Wolfgang Lübbert – Teasing senses – pleasing nature
Munken is probably the best known and most popular design paper brand for artists and creatives in Europe. There are so many art catalogues and books that are printed on it every year, as well as printed works from famous brands.
Hello Wolfgang, it is great to talk with you about the Munken paper brand. You are the architect of Munken’s great brand success and have built the brand over the years into probably the best-known design paper brand for visionary artists and creatives in Europe. We would like to know how you see the relevance of paper in our day and age, but also talk about the great role of design and sustainability in the Munken story, and about the numerous creative activities the Munken brand has been involved in lately. Specifically, the rebranding, a really cool CoLab initiative with Swiss type designers. And also about the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ certification that Munken has just received. Thanks again for being here and talking to us.Munken is probably the best known and most popular design paper brand for artists and creatives in Europe. There are so many art catalogues and books that are printed on it every year, as well as printed works from famous brands.
What is it that makes Munken so special?
To understand the fascination of the Munken brand, we need to go back to its origins. Munken is produced in Munkedal, a scenic village in Sweden’s southwest. The name Munken is derived from the Swedish word “munk”, which refers to the monks who once lived, and hunted salmon, in Munkedal – the valley of the monks. The paper mill in Munkedal has been around for 150 years, and over time has developed a unique and artisanal way of making paper that is gentle on nature. Munken is therefore more than just a paper. It is a story with a culturally rich heritage. If you look closely at the Munken logo, you can see a monk there in a state of contemplation and writing.
Let’s imagine that the monk would be writing the Munken story: what would he be writing about?
Certainly about continuity and a Munken way of doing things. Part of the Munken culture has always been to find the right balance. How can we bring culture, people, crafts and nature together in a way that works well for everyone? Maybe this holistic approach is typical for Scandinavia? I don’t know. But the fact is that as early as the late 1960s, Munkedal Paper Mill, the company behind the Munken brand, questioned the existing way of making paper and set out to find a more sustainable way of production – partly because they were forced by the authorities to protect the nearby Gulmarnfjord and the nearby salmon-rich rivers, but also because there is a deep understanding in rural Sweden of finding a solution between nature and industrial production.
Today, the Munken brand boasts that it operates one of the most environmentally friendly production facilities in the world – can you elaborate on this?
The paper mill in Munkedal lies between two nature sanctuaries – one of Sweden’s most salmon-rich rivers, the Örekil, and the Gulmarn, Sweden’s only fjord threshold. Fjords have a special quality. The threshold to the sea is relatively low, while the fjord is deep. This makes it extremely susceptible to pollution. Producing in a clean way was and is, therefore, existential for the paper mill. Over the past 60 years we have put a lot of energy into this, and in August 2020 the paper mill in Munkedal became the first paper mill in the world to successfully complete Cradle to Cradle Certified™ certification for an entire paper range.
We are very happy to be the first in our industry to meet C2C standards for our entire product range.
What does this mean?
Cradle to Cradle Certified™ is a globally recognised standard for safe and sustainable products manufactured for a circular economy. Applying the Cradle to Cradle design principle means that we try to go beyond minimising negative impacts and actually try to leave a positive footprint in the future. To achieve this, we have thoroughly analysed and improved our production processes with regard to the use of renewable energy, social justice, clean waste water and the use of circular processes. We are very happy to be the first in our industry to meet C2C standards for our entire product range. I am sure others will follow. And that is a good thing.
In this process, all materials and chemicals are defined and a holistic material identity is achieved. The material health of a product is carefully analysed and evaluated. In addition, further steps are defined to achieve a higher score, a better product. Furthermore, the entire production process is evaluated – the recycling of materials, the reuse of our waste, the extraction of the energy used, the quality of the water used and, last but not least, the social fairness. Only fair cooperation can ensure sustainable development in the long term.
Why is Munken so well known? We get the impression that it is the only design paper that has managed to become a brand with an appeal that is known not only among professionals.
Munken makes a statement. When we launched the brand in the early 1990s, it was really something new. At that time, high-gloss or semi-matt coated papers were standard for colour printing. And the market for paper design was dominated by coloured papers or papers with special, fun features. With Munken we offered a paper with an uncoated surface that gave the printed results a very characteristic natural, real paper feel. Munken was the foundation for creative interaction with the recipient. Both artists and designers immediately understood and loved it. And why? I think because Munken has a personality that resonates very well with creatives. It says: I am different. I care about nature. I love creative design projects. When you work with Munken, your work becomes more expressive and more accessible. The design work, the message, stands out more, not the surface.
Munken was the foundation for creative interaction with the recipient. Both artists and designers immediately understood and loved it.
How could you be so sure that your idea for the Munken brand was promising at that time? Wasn’t it a big risk to come up with something so different?
