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Munich-based studio Milch + Honig has an interesting story behind its name (which translates as milk and honey, for non-German speakers). Projects are either “Milch” or “Honig”: the former are those in which they work to strengthen companies through new communication concepts and visual identities, while the latter are work involving “social and cultural engagement.”

“We try to add some honey to sweeten life, using our knowledge and skills to support individuals and organizations,” says co-founder Christina John. 

Milch + Honig was formed in 2009 by John and her colleague Rafael Bernardo Dietzel, who left in 2016. The studio has always been small, but three years ago the team of three slimmed down to just John when she had a baby (taking on freelancers when the projects demand them).

What’s so striking about Milch + Honig’s work is its breadth: its homepage alone offers an insight into its focus on the interplay of carefully constructed motion graphics, sharp typography, and innovative art design, on top of more traditional graphic design projects. “We are open to any kind of medium, even when we focus on type and print solutions,” says John. “That’s why we like to work with a huge network of talents and specialists, learning more about things like variable fonts, processing, and tracking.”

As such, the studio’s style is refreshingly hard to pin down. “Some people say playful, some powerful; some describe it as reduced and clear, some as colorful and funny. I always try to find aesthetic creations with a little twist.”

Milch+Honig, GW Magazine, issue 3

The process at the studio is described as “content-driven.” But what does that mean exactly? “Not designing for the design as an end in itself,” says John. She refers to the Bauhaus idea that form follows function, an idea she feels is more relevant today than ever. As such, most projects start with intense client discussions and workshops to drill down into what a brief actually needs—its strategic concerns, the various touch points the designs might work across, how they might reinterpret the boundaries of what the client thought they needed.

It comes as little surprise that this conceptually led way of thinking means that much of Milch + Honig’s work is for cultural clients. The downsizes of that are “less money,” says John, the upsides are “more creative liberty and good feelings, because you’re doing something good: culture means education, one of the most important things in the world.”

A standout piece in the studio’s portfolio is the Rosenthal anniversary book, a publication celebrating the Rosenthal porcelain company that’s been synonymous with high-class living and dining culture products since 1879. The studio created an oversize hard cover book in a gold paper sleeve with  three additional special colors, a vibrant Happy Birthday clacker, and shortened pages; and features a multi-page picture series shot by Berlin fashion photographer Joachim Baldauf. A limited special-edition was adorned with a titanium-gold porcelain plate that seems to magically stick to the cover.

“Even though they wanted us to make a colorful, lively, and surprising magazine, we had to take care around Rosenthal’s long tradition,” says John. “In the process of working with the client, we ended up with a big book with a Rosenthal anniversary plate fixed magnetically at the cover: as the content and strategy changed a little bit during the process, it was important to give every topic enough room and a design that fits to the content.”

She adds that the best clients are those who are “motivated to join the creative process,” offering up their own input as well as being open to new ideas. 

While the Rosenthal project was ostensibly for a brand, it was approached like an art book. Although Milch + Honig’s founder is keen to separate what it means to be an “artist” and “designer,” being an “artist at heart” is still integral to her commercial practice. “In the past I used to draw a lot, made collages or sculptures out of iron and had some exhibitions,” she explains.

“Being a designer is not the coolest, most artistic job ever.”

Later, when she opened the studio, she says she “wanted to keep a connection to the fields of art, no matter which one.” That’s why when she started out, most of the projects she worked on were for musicians and artists. “They  gave and give us a lot of freedom in the sense of creating unconventional, off-the wall-designs that are pushing boundaries and breaking habits in how we’re seeing. So there has always been those two poles—art and design—and our work is oscillating between them. 

“Being a designer is not the coolest, most artistic job ever. It’s a hard job: you have to fight for your ideas, your authority as designer and strategist, and at the end, often to get payed. But complaining is silly. Either act, or forget about it.”

Milch+Honig, GW Magazine, issue 1
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Most designers didn’t begin their careers using a computer smuggled across the Berlin Wall disguised as a TV. Detlef Fiedler and Daniela Haufe with their design studio Cyan, did.

Cyan’s ’90s work, created just after the fall of the wall, was strongly affected by the dichotomy between east and west: they retained some of communism’s social values via their work with cultural institutions, but they also had to deal with the reality of becoming commercial designers as the economy pivoted towards capitalism. Cyan’s process and style also sits somewhere between tradition and innovation: It was the first design studio in East Berlin to use computer software like Photoshop, but at the same time, Cyan dedicated themselves to the precision of their lithography, obsessing over each detail like medieval German printmakers.

Wildly vibrant, illusionistic designs were the result of Cyan’s material and conceptual methodology. Several strata deep, their posters require a careful eye to decode every layer. “Cyan’s whole philosophy is that they want you to spend time with their posters,” says Angelina Lippert, curator of Designing Through the Wall, a new show of Cyan’s work—a big ask for audiences who had been used to decades of clean-cut Swiss advertising.

“Cyan’s whole philosophy is that they want you to spend time with their posters”

Designing Through The Wall is Cyan’s first show in the United States, and little had been written on the collective prior to the exhibition. In fact, most of the primary research was conducted by Lippert through interviews with Fiedler and Haufe, who are still working as graphic designers in Berlin today. These interviews will be published in a small catalogue accompanying the exhibition, along with essays by Rick Poynor and Paul Stirton which will contextualize Cyan’s work, revealing how the studio pioneered digital graphic technologies while still honoring the history of German design.

