DesignByGemini is creating Instagram worthy designs with their playful and immersive projects
Founded in 2015 by twin sisters Elena and Giulia Sella, DesignByGemini is taking social media by storm with their playful, creative and innovative projects.
Based in Milan, DesignByGemini is a creative design studio that focuses on merging both, design and the digital. Collaborating with international brands and clients, their eye-catching and immersive designs have been showcased around the world. Their specialty lies in installations, visual merchandising, retail and pop-up project with careful attention to the development of social media promotional content.
At heart, DesignByGemini has a forward-thinking, and modern approach; using social media as their best friend and promoter, they are constantly on the lookout for creating original and innovative concepts.
Who are Elena & Giulia Sella? How did the journey for DesignByGemini begin?
Elena and Giulia Sella: “We are twin sisters, born and raised in Milan; since childhood, we had a great passion for everything related to art, design, and creativity. We both have an arts degree and graduated from the Politecnico di Milano, Giulia in interior design and Elena in architecture. During her master’s degree, Elena carried out an Exchange Program in São Paulo, where she also had working experience in a design gallery, while Giulia was in New York at the Daniel Libeskind Studio after a two-year experience in the Milanese studio.
DesignByGemini was born just as we were far away, perhaps to feel closer, but most of all to start taking a first step towards our dream of working together. We were both working full-time, but in our spare time, we were always looking for new trends and going around galleries, exhibitions, and events, which is why we decided to start a blog where we shared our travels and our continuous research and experiences of design and art around the world. From our experiences to a selection of objects, we shared it all by creating articles on our site and opening our Instagram account DesignByGemini.
As twin sisters, we share the same zodiac and rising sign, so for the name, we hardly had any choice. ☺”
Elena and Giulia Sella: “In September 2015, we decided to go back to Milan and start integrating DesignByGemini with the design aspect that is our real main focus and profession, and from there everything evolved! Today we have our own creative studio where we follow projects such as pop-ups, installations and visual merchandising projects with an eye on the aspects related to communication, and we continue to do digital collaborations by connecting with brands as brand ambassadors.
A contemporary approach is at the base of our design, which makes social media a successful ally for promotion, researching constantly for original and innovative concepts.
Among our projects are the Millennial Pink Room, which was built during the Fuorisalone’17 in the window of SuperStudio Piu’. The Pool Club containers located in Piazza XV Aprile in the Brera Design District ‘18 and projects designed for beauty, fashion and lifestyle brands including Max&Co, Lancome, Sanrio, Bulgari Parfums, Bombay Sapphire, Atelier Emé, O.P.I., Mc2 Saint Barth.”
Why DesignByGemini, why a combination of installations, retail design and visual merchandising? What moved you to begin this career?
Elena and Giulia Sella: “We can say DesignByGemini was born as a dream, that of working together, following our passions and expressing our creativity: a goal that we had for years and decided to begin at the moment that felt “right” by putting all our commitment and ambition in it. As soon as we started, our approach was to bring design and communication together, hence our “Instagram oriented” aesthetics. The promotional aspect of a project is very important for us and it must be in some way communicable through social media, even if it is a stand or a product.
The “turning point” was our first exhibition, which was held during the Milan Design Week ’17 at Superstudio Piu’. We were selected in the section “Discovery: the People and Stories”, our project was a pop-up where the protagonists were mirrors with “filter” graphics created just by emojis designed for people to interact with. The booth, even though it was only 2x2m, was a big hit. It was always full of people having fun, taking photos and created a high return on social media. We were interviewed by Tg Com, and soon after we were contacted by Le Bon Marché to create a special edition of the mirrors for their Christmas Sale.”
Elena and Giulia Sella: “This showed us how one thing leads to another, and that for everything you want to achieve, you need to find a way to go and get it! Even in the years that followed, our projects during the Milan Design Week have shown a great following, both of visitors and above all ‘shares’. It allowed us to consolidate our style, which is evolving but always keeps our approach.