I think we sensed much earlier than others that people were looking for an alternative. Many publishers and artists understood the quality and difference of the paper. This encouraged us to promote Munken not only as a nature-loving brand, but also as a brand for creatives, for visionaries. Teasing senses – pleasing nature became the Munken slogan. We see that it is just as relevant today as it was in the beginning. But to come back to your question: we didn’t do much market research back then. We had the feeling that the time was right and so we just did it.
What are the characteristics of Munken papers that make it special?
In the beginning, Munken was only available in one quality. Today, we offer Munken as a design range of fine papers on which you can print any creative work. There are four shades that are slightly different from each other. And there are two surfaces that vary in character. You will also find printed books that used Munken. Have a look when you buy your next book. Many books are printed on Munken, because people love the natural feel of the paper. The special feature of Munken is its simplicity. It is straightforwardly simple or natural. And that is perhaps sophisticated again in our time.
With the new design, we are preparing Munken for the next step and at the same time underlining its origins.
The Munken brand has recently been given a new design. What made you take this step?
Many of our customers are designers or people who are aware of contemporary design. Showing them that our paper brands like Munken stay relevant and ahead of the market is an important signal. Many of our customers are connected to Munken and watch closely what we do with the brand. With the new design, we are preparing Munken for the next step and at the same time underlining its origins. Linking our roots and our future even more closely, you could say, was the main motivator behind the brand process. And we want to prepare the brand for the next steps into the consumer market. We have several ideas. We believe Munken has what it takes to do more. But we will have to talk about that again in a year’s time.
Design is very important for us. It helps us see and form things constantly in a new way.
Munken campaigns are repeatedly awarded with design prizes – how important is design to the Munken brand management?
Design is very important for us. It helps us see and form things constantly in a new way. And the way the world goes, we really need new ideas. We live with limited resources for an ever-increasing number of people. Design helps us to make a change. As an example, with the aid of design and technology in Munkedal we managed to purify the water for the production in such a way that visitors can drink it. But design is also a way of connecting. We know that many of our clients are visionaries and creatives are very sensitive towards design. So in our communication and our marketing we like to speak and reach out to them with design. Also, being a Scandinavian brand we love well-crafted and designed things. It is in our nature.
Collaboration also seems to be an important element. Recently, Munken brought together designers from different European countries to design a new typeface called Munken Sans, which is free to download for everybody until 31 January 2021. Can you tell us more about this?
The new typeface is the foundation for our new Munken logo. It was developed from an old Swedish font, Tratex, also known as the Swedish traffic typeface. This is the font that can be found on all Swedish road signs. The new Munken Sans can be used both analogue and digitally, and has three different weights. The new Munken Sans also combines analogue and digital communication. Munken Sans is the expression of combining heritage and development.
Laurenz Brunner from the Swiss type foundry Lineto seemed to be the ideal choice for the redesign of Tratex right from the start. When he was approached with the idea, he was immediately intrigued by it. It also turned out that his good friend Jonas Willamsson from Sweden had been researching the Tratex typeface for several years, so it quickly became clear that everything would fit together amazingly well. Besides Laurenz and Jonas, Selina Bernet and Cornel Windlin from Lineto also joined in. As we dug deeper into the idea of collaboration, everyone felt that we could not limit this collaboration to a commercial dimension. The result must be shared to involve even more creatives in the process.
The new Munken Sans font was free for six months and everyone could download it, to underline the idea of collaboration that Munken wants to promote. It is a versatile typeface available in Regular, Medium and Bold. It pays homage to a classic transport typeface and now, in its redesigned form as Munken Sans, it is ready for all kinds of contemporary use in both the analogue and digital spheres.
We are very pleased that the newly developed typeface has already been downloaded over 10,000 times today. This means that we can assume that many, many people will literally pass on the words.
Collaboration is necessary in our world. Nobody, and especially no company, will find the necessary answers alone. We need to share and develop and test ideas to create a better new.
This year Munken will be 150 years old. What do you plan to do with the brand in the future?
For decades, we have had the same slogan: Teasing senses – pleasing nature. Munken will always stand for bringing industrial production in line with nature. Munken will always stand for serving culture and design, but to do so in an environmentally friendly way. Yet they should also be available. For us humans, two things are ultimately important: culture and nature, or design and nature, or to put it bluntly, beauty and survival.
We will maintain and further develop Munken’s position as the leading brand for design paper in Europe. In addition, we will further internationalise Munken in the coming years and introduce it to new markets. In the future, we want to offer Munken to design-oriented people in the form of notebooks and other high-quality paper products, such as the Munken Cube or Munken Works. In an increasingly ecologically sensitive world, this new end-consumer market offers great opportunities for a brand like Munken, which has been a pioneer in climate-friendly production for decades.colab.munken.com