We caught up with Lippert to discuss Cyan’s distinctive style, process, and how they pushed the field of design forward while still looking to the past, just before the opening of Designing Through The Wall: Cyan in the 1990s, opening June 20 at Poster House, a new museum in New York City solely dedicated to posters.

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Name: Inferi
Designer: Matthieu Salvaggio
Foundry: Blaze Type
Release date: April 2019

Back Story: Here’s the first scary quote, straight from the mouth of Blaze Type’s Matthieu Salvaggio: “We went to Hell. As we wandered around, we gathered strange glyphs carved upon walls made of dark stones. We came back with a typeface. It is a font family drawn with a monk’s pen, possessed by evil beings. Inferi is a tool made to speak the words which will end the world.”

Oh dear. On a less terrifying note, the process of designing Inferi started when the good people at this French type foundry wanted to design a historical/classical font for editorial use because no such thing existed in their catalog. Yet.

Why is it called Inferi? Inferi means “Hells,” and the name is a sort of tribute to Dante’s Divine Comedy.

On that note, here’s the second scary quote from Salvaggio: “The lightest weight of the family is super thin and twisted, a tortured soul like Dante journeying through the nine circles of Hell. The Black version is dark and cold; it embodies the representation of Satan ruling in the center of Hell. We released another Christian-inspired font, Apoc, a year ago. Although it looks more devilish than Inferi, I like to believe that the very root of the concept of Inferi embodies all things evil and satanic.” Sister! Fetch the holy water!

What are its distinguishing characteristics? This font is inspired by the 17th century super-legible Garalde typefaces designed by masters such as Claude Garamond and the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius for use in books. However, Inferi throws in its own twist: its letterforms are a bit wider and its x-height is taller than what’s seen in a typical Garalde. There is a great deal of contrast between the roman and italic versions that creates a lovely optical gray over long passages of type.

“Inferi is a bridge between calligraphy and letterforms carved in stone,” Salvaggio says in his third, not-so-scary quote. “The overall design tends to break between smooth curves and straight angles—I love the lowercase ‘a’ for this reason. The italic lowercase ‘y’ looks like it’s throwing itself forward; in general, the italics were drawn using an even more radical approach.” Indeed, there are some charming little oddities in the italics—for example, the roman lower case ‘r’ has an almost-ball terminal that becomes sharp and angular in the italic version.

What should I use it for? The weights from Book to Bold are useful for editorial projects, both in print and on screen.

And now, for a final, totally non-scary quote from the type designer: “If you are keen on designing posters, large-type layouts for landing pages, video, mapping and such, both the lightest and boldest weights (Dante, Thin, Extra Light, Ultra Light, Extra Bold, Black) will be awesome to play with.”

What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? Inferi’s dark side suddenly feels charming and roguish when paired with a fairly innocent-looking sans, such as Theinhardt, which comes in a wide variety of weights to mix and match for maximum contrast. Remember: without light, there are no shadows.

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Nontsikelelo Mutiti is a Zimbabwe-born interdisciplinary artist and educator who works across fine art, design, and social practice. Mutiti co-founded Black Chalk & Co., where she produces cultural projects and events, and Reading Zimbabwe, a platform for archiving and publishing. She currently serves as an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of the Arts.

Navigating terrains of locality, culture, and history is central to Mutiti’s work, and she’s acutely observant of the layers that mitigate how we view both design and education. In our interview, Mutiti explores how her past has affected her viewpoints, considers the frameworks with which typography or color theory could be discussed, and points out the virtues of “asking better questions.”

African Hair Braiding Salon Reader, 2014; Spiral bound reader produced during Recess, Session residency.

What’s your personal history with education? How does that form the way you view it as a practice?

In colonial Zimbabwe, the British—the Rhodesians—used education as a civilizing mandate, so it took a very particular form. Engagement with the book, with reading, and with study was tied to unlearning—you were learning one culture to unlearn another.

It automatically placed a hierarchy among forms, ways, and language. So for me, growing up in post-independence Zimbabwe, we still dealt with all of those same issues because nothing actively has been done to address what education has historically been in our spaces.

For this reason, education is problematic because we learn the Western canon—the way that the Western eye has been looking at our geography, or our language, or history. There’s always a hierarchy among our way, our being, our language, and what’s been given to us.

You work a lot on the edges of typography, redefining what it is and what it could be. Could you talk about that?The cultures within the space now known as Zimbabwe do not have writing systems that are formally recognized. There were pictograms painted on rock faces or walls and also beaded adornment with codified meaning. I was not taught about any of these ways of articulating myself. Writing and reading has always come with this colonial layer even when we are reading local languages typeset using roman characters. And so my way of articulating myself has come with this colonial layer of using English, using written form, and reading texts that are set in global characters.

When I come into a space of teaching, I’m thinking about typography and letterform from that position. Thinking through publications like Saki Mafundikwa’s Afrikan Alphabets, which focuses on and privileges them as modes of  established and systematized meaning making and communication.

I’m curious to look at that publication, and just look at my own life in general, and think about what writing is. What are the modules for writing, or for visual meaning-building? And then looking to other kinds of forms to think about presenting meaning.

Figure 8, 2018; Letterpress print from CNC routed wood blocks based on braided motif. Ongoing research on braiding and technology.

What other ways can the current canon of graphic design be interrogated?

I think about what I learned about objects of material culture, and why I only see those things when I go to a museum. Why are we not looking at, say, Zulu beadwork and then talking about color theory in relationship to that? When we’re talking about color mixing, we’re talking about Pointillism, Impressionism. But what if we think about kente in relationship to that—in relationship to modernism and a rectilinear approach to design motifs?