These aspects, combined with strong communication through our channels, have led brands, mainly related to fashion, beauty, and lifestyle, to contact us for collaborations and request to have installations, showcases, and sets designed by us. This is because, if you consider various aspects, design can be the perfect way to promote a brand; attractive and powerful installations are the perfect synergy between design and marketing, and on our side, we always try to give a creative interpretation to the brief with productions that have a strong impact and a real message behind it.
What we usually offer is a “complete package”, starting with a shared brief, it goes from the creation of the concept, to the execution with our developers, to the photographic material of editorial quality, to image creation for the project announcement, and promotion on our social media channels.”
What is your ultimate goal? What purpose do you serve with your practice? Ultimately, why do you do what you do?
Elena and Giulia Sella: “We want DesignByGemini to be always growing and evolving, through multiple projects and influences, continuing to create sets and installations for fashion and lifestyle brands, visual projects and capsule collections, following both the design phase and the development of social campaigns and promotions.
Our goal is to continue to create, to make bigger and more immersive projects, to create spaces that can amaze and entertain, that can attract people online, and at the same time have a message, that for us is fundamental. We do this because for us the real satisfaction comes when the projects come to life, and that happens not when they are done, but when they are experienced by visitors; it is the people who give meaning to the spaces, who interpret them, who spread them. We always try to amaze and to be able to offer an experience.
Creating for us is beautiful, and we will never stop!”
How would you describe your works to someone who has never seen them?
Elena and Giulia Sella: “Our job is to create very colorful spaces that attract people’s attention. Like rooms that can last just a few days, but where people can come in and they can “play” and touch things, have fun and take a photo to show their friends.
Our projects are similar to the photo-sets designed for a company or product, usually made for campaigns and advertising. Unlike the sets we see in magazines or on television, our spaces can be “lived” and are accessible to more people for a short or long period.”
Your creations are visually striking and highly engaging. Can you break down the design elements that create an Instagram-worthy installation or interior?
Elena and Giulia Sella: “People nowadays, and Millennials above all, are increasingly attracted to ‘instagrammable’ environments and for this reason, interior design projects must also be ‘photo-proof’.
During the concept phase of our projects, we think about the impact that the project can have both live and online, in terms of images and sharing. So we always try to translate the idea into a highly impactful and unconventional concept and then go on to “play” with colors, textures, and materials. For us, the greatest value is to try to make a difference by creating projects with contemporary aesthetics that can offer an experience and have an online return. Contrasts, optical games, shades of colors and original concepts are the elements that characterize us the most, our style is recognizable but constantly evolving, because we always try to follow the latest trends.
When we are asked to create a ‘Photo Opportunity’, we do not stop at the aesthetics, we also think of the experience: from this comes the objects to interact with, spaces that come to life with visitors and that everyone can interpret. We create situations where aesthetics are as important as the interaction; the success of our projects is found when they are shared, but above all, it is found in the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the people who visit them and then decide to share them.”
Which designers, architects or artists are you inspired and influenced by? What other fields and inputs outside of the design world provide you inspiration?
Elena and Giulia Sella: “Among architects and designers, we’re sure to mention Ettore Sottsass and Verner Panton. Among the artists, James Turrel: his immersive work of light and color is truly amazing!
In addition to design we find a lot of inspiration from the world of fashion and contemporary art. In general, we try to be up to date with the latest exhibitions and events in the industry, and traveling is certainly a very important part of our lives and our work.
In every city we visit, we always look for different trends and observe everything from exhibitions to hotels, restaurants to street art and concept stores. When we can’t travel, the inspiration and the research is more and more effective online: for example, on our Pinterest and Instagram we have a very useful collection of inspirations!”
What is one aspect of your job that is hard & invisible, but definitely crucial to your practice?
Elena and Giulia Sella: “For us, the most crucial part remains in the ‘idea’, which is how we interpret the client’s brief.
We first look for a concept that can be the guiding principle of the whole project, we listen to the client’s requests but always try to get to an original solution that makes the most of our creativity. So we always try to translate the brief with an impactful and unconventional concept, and then “play” with colors, textures and materials.
