Butawarna Studio and Digging Deeper


Butawarna Design picked an unusual name for a graphic design bureau, which is part of a strategy to entice people to learn more. Since established in 2003, its members have consistently made good graphics for book covers and other publications. We talked to one of its partners, Andriew Budiman, about the firm.

Photo Butawarna Design Doc.

How was Butawarna Design started?

Butawarna Studio was initiated as an idea when two of the founding partners Waluyohadi and Dendy, were in charge at the ITB [Bandung Institute of Technology] student cooperative in 2003. After graduation, they established Butawarna printing and design as a joint venture. Over time, they felt the need to adapt to the changing times. In 2005, Andrew joined the team and focused on making a design service studio, while 2007 saw the joining of Ari, who has bought a more research-and-experimental approach. Since 2010, we’ve started to engaged and become part of the C2O committee, allowing for more collaborative and trans-disciplinary projects with communities, NGOs, government offices and the private sectors in our business model.

How do you split the work?

Butawarna has four members. We share our different interests and try to bring our best contributions to the table. As a small unit, we sometimes switch roles depending on the project needs, but this is generally how we operate as a team. Waluyohadi mostly works on product design, focusing on special materials and technical depth. Dendy Fikosasono is responsible for the business and financial aspects of the studio. Ari Kurniawan deals mostly with design research and visual information. Last, I deal with visual direction and design curation. We also work with closely with other specialists like programmers, animators, and crafts experts to bring out suitable design results.

How do you apply a multi-disciplinary concept?

Based in Surabaya–which is notorious dismissed as a provincial second-tier city of work that lacks a refined or cosmopolitan “culture”–we’re really interested in exploring and developing design practices and rich discourses. We’re mostly bad at doing that, but we’re really lucky to have moved our studio to one of the spaces within the C2O library and collaborative. An independent library that hosts eclectic collections that are rather difficult to find in Surabaya; C2O exposed us to subjects like history, gender, film studies, urban issues, cultural studies and art. It is also one of the better known, dynamic community hubs in Surabaya. It’s now equipped with a co-working space, function gallery, and more, and allows individuals and organisations to use them. Aside from operating as conventional design studio, as part of C2O; we have also been involved in some of its programs, such as discussion groups, research, workshops, festivals and walking tours. This has given us plenty of opportunity to be exposed to encounters and collaborations with people from diverse backgrounds and disciplines.

Describe your design process.

It doesn’t always start with a solid concept. Sometimes it can start dull and shallow. We have to go back and forth until the whole process and narrative feels appropriate and makes sense. Ultimately, we try to have the end result of the design serve its purpose, whether pragmatic or experimental. We can’t avoid using the internet as a major source of reference and to steal ideal. It’s not that we don’t value originality, but our concern is more with how we can collect, sort, add and compose a comprehensive yet relevant framework for every project.

Tell us about the DIY Festival.

The Design-It-Yourself Conference and Festival started in 2011 to respond the lack of critical thinking and discourse among design practitioners and academics in Surabaya. A collaboration with C2O and many design entities in Surabaya, it promotes design as a universal and trans-disciplinary method that relates to everyday lives. It becomes a melting pot where designers, social activists, artists, researchers, scientists, makers, musicians, collectives from many cities and countries shaped discussions together with people in Surabaya. For example, we had Indonesia’s Eko Nugroho, the Papermoon Puppet Theatre, Malaysian architect Kevin Mark Low, Hong Kong multimedia artist Kingsley Ng and the late Slamet Abdul Sjukur–the Surabaya-born “father” of Indonesian contemporary music–in the panelist line-up.

Why work in Surabaya?

When we started to get involved in city- and community-related projects in 2008, the key players were distanced and fragmented in Surabaya. Now we see more and more designers, artists, everyday people, taking the initiative and exploring narratives about Surabaya. It’s both an interesting and challenging time now to live in this city of work. We hope to expand collaboration and continue to work experimentally with more people here.

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Barbara Hahijary
Barbara earned her bachelor's degree in architecture from the Interior Architecture Program of the University of Indonesia in 2013. Historical or heritage buildings, as well as utilitarian design, fascinates her as it is the interaction between people and architecture that remains her favourite topic to explore. Besides architecture, her interests include design, handcrafts, literature and social issues.

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