I think about a book like Philip B. Meggs’ publication—it was produced by the Department of Education and is now a household name. It has one instance of an African work, by Africans, which is hieroglyphics. There’s nothing contemporary. And how many years of scholarship has gone into creating the foundation for him to be able to feel authoritative enough to write that narrative?

There’s now a substitution which attempts to start bringing in some work—such as from Mexican cultures—but I still wonder, what kind of work has to be done? It’s a quandary that I’m trying to grapple with now. I’m making those points using ideas on hair braiding, thinking through them, thinking about even that visual form as writing, as meaning making, and thinking about how that relates to typography, or pattern, all of those things.

How does this translate back into the classroom?

That’s where I am right now; I’m just trying to ask better questions about what has been institutionalized. I think that is the way to open up and bring other things in. Or to say, “Okay, this is over-presented. We don’t actually need to be teaching that, we don’t need to be passing that on. We need to be discovering and bringing other things forward.”

We have a very Euro-centric canon. It’s always been strange to me that even American scholars haven’t scripted a narrative for themselves and looked at materiality, some symbolism, typography, to the extent where it can stand on its own. The way we teach graphic design is we’ve tried to have this “global” arc of what has been happening in the discipline. This idea of the global has never been all encompassing, nor has it referenced how motifs, trends, and visual ideas have circulated since before colonialism and because of it. This allows us to miss out on how important spaces outside of Europe and North America have been to shaping our aesthetic world.

For instance, Jerome Harris’ exhibition, “As, Not For: Dethroning our Absolutes” presents the work of black American graphic designers. It’s not definitive, nor does it try to be. And I like that it names that up front.

Bringing that kind of work to VCU is part of the effort to present students with a case study of knowledge building. And thinking about: what is the sister project to Jerome’s exhibition? The cousin project? Is it your Vietnamese identity? Is it your Korean identity or Korean-American identity, related to your immigrant identity? Your white southern identity? Why aren’t we talking about what graphic language frames the idea of the confederacy? Why don’t we create those lines of scholarship?

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Plus, Studio Mado Klümper and Studio Terhedebrügge brand the student film festival Sehsüchte, Typographics 2019 kicks off, and a new book launches that looks closely at Latin American design. For more along these lines (and so many others) you can follow along all day, every day on Instagram @AIGAeyeondesignFacebook, and Twitter @AIGAeyeondesign.

Sehsuechte Kluemper + Terhedebruegge
  1. Sehsüchte International Film Festival
    Since 1972, the Sehsüchte International Student Festival has been hosted by students from the film school in Potsdam, Germany, and has become known as a place for emerging filmmakers to break into the industry. In April of this year, it celebrated its 48th edition with a theme of “explore,” which the festival defines as “breaking through invisible boundaries, facing challenges, entering uncharted waters, and triggering emotions.” This was the basic topic from which the identity, designed by Studio Mado Klümper and Studio Terhedebrügge, sprang. 
    The designers used color gradients to represent the myriad different ways that people—individually and collectively—explore the world. “These paths are mixed and sorted again; [some] tighten bodies, others blur into an indefinable mass,” they say. “So it always changes our visual perception.”

    ONEIRIC.SPACE

  2. ONEIRIC.SPACE

    ONEIRIC.SPACE launched recently as an online magazine interested in exploring dreams and the subconscious, and how those things converge with waking life. Interviews with the likes of photography duo Synchrodogs, 3D designer (and lucid dreamer) Anders Brasch-Willumsem and, brand-director-turned Jungian psychoanalyst Jakob Lusensky, delve thoughtfully into the dreamscape of creatives and emerge to talk about the role those dreams play in their work and life. It’s a fascinating publication, with design that echoes the suspended strangeness of the dream world: the background ripples with the move of your mouse, a scrolling marquee at the bottom of the page gives an endless description of the magazine, and in the corner of the homepage, a 3D rectangular rendering of the website floats and rotates, revealing the website’s various pages on all sides.

    Each feature also has its own unique layout design—from paginated drop-down sections to a horizontally scrolling carousel to an interview read off the panels of a 3D reversible hexagon. It manages to capture the mystery, hazy absurdity, and disorienting depth of dreaming without falling onto the trope of whimsical and “dreamy” design.

  3. LinkNYC Pride 
Pride Month as been a good one so far, with a lot of really nice projects coming from LGBTQ+ designers that celebrate pride and reinforce community.  One of those is a collaboration between Isabel Castillo Guijarro and Ben Wagner for LinkNYC.
For the initiative #ArtOnLink, the pair asked 25 NYC-based LGBTQ+ artists to create work to be displayed on the screens of LinkNYC’s WiFi portals all over the city. These works are coming from many, many favs of the EoD team, including Debbie MillmanZipeng ZhuShantell Martin, Chella ManCuteBruteAdam J KurtzLoveis Wise, and Amalia Andrade. They were kind enough to send us a selection (above) in case you can’t catch them in NYC.
Typographics 2019
4. Typographics 2019
It’s that time of year again for Typographics festival in New York, where you can get a whole weekend of talks on contemporary typography hosted at the Cooper Union. Now in its fifth year, this two-day lecture series is always a good one, but this year it looks especially promising—featuring Shira Inbar, Tereza Ruller of The Rodina, Jerome Harris, Zipeng Zu, and more.
From Latin America
5. From Latin America
And finally, we’ve been lucky enough to get a hold of a copy of From Latin America, a collection of work from some of the most talented designers, agencies, and illustrators in the region. Published by Counter-Print, the book is the latest instalment in a series that looks at design from around the world, focusing on one area at a time. This one includes work from IS Creative, Estudio YeYe, Firmalt, Futura, Sociedad Anónima, Parámetro, Savvy, Studio Rejane Dal Bello, and The Branding People—looks like excellent eye candy.
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The 1960s was a culturally transformative time for the Netherlands, seeing the rise of a “new consumerism,” where the conservatism of 1950s Dutch society transitioned toward a more progressive, liberal outlook. Perhaps the most emblematic symbol of this shift is seen in the period’s graphic design, which turned away from the austerity of Modernism in favour of a more youthful, imaginative representation of Dutch public life. While this has often been traced in the emergence of cultural magazines such as Avenue and the cultural supplement of the NRC Handelsblad, the most visible change occurred in the field of advertising. And in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was the collaboration of two figures later known as the enfant terribles of Dutch graphic design that proved pivotal.

