We are finally sitting in the ‘Salle M/M Paris’. I’m happy to have finally managed to catch François Rappo and Jörg Koch during this workshop week at ECAL in Lausanne. After some smalltalk and preparation of the setting — the room is bright and quiet — only my phone is laying on the table in the middle of us, I push record ... By Hugo Hoppmann, with Jörg Koch & François Rappo.INTRODUCTION
HH Thank you for your time. It’s my pleasure to have you two on board, since we are all busy in different projects in this workshop week. This is leading me to my first question: What is the workshop you are giving about actually? And why ECAL, why Lausanne? How did the connection happen? What is your relation to this school?
JK The relationship evolved when François invited me for a diploma jury session six months ago. When it comes to the workshop I have to say that I’m, historically speaking, quite sceptical about workshops in their general nature. On the other side I always regarded the ECAL as a fantastic site of potential that I was really curious about. Also I really like the idea that you are not like a hired gun who goes like from one school to another, but that you actually engage with such an institution.
HH It’s the first year of the two new masters — Art Direction and Industrial Design — are you happy with the outcome so far?
FR François Rappo Yes. The good thing with the master is that there are less students and they are supposed to be more autonomous.
That also means that we can, again, develop ideas further. In the past the school was smaller and this was a great asset. Our education model is very inter-disciplinary, we have a cluster of students from different specialised parts of the so-called field of visual communication. And from their own niche, with their own key-knowledge they are supposed to collaborate in a project. The idea for the workshop was to have guests like Jörg and Jonathan who act more like intellectual partners with autonomous students. And then to propose the opportunity for students to work with colleagues from another departement.In fact it should be normal for students from product design and students from visual communication to collaborate!
HH That’s great. And it is in my eyes a real necessity to intertwine with people from other fields. I know a lot of students from different areas, but I would like see more collaborative projects. Our school seams to be very open but in fact there is still a lot to do when it comes to the communication between the departements.
JK Yes I see that too. Well, then the workshop is probably like a social experiment of a new kind ... I was quite surprised by the start of it: All information I got was to be there on Monday at 8:15 to be picked up at the hotel — … it was really interesting to find a way into the workshop.
FR Yes, and it was maybe the first Better Mistake (Laughs)
HH Yeah! You just do it and see where it heads ...
JK Exactly, just do it!
FR Well, it was maybe a bit risky but I knew that we have some really good students, autonomous enough, and I was confident that we could do something good.But you know, I’m not an educator, basicaly I’m interested in type design. But education is a black-box, I think it has to keep a certain mystery …
JK Yes — It’s like an instigator!
FR ... we have great guests but nevertheless the right to make mistakes — but yes, you got to take some risks first! (Laughs)
HH How is the workshop actually evolving so far? Are you happy with what you have seen so far?
JK I’m actually pretty impressed! And we can deliver results tomorrow morning. The level of quality of the students is really good in producing results, and that is what I find great at ECAL. It is heavily integrated into the business and the industrial aspect of the disciplines. It’s not something super- abstract, but really tied to producing realities.WONDERFUL LINKS
HH In my opinion this fact can be an advantage, but also, on the other side, there is a lack of theoretical understanding. The ECAL is my first design school, I started my studies here. At the beginning I found the education model here normal, because I was getting used to it. I didn’t know other methods until I discovered that most art schools are rather less intensive and interdisci-plinary — when I hear from design schools in Germany for instance, they mostly have one or two projects in one semester. Here we have all this different projects, so as a graphic designer you do also a lot of photography, interaction design, videoclips etc. Now, in second year, it became more specific, while in the first year it was even more extreme. Me personally, I like it, also in regard to the future for the graphic designer it will be probably very useful to have a horizon which is just much bigger!
JK I think you are putting up really wonderful links to what François said yesterday in a conversation: that in the future you will be very specialised but with a lot of different interfaces for other disciplines — It’s all about building bridges. People must communicate, and that’s probably the desired effect of this workshop. That the people from different areas are talking and are finding a common language so that they can work together even though they are actually from different disciplines. You learn to find a common ground in doing a project together.
FR But these different ‘niches’ or specialised fields have their own tradition, their own vernacular part. If you are a product designer you can look back on the old tradition of design, the many different techniques. If you make typedesign the same thing is possible, or even in video, although it has a shorter history. If you decide to make something specific you can meet the right guy, the right person, not only a ‘go-between’, so you have to have somewhere in the house the right person when you say: “I’m interested in typedesign”. And, yes, you also have to create good bridges — what can fit good together in one suitcase? If you look at the past it was more based on methodology, rationalism. Idealy you should have all the tools here — I’m not sure you have all of them, in other schools you have better bridges and maybe less ‘niches’ but it’s always moving, maybe in third year you rather make your personal menu ...