The concept comes from brainstorming: after hours and days of research and comparison, necessary for each project, we usually “connect the dots” and start to make the concept concrete. We connect ideas, images, memories and visions, and we continually confront each other until we get to a final idea that fully satisfies us. We understand that it is the right one when we are satisfied and excited to realize it! The process is constantly evolving, taking into account both the comparison with the client and the comparison between ourselves.”
Elena and Giulia Sella: “Then we go to the “operational” phase. If the concept is already defined, we always try to take into account the form/content constraints and the budget available, which we see not as a limit but as important criteria for the delivery. In general, we try to divide up our tasks and also our roles: while the ideation and concept part is done together by “connecting the dots,” for the development part, Giulia typically focuses on the more practical and enforceable aspects while Elena focuses more on communication-related aspects.
Sometimes the execution phase can be a little ‘stressful’, especially in events where the execution is often delayed, so we always have to give the maximum to respect the timing or last-minute requests, but once completed only the feeling of great satisfaction remains!”
Tell us about your first client, how did you get it and what was the project about?
Elena and Giulia Sella: “Our first project was a temporary shop in Cordusio Square for the Christmas sale for Genagricola wines, the agricultural enterprise of insurance company Generali Assicurazioni, and the Taveggia “panettone” (Milanese Christmas cake) made by Michelin starred chefs. The store manager, who contacted us after seeing our social profiles, asked us for a first proposal requesting to have a contemporary and original approach to present both products, together but both with a story to tell.
Our proposal, which was accepted and implemented, was to create two exhibition walls, one dedicated to the wine and one dedicated to panettone, with black and white stripes at full height that continued on the floor creating a checkered pattern.
This way, both products were highlighted, but also ‘united’, it was a simple but visually impactful concept, which was very much liked!”
What kind of advice would you give to young fresh graduates inspired by your career? Would you recommend to begin working for a studio or launch your own as soon as possible?
Elena and Giulia Sella: “The advice we would like to give is definitely to invest in your own preparation, from the choice of university to the first work experience.
There are no fixed rules; in our case we have always given our best in every experience, even if we knew that sooner or later we would start our adventure together because we knew that everything would be useful for our journey.
In a studio experience, you learn how to present the project to the client, the importance of timing and precision, and how to manage clients and suppliers. In our case, these experiences have allowed us to have a technical background and create an autonomous structure. Having studied and worked abroad enabled us to discover new styles and approaches and gain an international vision on how to set up our studio.”
Elena and Giulia Sella: “On the one hand, we recommend gaining experience, but on the other, to listen to your “inner voice” and prepare an action plan. If you want to start your own studio at some point, you have to jump, you create the “right time”.
Our motto is: creativity takes courage! The courage to start your business and believe in your dreams is the first big step to take.”
What mistakes did you make in your early days, that you will not do again today?
Elena and Giulia Sella: “The mistake we made at the beginning was to let us get caught up in the enthusiasm at every request, starting immediately a phase of in-depth research and sharing the first idea when requested, even if it was a draft, even before we had finalized the agreement. For us, especially at the beginning, every project was an opportunity to demonstrate we really knew how to do things, so in front of important companies and brands, we were willing to take the risk.
The truth is that many requests are not made, not because of the proposal, but because of the change of internal strategies or many other factors that we cannot control and do not depend on us.
Over time, we have learned to protect ourselves with formal agreements and by investing time and resources only when the client has a real intention to proceed. Our true value is the idea!”
What is the best way to kick-start a career in installation design?
Elena and Giulia Sella: “It is very difficult to find the client and the project of your dreams right away, for that reason our advice is: show as much as you can! This means working hard and getting the most out of the first requests that come; but, in addition to that, finding a way to get promoted and show your own style.
Instagram is certainly a way to be known and promote your work, which is increasingly being used by designers, both established and emerging: it allows us to break down barriers and connect with many great people.”