Swip Stolk, designs for Provo magazine, 1967

Born on the outskirts of Amsterdam in 1940 and 1944 respectively, Anthon Beeke and Swip Stolk grew up as members of the “protest generation” that came of age in the midst of the Dutch ’60s. At the height of Amsterdam’s countercultural movement, Swip Stolk had designed covers and lettering for the anarchist Provo magazine—co-founded by his brother Rob and written by founder Roel van Duijn—while Beeke had been involved in the design of Fluxus artist Willem de Ridder’s Hitweek magazine. But by the end of the decade, both had also shown an aptitude for more commercial projects. Beeke had designed packaging for the toy and boardgame manufacturer Jumbo (before his employers saw a photograph of him protesting with anarchist group Provo and he was fired), while Stolk had produced striking campaigns for De Bijenkorf department store and the Nederlands Zuivelbureau (Dutch Dairy Board) under the guidance of Paul Mertz at the Prad advertising agency.

Swip Stolk, designs for De Bijenkorf department stote, 1970

For advertising agencies such as Prad (a portmanteau of progressive advertising), the attraction to designers such as Beeke and Stolk, who had formed a loose alliance towards the end of the 1960s,was indicative of a larger turn in Dutch advertising strategy. The postwar increases in employment and the continual rise of real wages meant that by the late 1960s, for the first time, the Dutch youth were active participants in the country’s booming consumer culture and represented an important new audience.

Swip Stolk and Anthon Beeke, Intercity Dutch Railways poster

Prad, as well as other successful agencies like Franzen, Hey & Veltman, and Kirschner Vettewinkel Van Hees, recognized that teenagers and young adults required a more imaginative, visual approach. This new style, in stark contrast to the abstract Modernism of previous years, is reflected in Beeke and Stolk’s 1972 poster for the Intercity line of the Dutch Railways. The image combines vibrant color and idiosyncratic illustrations of characters that were  traced over photographs but include additional details, using faces that snake across the curves of white and green striped tracks. The composition is almost entirely visual: in a distinct shift from 1950s advertising, Beeke and Stolk’s image barely engages with particularity of the product, and instead focuses on a more romantic image of consumer experience.

This equalisation of text and image was part of a “reactive revolution” in 1960s advertising, led by the American ad man William Bernbach, co-founder of the Doyle Dane Bernbach advertising agency. Bernbach’s style focused on the “soft sell”, in which advertisers were to “appeal to a consumer’s intelligence and imagination”,  over the traditional “hard sell” which narrowed in on a product’s particular selling points. We see this conceptual transformation realized in Beeke and Stolk’s campaign for the French car manufacturer Citroën in 1974. Unlike the designs of Karel Suyling, whose advertising for Citroën throughout the 1950s and 1960s saw the car and its features dominate the image, Beeke and Stolk’s campaign relegated them to the periphery. Central instead are illustrations of the “new consumer”, for whom the product is no longer just an object, but a means to a new, liberating lifestyle. In each of the campaign’s posters, which visualize a number of differing scenarios, the car remains in the corner, only half of its body visible, while viewers are drawn to the silhouetted figures who climb out one by one, recreational tool in hand, as if the Citroën itself has transported them from the drudgery of the 1950s to the leisure society of the following decades.

Swip Stolk and Anthon Beeke, Citroën campaign, 1974

The Netherlands’ embrace of consumer culture, however, was not only a case of postwar introspection but also—as the influence of Bernbach’s ideas suggest—one of American influence. In the years following the Marshall Plan, through which the U.S. injected millions of dollars’ worth of American consumer goods into the Dutch economy, the vernacular of American pop-culture became an ever-present motif in the Dutch imagination. In Beeke and Stolk’s poster for De Bijenkorf’s ‘Gay Seventies’ campaign we see this connection, well-established in Dutch society, between modern consumerism and the American aesthetic. In a similar composition to Andy Warhol’s 1962 Marilyn Diptych, Beeke and Stolk render a grid of smiling faces welcoming the viewer into the “wonderbaarlijk wereldje” (wonderful little world) of De Bijenkorf. In the gleaming style of American Pop Art, Beeke and Stolk’s design reads less like an invitation into the Dutch department store, but more as a summons into the bewitching world of U.S.-style consumer culture.