HH It’s also a useful thing, when you are not sure about your profession. You can easily experiment with other mediums and material. It’s important to stay open. What for me is somehow missing at ECAL is the communication in between the different areas. A lot of students are very enclosed, doing their own thing, very concentrated, working good, but they seem not interested in other departments, nor they know the work of their colleagues — this I find a great pity. I have the idea of a unique platform giving transparency and better possibilities to student-intern communication ... — this should be something for the future!
FR Now it’s a bigger school and you are right, maybe we have to develop new platforms, new tools for communication, because it’s ture, the structure has some delay in a way.
HH Maybe the solution could be a magazine. I heard that the ‘Master’ students are creating some kind of a ECAL magazine for this purpose — could be perfect! I think it’s really sad that have the chance to see any of the works and the progress in more archivated way. Unfortunately almost no-one has a website running ... I find super-useful for myself to have one ...
FR Yes, I know it! — it’s very nice! (Laughs)
JK Thanks! Well, I find myself constantly trying to encourage the people around me: Build a website! Share, deliver, be open to critique! Today the technical part is so easy to handle — there are fabolous tools, you don’t have to be a programmer. But it seems that people are so scared to present their stuff, always argueing that it is not the right time: “I’m to young, I’m not good enough, my work is too primitive”. But I think that even if you are not super experienced yet, it’s always very inspiring to see the process of someone with passion. I have noticed people are checking my websites, mailing me questions about it: how/when/why did do this and that? I’m therefore able to help and share my experiences with them! Also as an interested outsider you finally have some insight and documentation of the process of an ECAL student — and not only the finished and polished pictures of final diploma works! Anyway: I think it would have been helpful to me when I started because I really had only these naiv, vague and utopian vision of this school maybe this was a good thing — Well, I’m happy here and I think I’ve made the right choice. But to finish: This sort of platform is really missing and I believe we can change this!
HH Talking about risk-taking: Our magazine idea evolved from this lack of insight into our profession, a lack of openess and radicalness from students — but things like that we already saw in the course of the last century: political and art movements, manifesto’s ... We really liked the idea sharing our pure passion for design with a nouveau radicality. To take risks, to be radical and have the courage to make mistakes. We want to cultivate a deeper interest and exchange on our passions.
FR What is striking now is that there is almost no discourse on our activity, on graphic design. Except Martin Heller’s essay Die 99 schlechteste Plakate der Schweiz, which was extremely ironic. He made an exhibition with extremely critcal and hard comments on the posters but they were supposed to be the worst…— like a joke with the competition of that time ... ‘the most beautiful books’ for example. But for me this was the only little milestone you can find in Switzerland, a critical approach to my knowledge. I remember that for years and years graphic design and architecture in Switzerland were like brother and sister. There were some outstanding creators and protectors, for example Max Bill, who translated the ideology of architecture to graphic design. In a way they forced, they triggered, they built graphic design. Now I like to compare graphic design to architecture again — it’s very easy and useful to translate topics from one field to the other — but almost nobody is doing that at the moment. It’s difficult to find website, or a magazine on that topic. Or a real discourse on typography — it’s still missing! I mean, it’s a wonderful time for typography! It’s unique, it’s one of the richest moments in the history of type design, but it’s niche. And the bridge which could connect type design to graphic design is hard to find.
JK To me as an outsider, this seems to be one of the problematic issues at ECAL — that there might be a lack of critical discourse. It’s a premium place when it comes to producing results, but the aspect of a critical engagement might be missing. But I think it’s much easier to integrate that in a school like ECAL than going vice versa at a school that is very conceptual-driven, very theory-driven, to have then a really high-standard output. I’m not really in the education industry (Laughs), so I don’t really have the knowledge. I just feel that students these days seem to be less curious, less ambitious, less radical. But it has also something to do with the general political climate outside of the university. The university is not something that exist outside of society, so the great moments in architecture, the great moments in design, the great moments in fashion, always happened when there was also some great social or political climate — think for example of the ‘Ulmer Hochschule für Gestaltung’ in the 1950’s. The students who came there were heavily politicised because of the war. They wanted to create a new world, there was this whole utopian idea of design, that design could be used for something better.
