was to come up with one more key visual, that will look less controversial. More conservative, if you like. Just in the case after London Tournament Chess Association will be honoured to make a small gift to Queen Elizabeth II, for example. The ‘arms’ illustration supposed to reflect the historical tradition of chess graphic language, that it still carries in itself.
– Are you going to work together next time again?
– If you are talking about an identity project for the World Championship 2019, we don’t have the answer. Nobody knows. That might be produced by another designer or design studio.
– What are you working on right now?
– We have many projects, mainly websites right now and a few branding projects. One of the most wide-scale is Pure. Shuka is complementing the existing identity, working on the web version of Pure Hookup app and the app itself. Parallel to this, we design other Pure services. The most ambitious is probably rebranding of World Chess. We work on the whole organization identity and online-translation site where you can keep an eye on dueling in real time, make predictions and bet.