Despite their successes, the relationship between Beeke and Stolk and the institutions of commercial culture was never short of difficulty. As early as 1970, the pair were invited to design the ‘Young People Today’ issue of Grafisch Nederland, an annual journal for the Dutch printing and graphic design industry, for which their use of an erotic comic strip was ultimately deemed inappropriate by the journal’s editorial board. Their inclusion in organisations such as the ADCN (Art Directors Club Netherland) also proved ineffective, with their work often misunderstood or marginalized by the group’s existing members. In a similar fashion to their New York-based inspiration, Push Pin Studios, Beeke and Stolk were operating in the apertures between subculture and mainstream.

But by the middle of the 1970s, Beeke and Stolk’s short-lived alliance with the field of commerce had begun to dissolve. And after a four-year stint as co-editors of Dutch architectural magazine Forum between 1971 and 1975, they too went their separate ways. Yet, in this brief collaboration between two of the most tendentious graphic designers of the 20th century, we see evidence of an aesthetic optimism that, in the 1960s and ’70s, established a new kind of dialogue between Dutch advertising and its new consumer.

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The Venice Biennale—for many, a watery pinnacle of the art world calendar—isn’t exactly a place for quiet contemplation. Full disclosure: I’ve never been, but boy oh boy have I seen the gondola-laden Instagram feeds. I have heard about the exorbitant water taxi fees at 4 a.m, about the guest-list jostling, of feet blistered from traipsing from pavilion to pavilion to private viewing. And that’s before we’ve even talked about the art.

For the uninitiated, the Venice Biennale (confusingly) takes place annually, alternating a focus on art and architecture each year. The 58th International Art Exhibition in 2019 sees the Italian city taken over by pavilions, each devoted to a single country’s artist (there are 89 in total this year). Obviously, this means a huge influx of people to the city’s narrow, winding, water-flanked paths. It also means a ton of artworks and artists (and by the nature of the event, countries) are vying for attention—sometimes as much through their PR machines and the branding of the pavilions as their work.

Such a scramble, you would think, might call for pavilion graphic identities that shout their wares like a bellowing Victorian newspaper seller. The branding, exhibition graphics, and printed materials aren’t just serving visitors inside the individual pavilions; they’re trying to get them into said pavilions in the first place, luring them with huge hoardings across the canal; posters; increasingly, carefully strategized social media; and most importantly, tote bags. But bellowing has never really been the MO of London-based studio A Practice for Everyday Life (APFEL), which this year created the identities for not one but two Venice pavilions: Eva Rothschild at the Irish Pavilion and Leonor Antunes at the Portuguese Pavilion.

This isn’t the studio’s first pavilion project (it designed the 2015 Turkish pavilion for conceptual artist Sarkis), but it’s the first year the small studio has worked on two concurrently, all the while navigating the new territories of making work in Europe, for European artists, as London-based creatives within the ongoing political shitstorm of Brexit.

Since APFEL’s founding 15 years ago by Kirsty Carter and Emma Thomas, straight out of their art school MA course, its portfolio has been characterized by work that’s thoughtful, often pared-back, and always striking, for clients including Tate, the Barbican, Studio Voltaire, Lisson Gallery, Kettle’s Yard, and The Whitechapel Gallery. Confident yet minimal, its work eschews ornament and illustrative sensibilities in favor of considered use of physical materials and heavily typographical approaches, with the team often designing bespoke typefaces when the project calls for it.

Leonor Antunes Portugal pavilion branding by APFEL Photo © APFEL

This smart yet subtle style works perfectly for applications such as exhibition graphics and artists’ books. But in the hubbub of something like the biennale, weren’t they tempted to put all that aside and go gung-ho for impact? “I think you get noticed more sometimes with a more minimal take, because Venice itself is quite a visual city,” Carter says.

Thomas adds: “The designs in Venice need to work clearly across multiple applications. You’ve got signage—a banner on a canal—and you need to be able to read the artist’s name at a distance, and you also need to have consistency so that people will recognize [the artist] in a simple way.” 

This, I suggest, must make working on pavilion projects slightly different to those for other cultural clients. Where an individual gallery show will promote certain exhibitions, these often bear the institution’s own branding as much as the individual designs for that temporal event. In Venice, though, pavilions have to think more like commercial branding campaigns: they have to catch the eyes of people who weren’t necessarily looking for them. They also have to work on vast billboards as much as they do on Instagram thumbnails. And like working with a big brand, there are a lot of stakeholders involved, and not just with the artists’ teams: the Venice Art Biennale institution also has to approve all the design work.

Another constraint is time, which again, hinges on varying levels of bureaucratic wrangling. “It can be just a matter of months [before the biennale] that the artist finds out [that they are chosen],” says APFEL. And even then it varies artist to artist. Rothschild, for example, heard the news before Antunes. This also explains something I’d been wondering: since each country’s pavilion is represented by an artist from said country, surely there’s some impetus to commission designers from there, too?

APFEL agrees, but notes that there’s only a short space of time to complete it. “It’s a very short space of time,” says APFEL. “I would think that’s part of what they’d like to do, but it doesn’t always fit. We’ve had a long collaboration with these artists, and on those timelines they need to work with someone they know well. We put together an entire body of work for Eva’s catalog, for instance, and that had to launch the day the biennale opened. If they don’t know the designer well, it won’t marry.”

For APFEL, the artists they’ve worked with this year are those with whom they have longstanding relationships. APFEL previously collaborated with Rothschild on the design of a monograph of her work published by Stuart Shave/Modern Art in 2010, and worked with Antunes on the design of two recent artist’s books. “When you’re working closely with artist, you can really push ideas—you know each other so much better, and each other’s interests, so you can have a much more in-depth conversation about design,” says Carter.