FR There was some kind of utopian vision for me in what I called “post-modern-content” — to link for example professional visual languages with low, mass or popular visual languages. It has some critical potential — but now I feel it’s a bit over. I come from a model of education which was described as ‘Kunstgewerbe’ — I’m not ashamed to say that. ‘Berufsschule’, ‘Art et Métier’ — it’s modest in a way, it’s not really on a university level, it’s more practical, and I’m personally pretty interested in critical theory and theory in general. But I also know that there is some danger for an art school, because it’s not really a visual culture. I was also interested to be a graphic designer because it meant using a visual language, colors, lines, drawings, by hand or computer, and so on. And what is striking today: you can find a lot of highly sophisticated theory on culture, on different layers of topics etc… but for people who are spending their time to study colors, lines, drawings, it seems to be more and more difficult in a way, to feel confident to use senses like eyes, touching, haptic you can see the study of the colors only in the ‘Propédeutique’ — It’s like a ‘Nebensache’, so nobody would take the risk to make a new theory on colors to connect colors with some social values or like abstract drawings: “drawings are for artists” — but they don’t draw it anymore. I used to use drawing as a tool, it’s not art! It’s typical what’s happening in society. We are overloaded by pictures, but it’s very passive in a way. I think we are just always on this borderline of practical knowledge and theoretical knowledge.WORK AND LIFE STRATEGIES
HH I’m personally very interested in working philosophies, methodologies, strategies. Although having to do a lot of things in paralle, I’m trying to stay focused the best that I can. It’s quite a challenge to find the right balance, also in order to not over-work yourself. I sometimes have to remind myself to take breaks, to slow down a bit and try to relax. You have to find a balance between work and play. I imagine that you two have experience in this — be it for work or life. What are your strategies?
JK I’m very bad for useful advices… But one thing that is really helpful — be it with the magazine, or be it here with the workshop — is that you always create restrictions — that helps to define the output. And you either play, work or resist these restrictions. Obviously to be very good in your discipline you really have to be obsessive. Another personal advice I might give in order have a good seperation between work and life is having a partner, a kid, and a dog. (Laughs) That’s something that automatically requires time, you know? When it comes efficiency, I always like this myth of Swiss watch makers: when they come to the studio and they realise that it’s not “their day” they simply take it off — because they can’t afford to fuck up the watch, just because they were not really concentrated.… And I think this is a really nice model — if you have the possibility to do that.
HH Interesting model, indeed!THE LONELY TYPOGRAPHER
FR Well … the motivation … At the beginning I always followed what was giving me fun, what was pleasant to do. As a graphic designer you can find many solutions how to be a professional. The great help for me was the personal computer. When I discovered, almost twenty years ago, that it was possible to generate what could be a vague typeface, or just to make one letter with this program — that was a big surprise. I always liked to draw, I like to draw in the afternoon, in the evening, in the morning — and to sleep and to wake up and say: “What did I do yesterday?— wow — no, it’s not so great” (Laughs) I started to teach quite late, when I was fourty and it was at the same time were I got the computer, so now I have a different kind of fun. I like typedesign it’s very quiet… and you can stay at home — and I can spend hours just sitting on my arse! (Laughs)
HH So when no-one stops you ...
HH Yes, I can start in the morning, just out of the bed, with the first cup of coffee…— no it’s true. It’s a great pleasure: it’s fresh, everything is fresh, and you have new eyes, and you say wow, that does work — it’s very nice. Without commission, so I have my own agenda, which is great. But I also like to have from time to time real commissions to work on. Now we have many students, and it’s a bit difficult with the bachelor I must say. But for years it was really exciting, so you have among the students the one or the one specific group that pushes the borders further, and you say, wow, it’s new, new ideas, new topics, new approaches, new values — anyway, it’s extremely pleasant I don’t feel like a teacher, but rather like in the middle of a lot of great talents ... Anyway, I don’t have a dog — I’m quite lonely!
JK I think you have to be like that as an typographer!
FR It’s true, and as a caricature back in history of typography, I think from the 16th century on, for example Giovanni Francesco Cresci — they were all very overdressing, in a lot of black, satin, cold guys with no humour, obsessed… It’s an obsession.
HH You have to be obsessed in a way!
