Anka Refghi


The creative jack-of-all-trades – Roger Staub

As a show designer and creative director, Roger Staub has worked in Los Angeles for stars such as Beyoncé, Puff Daddy, Jay-Z and Eminem. Right now, he is once again making a name for himself again with the legendary format «MTV Unplugges» for the musician Stress.

Roger Staub grew up in Thayngen near Schaffhausen. Early on, the trained typographer found himself on the theatre stage, was a bass player in various bands, created projects in the field of stage design and decided to move to Los Angeles in 2006. Success was just around the corner, waiting for him: with his video content design and set design, the creative director has created the gigantic stage shows of superstars such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Maroon5, Duke Dumont and Def Leppard. Since 2018, Roger Staub has been back in Zurich, where he founded his branding agency LoF* and was recently elected a member of the Art Directors Club. For Stress, the musician, he now realised the «MTV Unplugged» session, which was recorded in June in Zurich’s Schiffbau and will be released both as a concert film and album in November.

Roger, let’s dive right into it by discussing one of your more recent coups. You orchestrated and realised the «MTV Unplugged» session in the Schiffbau for Stress, the musician, this summer … what makes this format special?
«MTV Unplugged» means that songs “are performed unamplified” in acoustic form. It is a legendary format that peaked in the 1990s and 2000s with concerts by Björk and Nirvana. After Patent Ochsner, Stress is only the second Swiss artist to receive this honour. In any artist’s biography, this is a milestone, basically a knighthood.

A few words about the cooperation between the two of you …
I met Stress through another project last year and when the request from «MTV Unplugged» came, he asked me whether I would be interested in getting involved here. The common theme is the life story of Andres Andrekson, alias Stress. The pieces were rearranged and the stories were scenographically realised. When the venue was fixed with the Schiffbau, I designed the first renderings for the stage situations. Where does the ten-piece band, the chamber orchestra or the audience sit? I also wanted it not to be a concert stage in the traditional sense, but a theatre set with static lighting and printed back drop, the classic theatrical means you use.

A love of live show staging brought you to Los Angeles in 2006. A courageous step …
Maybe it was brave in retrospect, but it was just the logical decision at the time. It was liberating for me to meet so many like-minded people and I immediately felt at home in these large-scale projects. In Switzerland, we are rather exotic in the field of live entertainment; in LA, everyone is somehow connected to entertainment.

You are known as a quiet and rather reserved person – attributes that are less associated with Hollywood. Did you bring some of the American mindset with you to Switzerland?
I certainly brought some large-scale thinking back with me. What I had to learn was to put aside some of my Swiss restraint. But at the end of the day, these are character traits that you can’t just turn upside down. It is also about remaining authentic.

Looking at your career, your work is very much focused on music …
Music is an important constant in my life. I learned piano, played the bass in my first band and started playing drums 10 years ago. I have a musical understanding that enables me to translate the music into a visual world and my creative understanding tells me whether the song is more «yellow» or «blue». It’s about understanding what’s going on musically and then how you can visually represent this.

What would you describe as your inner driving force, your source of inspiration?
In the end, the concept must above all reflect the personality and vision of the artists. I often find the main inspiration in art and its moods, in its materiality or also in installations. For me, it’s about translating this mood onto the stage situation with other means. But film stills also often inspire me. I try to recreate moods and find it exciting how you can create very different spatial moods by using just small interventions.

Last year you founded your agency LoF*, with which you focus strongly on brand experience and brand exploration. Is experience the magic word of our time?
I think it is, yes. Experience is a major concern for brands. Today, it is much less about a CI/CD manual, but about how one experiences a brand. It is about designing experiential spaces.

So has the spark of experience spread from the stage to the corporate world?
It definitely has. At first, it spilled from the arts onto the concert stages. Today there are many bands that are on stage with some kind of installation. It is often no longer just about the gigantism of large canvases, but about creating entire spaces. This is a trend that brands are also following today. Fashion shows, for example, are massive installations and brand experiences par excellence. Experience is the means to communicate values and make them tangible.

