Menno Cruijsen: Lava Around the World

Over the course of his talk, Menno Cruijsen took the audience on a thrilling, whirlwind tour of Lava’s international work. Spawned from a trip around the world twenty five years ago, Lava has transformed from a Dutch design firm rooted in editorial print to a globally recognized agency pushing the boundaries of design.

From its conception a quarter century ago, Lava quickly erupted into the number one producer of magazines in Holland. But the world of design doesn’t rest, so when funding ran dry for much print work, Lava decided to disrupt new arenas of design.

Toying around with new ideas, Lava started Lavalab to explore the connections between strategy, technology, and design. Traveling far and wide as well as inviting visitors into their lab, the firm remained true to their strength of story telling while shifting focus to help a broad range of clients craft unique identities.


Menno Cruijsen

Graphic Designer/ Design Director (Amsterdam )

Menno Cruijsen is Design director at Lava based in Amsterdam. He graduated in graphic design at the Utrecht School of the Arts in 2002. Menno is a strong analytical thinker who turns complex information and behaviour into a clear visual language with the emphasis on typography.
Cruijsen has worked for both commercial and cultural clients, like the Museum of Worldcultures, Museumvereniging, SKOR, ArtEZ, Spoorbeeld, Museum Arnhem, THNK, Fonds Podiumkunsten and many more. His work has been published in various International Design Publications.  Besides his work for Lava, he is a design curator for Lava Lab which is a traveling learning lab mixing strategy, design and technology. He has given inspirational hands-on workshops in Los Angeles, Moscow, Beijing and Amsterdam.

This process hasn’t come without growing pains. Working with Gabia, a Korean Internet provider, a team at Lava was challenged to come up with a new brand identity in three weeks. Having never visited Korea, the team focused on the “dot” and created a visual language based on this form. Upon arrival in Korea, the team was disheartened to learn their idea was far from unique. As Menno stated, “We quickly learned that everyone in Korea loves pool.” Luckily, the team had also generated another creative direction, the scheme that Gabia ended up using. Lesson learned, always do your research!

Lava has continued to approach traditionally discouraging limits with eagerness.

Lava has continued to approach traditionally discouraging limits with eagerness. In Moscow, the fact that there was no building to house a design museum prompted Lava to create an identity and branding strategy for a driving pop-up museum. It turns out, if you convince enough people of a hypothetical concept, it becomes reality. The visual language Lava created, inspired by an old Moscovian glass pattern, got enough recognition to become physical in the form of a driving pop-up museum. The immense success of this experiment eventually translated into creating a museum in downtown Moscow.

Perhaps the most dramatic one of Lava’s project came as a result of designing the 13th Biennale in Turkey. A generous project timeframe allowed for much ideation, centered around the theme “Mom, am I barbarian?” Through careful observation, the team at Lava became fascinated by the overlapping tensions between formal, historic aesthetics and informal, revolutionary expressions. Using design aspects referencing censorship and boundaries, Lava created a bold identity. But in the midst of the design process, Taskim Square revolts broke out. As a nod to the immense power of visual language, aspects of the design started showing up in the aesthetics of the revolution. Forced to reconsider design direction, the team at Lava took the hard lines representing boundaries and lack of transparency, and formed them into swirling forms. Gracefully, Lava kept the essence of the design while preserving an impactful design.

Lava has crafted an identity as a nimble design firm capable of gracefully tackling diverse challenges.

Working inside this ever-shifting volcano could be quite stressful, but Menno emphasized Lava’s dedication to fostering a fun and supportive community in the studio. When transitioning offices, the communal meal table came first – an iconic foundation for the firm. Interns are treated with respect, and a mug emblazoned “I’m not your Intern, Bitch” has been spotted on occasion in the office.

With a can-do attitude and a strong base rooted in generating delightful, experimental solutions, Lava has crafted an identity as a nimble design firm capable of gracefully tackling diverse challenges. It will be exciting to see Lava’s work moving forward, as the firm continues to reach across more international boundaries. Lava USA anyone?

Written by Jenn Livermore