FR Yes, but I can see that kind of obsessity also in a friend of mine, who is a photographer and who also has vélo… and photographers they always take care of the material, they are very technically orientated, he is able to name every little detail of his bike — I’m totally unable to do that. I like beautiful bikes, expensive ones and it’s alot of energy to keep the vélo in a good shape and from time to time I’m also on my bike and that is always a great “Trennung”.
François Rappo says good-bye and leaves the room to join Pierre Fantys for the consultations, Hoppmann and Koch are continuing with the last topic: 032cOn 032c Magazine
HH Alright, so let’s go for it. So the last topic is your magazine — 032c — and all I can say is: one of my favourite magazines!
JK OK, cool!
HH I buy it — also if it’s quite expensive …
JK You buy it in Germany, no?
HH Yes, the last one in Köln.
JK I have to say that 10 Euro is actually a really good price for a magazine on that level — the content the different paper stocks, the thickness — I think the prize is completely justified whereas it is indeed expensive in the States or in Japan. The binding in past issues for instance you would only find in business reports or in art books that cost like 30-40 Euros. Plus most people probably keep and collect 032c issues while they dispose most other magazines. So, it is a good investment!
HH Yeah, I keep them, of course! Let’s dig deeper: How about the process? In the last issue I saw this picture for the exhibition in New York where you can see two people staring at layed out pages on the floor doing a ‘chemin de fer’ like good old Alexey Brodovich ...
JK The funny thing is that this is actually a historical image and the exhibition did not feature anything like this. In fact it shows the complete opposite of what the exhibition was about. Because it wasn’t about designing pages or showing layouts from past issues. It was about objects and relationships that have defined 032c. By the way, this image also documents the only time we both ever looked together the the complete printed magazine page by page. Obviously we have all these pdf’s but somehow we never have the time to print out the complete magazine so the sequence and everything is completely a mind thing. It’s crazy ... On the other hand it also implies that we all know what we do and how we do I mean, it’s the experience probably that makes that possible. The process of developing a new issue is quite organic because it’s a bianual title, so you don’t have the pressure of a weekly or monthly magazine. There are general issues we are concerned with, and we have sections to fill with life… The only real big problem for the magazine production is mostly the big dossier with 40-50 pages on a certain topic or personality. That’s the most complicated set-up, but everything else, like I said, is an organic process. We don’t have institutionalised editorial meetings or anything. Mostly I’m travelling, I’m meeting somebody, we are talking… and developing ideas “on the go” so to speak. There is a nice balance between rather spontanous stories happening and features for which we invest a lot of time and research to make them happen.
HH What about the relationship to your art director Mike Meiré? I imagine that you are in constant conversation.
JK Regarding the magazine? No.
HH How do you communicate and exchange ideas and thoughts?
JK We’re doing a lot of discussions over the phone and emailing pdf’s — back and forth. It’s a very unusual work collaboration because obviously it makes more sense to have everything under one roof, but that’s the strength of this collaboration, because there is this element of trust. You completely understand how the other person operates or thinks…and that makes it possible to go a step further maybe. Above that we are very well synchronised, it’s a wonderful collaboration with Mike and Tim (Giesen, designer of the magazine) — And because we are all having so many projects, we are not constantly touching bases. If big changes are happening we discuss it in advance, maybe a month before the production actually starts. But it’s not like that there are daily, or weekly calls - it’s weekly calls because of other things, but not about the magazine. It is a truly wonderful collaboration ...
HH What about the process and the story behind the redesign with Mike Meiré that happened in issue 13? It had quite some coverage on the internet, blogs discussed about the “new ugly”, streching type, breaking graphic design “rules” etc.BEYOND A TYPE CHOICE
JK Well ... I think we both came from from two different directions, but were arriving at the same point: we believed that this whole “good taste” design, like very “tasteful” 90’s version of swiss modernism — was dead. It didn’t have any critical implications, so you could produce the most banal content and package it in that design and it would look very upscale and meaningful… we got really fed-up with it. So with the redesign it was all about how to energize a magazine. This keyword “energy” was really instrumental for the process. Creative Review cointed the design afterwards as “the new ugly”. But it wasn’t our aim to make things intentionally ugly, but rather — coming back again to the whole ideas of energy — creating for us a very unstable environment. And it’s exactly the feeling we wanted to provoke: that you look at it and you really don’t know whether you like it or not. It becomes a complete grey-zone where your experience or your understanding of taste completely evaporates. It was like going back to point zero. For us it really was like making a radical cut with the past of the magazine and creating a ground-zero again. And using this experience to energize our understanding of modern design. And you can see over the last issues how the design has evolved into something quite unique. Oh, and when it comes to the stretched-typography thing for us it never really was the point, because Mike and I are not really into typograhpy. I can say that now that François has gone (Laughs) —we just use the classics like Helvetica, Bodoni, Times and that’s it!
