Plus63: The design company fueled by fun and coffee

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Plus63 Design Co., founded by Dan Matutina (left), is composed of a small but dedicated group of artist-designers. They love their movies and their coffee, and with design, they’re never afraid to try something different. Photos by CZAR KRISTOFF

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Dan Matutina likes getting to work early.

The artist and designer, founder of the studio Plus63 Design Co., admits that he only becomes pressed for time thanks to his daily coffee run once he’s left the house. “I always start my day with a cup of hot coffee,” he shares. “I need it to be able to work.” Sometimes he even lets himself get distracted and stay longer than intended: “I sketch, I draw.” (It’s only apt, considering his work can be found hanging on the walls of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s branches in the East Wing of Shangri-La Plaza and in 26th Bistro, in the Fort Net Lima building.)

Matutina describes himself as a coffee person through and through. “I love the warmth of the cup when I drink it. It makes for a good companion when I’m sketching and thinking of ideas. It powers me through the day.”

One look at the glass door of Plus63’s studio along Katipunan Ave., with its tasteful decal of the company logo, and you know you’ve stepped inside the headquarters of a company that wants to make sure design still matters and keeps mattering — and whose extensive list of clientele includes Cinema One, Graphika Manila, Heim Interiors, the Japan Foundation, and the UP Fighting Maroons. Welcoming guests are three-dimensional letters spelling out “Hello,” with an unidentifiable creature hanging out inside the letter O.

Inside, it’s smaller than expected, but the open space and white walls make it easy to breathe, to say the least. Framed artwork can be found on the walls and even on the floor. There are only two dividers: one to separate the makeshift “foyer” from the designers’ desks, and another to separate a communal table from Matutina’s workspace. Next to the communal table are shelves containing graphic novels, art books, magazines, trophies, and other knick-knacks, which scream very personal.

Plus63 CBTL Part of why Matutina's team gets along so well, not to mention a major factor that helps them do their best work, just may be their shared affinity for caffeine and other drinks. Photos by CZAR KRISTOFF  

“Ghostbusters” fans may turn Slimer-green with envy as action figures of Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, Ray Stantz, and Winston Zeddemore can be found hanging out by a column that’s been converted into a blackboard that now mostly functions as a freedom wall.

The designers at Plus63 each have their own desks, arranged in a row facing the wall. This enables them to have their privacy and still be able to have an open line of communication with Matutina and one another. If one of them needs to have something checked, everyone can be involved.

And everyone is involved — five minutes with the Plus63 team is enough indication that they love what they do, and enjoy doing it with each other. Part of why the team gets along so well, not to mention a major factor that helps them do their best work, just may be their shared affinity for caffeine and other drinks. Each of them has a different beverage of choice, but they all say it’s become part of their daily habit. “When you're working,” Maniquiz explains, “masarap na [you’re sipping something].”

They even got the coffee machine to prove it, which they use when they’re not drinking The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s Ready Coffee 3-in-1. Since sometimes, there isn’t enough time to go to the coffee shop for their coffee fix, and work requires their full attention, to have instant coffee handy is an efficient alternative. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf recently sent over a package full of Ready Coffee 3-in-1 (made of 100% Arabica beans) and ready-to-drink lattes and sparkling iced teas that come in handy cans.

cbtl-dan1.jpg Matutina's workspace. Photo by CZAR KRISTOFF

WORKSPACE The shelves of Plus63 contain graphic novels, art books, magazines, trophies, and other knick-knacks. Photos by CZAR KRISTOFF  

“When I’m [too] lazy to go to a coffee shop, it’s best to just grab iced coffee from the fridge or make instant coffee," says Matutina. "It’s purely for convenience."

The main draw of the office for Matutina, however, has to be the large windows, which practically span an entire wall. He says he finds the natural light good to work in, and it makes the space feel bigger. “You know what time of day it is,” he says. “Alam mo ‘yung umaga. Alam mo kapag gabi na at kailangan nang umuwi.” He adds that it helps brighten the mood of the team.

As a boss, Matutina has his quirks. “Gusto ko magaan lang, masaya, wala masyadong drama,” he explains. He hardly ever gets strict with work, but it’s a different story when movies are concerned — he often takes the team out during office hours on “required viewing” trips to the cinema, deadlines be damned, and calls it “cutting class.”

“Flexi time kami [sa office],” says Malinis. “Pero ‘pag may movie na maaga, [sasabihin niya,] ‘Guys! Kailangan nandito na kayo ng 10 a.m. bukas!

Maniquiz chimes in with an impression of Matutina when they went to see a much-anticipated reboot of a childhood classic: “That’s an order!” she booms. “We’re going to watch ‘Power Rangers’ tomorrow!” And see it they did — in 4DX, a cinematic experience that involves effects like seat movement, scents, and improvised weather conditions like winds, rain, and fog.

cbtl-dan4.jpg The designers at Plus63 each have their own desks, arranged in a row facing the wall. This enables them to have their privacy and still be able to have an open line of communication with Matutina and one another. Photos by CZAR KRISTOFF

They also go out for brainstorming sessions, where Malinis sarcastically declares they hardly get any work done. The team heads out to try new restaurants and, more often than not, they end up in their go-to coffee shops as well.

There’s no question, then, about Plus63 HQ being a fun and supportive work environment. Maniquiz theorizes that Matutina just has a knack for selecting people who would get along and work well together. Matutina, meanwhile, says that the most important thing about a Plus63 designer is this: “Gusto niya ‘yung ginagawa niya.

With years and years of experience under his belt, Matutina says that his definition of good design hasn’t changed. The kind of output may be different, and the technology may march on, but at its heart it stays the same. “Design is essentially problem solving, always providing solutions, whether it’s for creative purposes or communication,” he says. “To borrow a term, it brings people delight.”

But relying too much on working out the kinks or functionality, according to him, isn’t ideal. “[Good design] should add something na natutuwa ‘yung mga tao,” he posits. “They like using it or they like looking at it. Kasi kung very functional [lang], parang cold. It needs to add a bit of emotion.”

Plus63 CBTL The team behind Plus63 believes in collaboration and adaptation, which creates a fun and supportive work environment. Photos by CZAR KRISTOFF  

Plus63’s process for design work is also rooted in collaboration and adaptation. The designers each pitch their ideas and discuss the best way to go about the project, and then they would work as a team on different tasks. For example, illustrator Craig Halili would work on images, Maniquiz would layout, and Malinis would work on the fonts. “Lahat kami may kino-contribute to the brand,” Malinis says.

“Sometimes it comes out fresh,” Matutina adds. “‘Yung intention lang namin is something different, something na hindi pa nagagawa.