As the title for Leonor Antunes piece, a seam, a surface, a hinge, or a knot, is quite long, APFEL says “we needed to do something pared back and considered.” Thomas adds, “With Leonor, it’s not about an overtly strong, overpowering graphic approach.”

The designs for Antunes’ pavilion identity evolved from Recta, a mid-century Italian typeface, riffing off the fact that her work makes references to that period in Italy. “Her Venice work is about all these cultural reference points, and paying homage to certain artists or figures she feels were insufficiently recognized,” says Thomas. As Antunes told ArtReview, much of her process for the pavilion project involved researching post-war Italian artists, “including Franco Albini and Carlo Scarpa, and with a particular focus on women such as Franca Helg and Egle Trinacanato, both of whom have remained unstudied in the history of museums and exhibitions because they stand outside the processes of canonization.”

Eva Rothschild Irish Pavilion branding Photo © APFEL

For Eva Rothschild’s piece at the Irish Pavilion, titled The Shrinking Universe, APFEL says the designs had to clearly state that she’s representing Ireland (Ireland is not in the UK, and is therefore still part of the EU, unlike Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK with Wales, Scotland and England). APFEL’s graphics were very much intertwined with her broader practice, such as in the tote bag it created for her, which references the gaffer tape used in much of the artist’s work. “The bag was more a collaboration; an extension of a piece,” says Carter.

“It’s about simple but subtle ideas and use of materials.”

For the brochure and typography created for Rothschild, again, typography was pared-back but within clever conceptual twists. “The brochure folds down into a knot [another reference to the artist’s use of materials],” says Thomas. “With the sandy brown bag, though the text is left aligned on most applications, it’s not on the bag, alluding to a physical seam. It works well with the bag and her title; it’s about simple but subtle ideas and use of materials.”

Leonor Antunes Portugal pavilion branding by APFEL Photo © APFEL

As we’ve stated, working on Venice Biennale projects is a tricky balance: a simple approach would be big, bold PR-pleasing designs; a smart approach is, like APFEL’s, one that discreetly yet intrinsically understands that artist’s work and the potential for their designs to buttress that.

“It’s braver to do something simple and pared-back.”

“At the end of the day, it’s meant to be a presentation, not a fair; but in a way of course, it is a fair—everyone’s showing at the same time for the same duration, so there’s a requirement for graphic design much more so than in any other sort of show,” says Carter. Thomas adds: “You have to think about something specific to [the artist], and doing things that aren’t like what other pavilions are doing. It’s braver to do something simple and pared-back.”

So what’s the trick? “You have to laugh,” says Carter, “but Venice basically becomes a competition about who has the best tote bag.”

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On a recent weekend afternoon, I found myself in my neighborhood grocery store contemplating a wall of beer. This section of the store is like a candy aisle, filled with rows of brightly colored cans and illustrated boxes that look like they were plucked from a design blog.

Like a sugar-addled child, my eyes darted from one label to the next while I sorted through what makes the hazy IPA with the colorful, abstract drawing on the label any different than the hazy IPA with the sans-serif logo. I came to the conclusion that it really didn’t matter, and grabbed the cheaper six pack.

This level of beer-aisle deliberation is a relatively new phenomenon. Choosing beer used to be easy. There were the old standbys—the Budweisers, the Millers, and the occasional import like Heineken—all with classic labels that made you want to use the word “brewsky.” Today, choosing a beer can require a full-on aesthetic assessment. Even Milton Glaser has something to say about it.

From left to right: Villages Whistle, Overtone West Coast IPA, Walker Brothers Kombucha

Small, independent brewing is booming, and it’s brought with it a renaissance in beer label design. To put it in perspective: Ten years ago, the United States had 1,650 registered craft breweries; today there are more than 7,300, and that number is only going to grow. This is good news for beer lovers, but bad news for indecisive drinkers who make decisions based on whatever looks cool. The problem we’re facing today, if you can really call it a problem, is that pretty much everything looks cool now.

Beer magazine Caña recently wrote that “beer cans are officially the new record sleeve,” and it’s right. While Big Beer is all about brand recognition and consistency, craft breweries have embraced a more experimental approach, distinguishing themselves with labels designed to catch the eye when you’re scanning the cooler.

Design is everything

“A large percentage of beer lovers walk into a store and don’t know what they’re going to buy,” says Julia Herz, the Craft Beer program director at the Brewers Association, the national organization for craft breweries. “The pressure at retail is to stand out and get noticed.” A good label is a calling card. It’s a chance for breweries to convince you to choose their beer and not the one next to it.

“Design is everything,” Herz adds. “Craft brewers don’t typically have Big Beer advertising budgets. Most of them are doing grassroots marketing, and nothing is more grassroots than your packaging.”

When craft beer was still a small operation, breweries would often design their label in-house or ask a friend or local artist to pull something together for a release. “It was really innocent,” says Oceania Eagan, founder of Blindtiger Design, a Seattle agency that specializes in designing identities for breweries. “That innocence meant people could just hodgepodge things together. You can’t get away with that anymore.” In the last five or so years, craft brewing has reached a level of maturity where breweries have decided it’s worth the time and money to hire a design studio who can help them “professionalize” their look. And accordingly, a crop of design studios like Blindtiger whose primary, if not exclusive, focus is on beer branding have sprung up to take advantage of the growing market.

