The Chronicle

Q & A: Studio AH-HA

Catarina Carreiras and Carolina Cantante of Studio AH-HA are the designers behind Tetra's look and feel — plus a host of other websites and print projects catching the attention of the graphic-design world. We caught up with the Lisbon-based creative directors to talk inspiration, location, and the lure of smoking.

Why is Lisbon an interesting place to be making design work?
Lisbon has been in the spotlight for the past couple of years — at least we feel like the rest of the world finally decided to come and see its wonders. It's a city full of history that was kept in its original state for many many years, away from touristic clichés. But it suddenly started growing and there is obviously a new and different energy in the air, a lot of ideas flying around. There isn't an overdose of cool stuff — good-looking graphics, polished and conceptual spaces. It’s quite genuine. Whatever is new and effervescent respects and lives side by side with the old, with tradition, with crafts, with past generations. We love that dialogue. And then there is the river, the sun, and (very close by) the sea — that gives us the perfect mood and makes us want to conquer whatever is beyond the Atlantic.

What's been inspiring you lately?
We have been always more looking into art than into design to find references. We love site-specific installations — the Dia:Beacon foundation or the gallery Valerie Trann in Antwerp — and artists whose work is very graphic (Baldessari, Lawrence Weiner, Malevich, Ellsworth Kelly) or those whose work makes some bold visual statements like Erwin Wurm, Edmund de Waal, Sol LeWitt, and Kjell Varvin. But we hate to name-drop, and our preference goes into collections of objects, textures, old stationary, prints — random things that we can see live and that we can touch. And we always go for what is weird, and not what is cool.

What have you been listening to in the studio?
It’s very random, and it depends on the mood we are looking for with each project: from Rihanna to Tom Jobim, from Kanye to old French songs.

What will you be wearing this fall?
Mainly whatever Zara or & Other Stories puts on our plate. Once we took the train very early in the morning to speak at a conference in Porto wearing the same items but in inverted colors. That was completely random, and everyone in the conference thought that the fact that we were matching was designed. We still laugh about it.

What's your favorite thing on Tetra?
The Circa Incense Burner by Cinnamon Projects. It’s pure poetry. That kind of “Why didn’t we have that idea?” object.

What's your smoking ritual?
We are not smokers, so that’s a hard one. But if we were, whatever Tetra tells us to be the right thing to use, to listen, and to watch. We love everything so much that now we kind of want to start smoking. Tetra is trouble!