Roger, in conclusion: What’s next?
I’m looking forward to the release of the album! Now it’s also a matter of making this «MTV Unplugged» ready for the tour roadshow starting on March 9, 2024.

Photos Copyrights: G M D THREE, Roger Staub, Nicole Rötheli, Tabea Hüberli, Roger Staub

The Designer

Sebastian Marbacher belongs to a new breed of prominent Swiss designers. His word has received several awards and encompasses the interplay between (product) design, art and architecture.

He designs furniture, products and rooms. His objects are accessible, always suitable for everyday use and often have minimalist lines without losing their playfulness. Sebastian Marbacher is a creative inventor, an aesthete. Born in Lucerne in 1986, he initially completed an apprenticeship as an engineer and followed this by studying industrial design at the Zurich University of the Arts. In 2013 he founded Studio Sebastian Marbacher in Zürich and, in addition to his own projects, works successfully with well-known companies and institutions. A conversation about reduction, chairs and artistic issues.

Sebastian, let’s start at the beginning: Which memories do you consider to be formative for your creative career?
Maybe that my father always had a workshop and often worked with wood. In one house we lived in, the kitchen, workbench and fireplace were all in one room. For me, cooking, sitting together at the table and working belong together to this day.

Talking about sitting together – chairs are a very common feature of your work …
That’s how it’s turned out over the years. When I first started, I never had the idea of designing a chair. In the course of my search, however, I keep coming back to the subject of ‘sitting’. For me, chairs are also a good size as an object. You can carry, rotate it and hold them. This simplicity and independence of chairs represents something exciting for me.

Simplicity as a keyword – your work is minimalist and yet there is something playful about it …
I’m actually interested in reduction, but not to the point where there’s nothing original left. I’m interested in reduction in order to extract what seems essential to me. Clear lines and compelling stories.

Like your Basic Chairs, for example?
Yes, in fact, at the beginning there was the question what‘s needed to sit? How minimal can the seat and backrest be? In addition, I was excited by the idea of finding a geometry that would allow stacking. The design then developed over several prototypes.

Originally an engineer, mechanical draftsman, now designer and scenographer – how has your questioning changed over the years and what challenges you?
In mechanical engineering, the cheapest and simplest solution is always sought. I had a lot of fun with this. But today, for me, it’s about opening up completely. Everything is possible and I often work with many different variants at the beginning. That’s a whole different challenge. What interests and fascinates me is the question of what is functional. Does the function come first or can an object communicate or even annoy first of all?

And what makes a task particularly exciting for you?
Difficult question, I think the variety and multiplicity of projects is most important. Location-specific projects are always exciting challenges for me. New places and people and framework conditions.

Upcycling of materials is always a theme with your objects. How important is sustainability?
On the one hand I am a designer, on the other hand I am a consumer. In both roles, I make decisions that involve considerations of sustainability. For example about materials, short transport routes or production facilities. The Basic Chair is produced for Switzerland and Italy, for a Japanese label in Japan itself.

In the face of abundance – as a product designer, don’t you start to ponder?
Designing new products is of course part of this controversy. You see the mountains of rubbish and the things that cannot be repaired. However, if you develop a new product that can be manufactured or operated three times more efficiently with regard to resources or energy, then that is a positive step.

Let’s get to your latest project. Rumour has it that it has two wheels?
Correct. It’s a collaboration, but I can’t reveal too much about it just yet. It’s about a bike that combines the advantages of small wheels with the advantages of a large luggage rack. I am convinced that the «bicycle» as an umbrella term still offers a lot of potential if we look at the changes in society with the inner cities and the large number of people.