From left to right: Dobri Fruit Canon, MonsRegius IPA Bianca, Ticketybrew Pale Ale

One of those studios is Thirst Craft, an agency out of Glasgow, Scotland, that has focused on booze branding since its founding in 2010. Matt Burns, Thirst Craft’s creative director, says he’s been privy to the progression of craft brewing firsthand, and he’s noticed breweries becoming more and more savvy about how to think about their branding. “All of our projects have a strategic background now,” he says. “We often look for that one simple idea that will hold the brand together. It’s the story the brewery wants to tell.” In other words, classic consumer branding has made its way to craft brewing. The days of treating the label as a blank canvas for exploration aren’t over, necessarily, but breweries now understand the appeal of having some semblance of a cohesive identity.

Like most consumer products, a beer label comes with its own idealized hierarchy of information. “When someone is walking down the aisle, the first thing they’ll look for is beer style,” says Isaac Arthur of Indianapolis studio CODO Design. Is it a lager? An IPA? A stout? That should be clear. Next they’ll look for the brewery. Tasting notes or original story follow that. Style helps, he says, but like all visual trends, what you see on the shelf is cyclical, and with many beer companies chasing the same trend, the shelves quickly start to homogenize. “Right now we’re seeing a return to illustration and bright colors,” he says. “I imagine that next year we’ll see more reductive and plain packaging. It swings like that.”

Arthur and his team have designed the identities for more than 50 breweries and have written a book about the art of the beer can called the Craft Beer Branding Guide, which bills itself as a “step-by-step guide to branding your brewery, telling your story and selling a helluva lot of beer.” He says the rise in elevated beer branding is a direct result of the rise in elevated beer. For a certain type of customer, beer is no longer a commodity purchase; it’s a hobby that people are willing to spend money on, and the branding should reflect that. “If you think about who the craft beer audience traditionally has been, it’s historically been younger, white males that have money to blow,” he says. “This is an expensive product. It’s a luxury even though it’s not, you know, a Rolex.”

Boulevard Brewery

This realization has led many of craft beer’s old guard breweries to rethink how they approach branding. Boulevard, a brewery out of Kansas City that was started in 1989, underwent a brand refresh in 2015, a time when more than 1.5 breweries were opening every day. Competition for shelf space was intense, and the brewery, which had more than 25 beers, was planning expand beyond the Midwest at the time. In the past, the brewery had focused on branding individual beers and used its colorful street sign logo as its main identifier. “We needed to unify the system so from a distance our beer would be recognizable as Boulevard,” says Frank Norton, an in-house designer and art director at Boulevard who helped Austin studio Helms Workshop with the rebrand.

The story is similar to other breweries across the country who are now facing stiffer competition in their hometown markets. When KettleHouse, a craft brewery in Missoula, Montana, started making beer in the late 1990s, it hired a friend and local artist to design its self-described “down home” logo and beer can design. One of the cans featured an illustration of a man fishing on a river in a bucket hat and blue denim shirt. “Our younger staff started calling that image ‘Grandpa,’” says Suzy Rizza, a co-owner of KettleHouse. “It was not resonating with the millennials.”

I actually think what a beer tastes like comes down to the way the way it looks as well.

KettleHouse decided it was time to rebrand. When they started brewing beer, they were one of the first in the state. Now there are nine breweries in Missoula alone, and another 10 on the way. The owners saved up for more than a year to plan and pay for the brand refresh by CODO, despite the protestations of some of their employees who didn’t want to fix what they considered was still a perfectly workable logo. “We decided it was time to put our big boy, and girl, pants on and polish up a little,” Rizza says. “People are inundated when they stand at the cooler now, so you do have to make your label a little bit attractive.”

If that all sounds obvious, that’s because it is. The surge in Instagram-worthy beer design is the natural progression of an industry that’s taking itself, and its customers, more seriously. Consumer preference never comes down to just one thing—but considered design, once a marker of ambition, is now non-negotiable in a world where packaging can help one local pilsner sell out and leave the other sitting on shelves. “I’ve always been a big believer that we drink with our eyes,” says Burns of Thirst Craft. “I actually think what a beer tastes like comes down to the way the way it looks as well.”

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Name: Goliagolia
Designers: Daniel McQueen
Foundry: The Designers Foundry
Release Date: March 2019

Back story: The design of Goliagolia began as a kind of game—or rather, as one designer’s obsessive quest to kern the most complicated typographic puzzle he could devise for himself. Daniel McQueen, founder of The Designers Foundry, wanted each letter of his new font to have a distinct flourish that differed from those of the other letterforms while still uniting the lot as a distinct set of characters.

“I drew the same letter several times with random gestures each time using the brush tool in FontLab, until I got a shape that I liked that could fit with the other glyphs,” says McQueen. “The fact that the letters often have similar but always different serifs is due to the fact that at the base of this font there is no module or grid. Ultimately everything was done by hand following very few rules, and yet the aesthetic is consistent.”

McQueen searched for a rolling, liquid-like form—one that oozed the same rhythm of repeating the word “golia” to yourself over and over again. And while the font might look breezy like liquid smoke, there’s been countless hours of precise tinkering behind its formation. “It’s been a long process of adjusting letter details and kerning, in order to try to give order to the chaos and make everything look organic,” says McQueen.

Why’s it called Goliagolia? Well, firstly there’s its slight visual onomatopoeia. Secondly, the G—with its swooping, graceful hood that looks a bit like a lolling tongue—is McQueen’s favorite character. What better way to show it off than to put its capital and lowercase form in one name?

Goliagola, TDF, 2019.

