Instead of “Instead of a Manifesto”.
Objects that contain meaning
As graphic designers, we facilitate meaning: Through organisation and shaping of content, by making text navigable, we shape the reader’s path and, by giving it a tone, we can support or subvert the author’s message. We don’t say that good typography should disappear behind the text, or that it should grasp the viewer’s attention; we don’t say it should be present or absent; we say: Let us read the text.
As graphic designers, we develop objects: We are concerned with every aspect of, for example, a book: from editorial and visual concepts to all aspects of its materiality — the choice of format to the paper and inks used for the printing, or even the glue used for the binding — because they all influence each other. We see our practise as holistic because we are not solely concerned with the ordering of, and navigation within, materials: we also direct an orchestra of skilled professionals, which include paper manufacturers, photographers, lithographers, printers and binders. Together, we work on creating an object, a perfect vessel for its content.
This does not mean that we only make books with easy-to-follow structures, with typography carefully optimised to be as readable as possible, and that all our books follow all the classical conventions of book design. We are very interested in playing with the expectations of the reader, to make books that are as challenging visually and as objects, as their content is.
In typeface design, the notion of a content-based design approach is more difficult to follow; usually a font design is developed for a purpose, not with content as a starting point. Nevertheless, we try to claim, as a starting point for our typefaces, an idea that is bigger than only formal considerations, especially in our self-initiated, explorative typefaces. The end results may be abandoned, but the process of working out those ideas is a result in its own right.
Objects about objects
We are always intrigued by objects, that while perfectly serving their purpose, also tell a story about the object itself: We try to make each book, poster or typeface also an enquiry into the nature of books, posters and typefaces, an exploration of the basic concepts of these objects, and a reflection of the present state of our ever-ongoing quest for that essence.
Modernity, not modernism
“What I ask of machine-made books is that they shall look machine-made” This quote from Eric Gill (recorded 1926, first published 1982*) succinctly explains what we consider to make contemporary design contemporary.
We believe in modern, not in ism. While our work often comes out as sober and reduced, this is not a dogmatic attitude or a preference, but always a reaction to the content and the ideas that we shape. We do, however, value and incorporate in our design process the aesthetics of modern production methods.
In typeface design, for example, we feel very strongly that a still prevailing trend of mimicking the production methods from centuries ago is both wrong and nonsensical. We no longer have to file away on sticks of metal to make a stamp for a letter, and no longer have a three-dimensional impression of the character into the paper. All those little curves, their softness, their roundness, are based on this archaic printing method. Typeface designers now work with digital curves in one hundred times their real size; every parameter and every seemingly incommensurable dimension of these curves is designed with measurable values.
We believe time has come – to paraphrase Gill – for digitally-made typefaces to look digital. They should be sharp, where the design asks for a sharp shape, and should boast a perfect curve where a round form is desired. Their straight lines should be straight, the connections between their strokes should be consequent and decisive.
We are not serif-eschewing modernists, nor do we believe grid systems must be used in all our work. If anything, we are modern because we prefer the typefaces of our time (with or without serifs) and value the grid as a flexible aid for precise work. We recognise them as the tools of the modern designer, which make our lives easier: typefaces with large character sets and with programmatically designed large families, but also modern design programs that let us make and break as many grids as we see fit.
Reluctant to rely only on the default tools of software applications, we try to build our own instruments to solve specific design problems, whenever the possibility and the need present themselves: From our own typefaces that convey exactly the atmosphere we require, to little helper-programs that assist us in repetitive production steps in type design, to programs that can generate colours, patterns, and even whole layouts automatically. The truly modern tools of design are those that do not exist until you make them.
— Susana and Kai, May 2009.
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* in the journal Fine print Vol. 8, no. 3, 1982, under the title ‘The artist & book production’.