You also work regularly with your partner and textile designer Mara Tschudi. What’s it like, working and living together as two creative people?
Since I’ve known Mara, there’s been an exchange in both directions. Her world of colours plays an important role in my projects. We come from different disciplines and complement each other very well in the sense that my work is very analytical, planned and derived. And from a human perspective it’s extremely valuable that we can just share that and understand what the other is about.

Finally: How much furniture is self-made in your home?
Some of it. And there’s a long to-do list of projects (laughs). Our interior is actually an ongoing construction site. For me, this is also a kind of field research without the pressure of having to present a result. And you can only be completely free if you know that you can also fail.

Photos Copyrights: Dominik Zietlow / studio sebastian marbacher

The Creative

The German Vogue described Thom Pfister as one of the most creative designers. Dior, Prada and Levi’s have collaborated with him in their campaigns and it is not without reason that his iconic works has been distinguished with over 250 creative awards.

Thom Pfister’s signature trademark is unmistakable. Very few can mix the disciplines of graphics, photography, painting and illustrations as skillfully as he can. Originally a graphic designer, he worked for several years as a designer in the renowned Studio Achermann, then in London. He managed agencies in Zurich and Bern and founded Studio Thom Pfister in 2021 in his old hometown, Bern.

Thom, I’ll start with a heretical question. You live and work in Bern. Would Zurich not be «the Place to be» for creative minds?
Creativity, inspiration and friendships are not bound to one location in my opinion. Our studio feels right here and there is a certain sense of calm about it. As a creative mind, Bern consistently forces you to move around again. And I am always happy to be in Zurich.

Now about your «Prime discipline». What can design do?
Design is not purely a matter of form, but forward-looking, critical and visionary. Good design has an unbelievable power and a wonderful, contagious energy. There are roughly 7000 different languages in the world and infinite dialects. They have developed over a number of centuries and are in a state of constant change, I think that also applies to the term design.

It is long established that good design does not have an expiry date. What do you consider to be the most important ingredients in design?
The most significant component is a love of people. Then a passion for good photography, film, typography and color. In the sense of accompaniments there should always be enough fun. Music, art, fashion, illustration and a feeling for design language.

Polarize or please?
Enthuse and inspire are perhaps more fitting. «Polarizing» is often too short-term, on the contrary «pleasing» is too flat, because I believe it is not about decorating but about creating ideas and attitude through design.

Looking at your works, it is evident that there is a strong affinity to the world of fashion. Where does this love originate?
Even as a small boy I always nabbed my parents’ fashion magazines. Most of the time I cut out the pictures and text before my mother had read Vogue and glued them into my moleskin notebooks. Later during my time at the Kunstgewerbeschule (“school of arts and crafts”), I worked in fashion houses where I designed shop windows and wrote pricelists. Incidentally the Levi’s team «discovered» me while I was decorating a shop window. That’s how I got to work on my first Levi’s campaign during my training as a graphic designer.

In the course of time design changes. To what extent has visual aesthetic changed in the wake of digitalization?
It has become more versatile, more exciting and more creative to an unbelievable extent. Simply wonderful. Design can develop to an even greater extent in the digital arena and access numerous animated elements. Materiality has also no place in my opinion. We are currently working on different magazine projects in print (and digital), that strengthens my conviction.

The 250 international and national accolades and awards that you have accumulated since starting your career bear testament to the fact that you have done everything right …
I consider it to be important that I compete on a national and international level with other creative minds. It is not only an important characteristic for our customers, but also for us. Winning an award is always great recognition, but it should not be the objective of our work.

You ooze style from tip to toe; you are surrounded by beauty every day. Were aesthetics and a love of detail always part of your life?
Thank you. Aesthetics always accompanied me, interested me and appealed greatly to me. Aesthetics were always part of my life. The spectrum of aesthetics, beauty and good design is something that touches us. I am thinking of a beautiful play. I go to the theater and suddenly experience something special. I believe that beauty cannot be democratized. It is something very personal.

Photo: Ciryll Matter, Zürich, Thom Pfister