What are its distinguishing characteristics? Particularly when in its 3D rendered chrome effects, Goliagolia looks like a spaceship collided with a baroque cathedral. Its geometric imperfections and curves lend the font a sense of the handwritten, but this homespun quality is juxtaposed by the sharp stem endings, which seem to slice into the letterforms like a knife. The font’s shoulders are heavy and slope inwards, and its bowls sometimes only partially close. When paired with the chrome effect, this rushed quality sits in an interesting tension with the heavy, metallic aesthetic.

Perhaps most distinguishing is the fact that all licenses of the font are given free access to the original PhotoShop files, so that designers can copy the chrome effect shown in The Designers Foundry’s display images.

Goliagola, TDF, 2019.

What should I use it for? When you’re blowing it up big on posters or for editorial spreads, use the free chrome effect for an “Acid Graphics” style—it’ll look particularly neat for music- and fashion- related projects. If you’re brave, and your audience is okay with squinting, Goliagolia looks gorgeously intriguing and ornamental in a smaller size—and it forms a striking black and white pattern on the page.

What should I pair it with? Since it’s a high contrast font, any bold grotesque will emphasize its unusual shapes. If it’s a wide font, even better, because Goliagolia has very large letterforms. Perhaps try Brik, Averta, Sharp Grotesk, or Adieu.

Goliagola, TDF, 2019.
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I recently received a postcard from a designer based in the Netherlands named Amy Suo Wu. It seemed innocuous at first, a simple piece of cardboard with a series of bold graphics on the front and a handwritten address. Peering closer, I noticed a tiny URL directing me to a location on Google maps. When I cut holes into the card as I’d been instructed to by an email from Wu, and then placed the postcard over my screen, a secret message appeared. It was visible through the card’s holes, made from letters on the digital map. This postcard was no ordinary missive at all, but actually what’s known as a Cardan grille—a centuries-old technique for writing secret messages—one that Wu has updated to suit our digital times.

Amy Suo Wu, A Cookbook of Invisible Writing, 2019.

Wu has been researching the potential of analogue forms of secret communication like the Cardan grille and invisible ink for a number of years now, as part of her own artistic practise and for a hacking course that she teaches design students at the Willem de Kooning Academy. “At first, invisible ink and secret writing seemed like a magical and very tactile way to engage students with the difficult subject of online surveillance and the often frustratingly impenetrable complexities,” says Wu.

Her research into the field of analog steganography—the art of hiding messages within a seemingly ordinary piece of communication, and the extraction of their secrets—focuses on developing secure and accessible communication methods in a time of pervasive corporate and governmental spying. This month, Wu’s released the culmination of her research in the form of a chunky, spiral-bound book peppered with illustrations. A Cookbook of Invisible Writing, published with Onomatopee press, contains numerous recipes for secret communication, including nine recipes for invisible ink. As well as being a form of instructional manual, the book contains essays on colonial histories and modern-day applications of surveillance technologies, as well as case studies, puzzles, and a few hidden messages of its own. Together, they attest to the subversive potential of pre-digital spy methods.

Amy Suo Wu, A Cookbook of Invisible Writing, 2019.

“Obsolete analog techniques such as the Cardan grille on paper could be tactically used to subvert surveillance and evade censored contexts precisely because most of our communication is digital,” says Wu. “Paper is not ‘smart’—it doesn’t send information back and forth to servers around the world, and thus it cannot so easily be intercepted by third parties.” Wu cites an example of the relative security of paper as exemplified by a scene in Citizen Four, the documentary film on Edward Snowden, where the journalist Glenn Greenwald resorts to paper and pen to communicate. “In fact, the option of going offline or off-the-grid is becoming increasingly relevant due to our digital vulnerability and unease generated around that reality,” says the artist. “Such sentiments are mirrored by changes in consumer behaviour. One local German publication reported that following the Snowden revelations in 2013, Bandermann and Olympia typewriter manufacturers were experiencing a customer surge.”

Wu locates a radical potential in analog forms, and sees print as taking on a newfound relevance especially in the context of governmental censorship. One of Wu’s essays, for example, recounts time spent in China with the artist-run zine collective Font Fo: “It was fascinating but not surprising to hear them talk about harnessing the tactical nature of printed DIY zines,” says Wu. “Running out of a home-studio in Guangzhou, Fong Fo prints, binds, and distributes its work on paper in a conscious effort to circumvent stringent censorship measures and publish more freely in the government-restricted Chinese media landscape.”

Several of Wu’s own design projects, which are documented in the book, have tapped into the subversive potential of DIY, tactile ephemera, such as her 2017 Thunderclap “walking zine”. For the piece, Wu embedded subversive content into QR codes woven onto fashion accessories. This steganographic design uses unsuspicious fashion accessories to distribute the anarchist writings of a largely forgotten Chinese feminist to passers-by on busy streets. According to Wu, the QR code “has become a ‘habitualized’ mode of information access and as a result its pervasive visual presence inadvertently provides an inconspicuous cover.”

In the tradition of manuals published on secret writing, Wu’s cookbook channels the spirit of accessibility, of easy distribution, and information sharing. An important source of inspiration has been Della Porta’s 1558 popular science book Natural Magic, which was one of the first publications to disperse invisible ink recipes to a wide audience. “In essence, the Cookbook is a hybrid compilation,” says Wu. “It’s my hope that this Cookbook might be able to contribute to the conversation by helping you make small changes and perform acts of resistance at whatever scale, wherever you find yourself to be.”

Amy Suo Wu, A Cookbook of Invisible Writing, 2019.
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