HH That’s interesting. I already discussed this with Mirko (Borsche) when I stayed in Munich for an internship ... you know him?
JK Yes. Unfortunately I only see him at award shows ... He’s mega.
HH Last summer I worked in his bureau which was interesting and productive, and we also discussed about other designers and like the “scene” and stuff ... we ended up talking about Mike Meiré and Mirko told me about the fact that, like you mentioned, he is not really into typography — not a fact you would imagine — he is regarded as one of the best art directors out there, doing a lot of great work. So for me this was like a banal thing at first. But he just seems to be “beyond a font choice” somehow. He designs concepts and finds ways to create them in the best possible way.
JK He doesn’t operate any program!
HH Also a thing I didn’t know about in the beginning: actually, when it comes to 032c, it’s Tim Giesen who does the ‘real’ design, who translates the ideas of Meiré – so you could say that Mike Meiré rather designs “with his mouth” so to speak. He is like the moderator...
JK Yes, but this is like how design happens. You know Mike is the quintessential art director and he can kill anybody in the German business of design, because he can really conceptualize things. And the reason it is a fantastic collaboration between me, him and Tim is because the process of working is extremely powerful — we design by just talking about it. And then it gets visually translated. It really stresses the process and allows space for misunderstandings, and this error possibility is really important for 032c, because it makes something unexpected possible. The Meirés are super quick with designing magazines — but 032c always takes a lot of time for them because there is so much discussions and refinements involved with it. Interestingly about the design process — we don’t use that much reference images. We really use words — that’s why I pointed out “energy” for instance — it is like a keyword. So these are words where you can project a lot to it. And that’s only possible because the reference system we both have is completely synchronised and that’s such a powerful way of working. We throw to each other certain keywords, often operating with keywords that don’t really have any appliance in graphic design. For me for instance, when I thought about the magazine it was really productive to use a word like “performance” from industrial design — “performance of an object” — and importing it into graphic design. Or another important keyword that came from an industrial, military jargon was “V.U.C.A.” which means volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous…— if you have something like that in your mind thinking about the design for a magazine it creates much more productive potentials than looking at what magazine XY did in 1972. Again, when we work with reference images it’s more about the distilling of an atmosphere about it and then, because of that, because of the discussions, because of the misunderstandings you come to something that is radically different from the rest of the market, because the rest of the market has like a pin board of reference images like “let’s use this element, let’s use that element” — we probably create combinations that don’t really make sense ...IS 032c NOT VERY ELITIST?
HH Thanks for the insight. And the sometimes strange combinations are the reason which makes 032c so fresh I think ... Let’s switch to a question by my colleague Vincent who asks: “Is 032c not very elitist?” I think he means it in the sense of super-high niveau meaning that you are kind of super-intellectual and just give a damn about the others might think.
JK Well, 032c was often perceived as elitist, but it’s not intentionally elitist in the sense that we want to exclude people — it’s not. Anybody can get it, anybody can approach us. If you make an effort to get the magazine and you engage with it, it’s all yours. It just clashes with the predominant mindset that in today’s world people are perceived as being stupid and things need to be as as uncomplicated and as ungengaging as possible. We simply resist this.
In the beginning it was different. The magazine has changed several times so when the magazine was distributed the first time to concept stores and fashion boutiques like the first five, six, seven issues ... it was very specific, it was really like a black box. If you did not know about the stuff, then the magazine could not work for you. But it was appropriate for the time and for those specific distribution outlets, because the people we reached at this stage were super well informed and so-called “taste-makers”. But as the distribution progressed, involving newsstands, also internationally, the magazine also opened up considerably. When you look at the current issue for instance, the level of writing, the level of ideas and so on — it’s really not that much different from what you get in a mainstream magazine like Vanity Fair. The magazine now opens up much more and there is much more of a point in making yourself understandable, and making yourself relevant to a much bigger group. It’s really tied to the question of growth and distribution – like with the design. It’s a question of appropriateness, and being appropriate is a very important point, because, coming back to the whole ‘new ugly’ discussion, was like that people suggested, no rather: accosted us that we suggested stretched typography for guiding signage at JFK airport.
And that was never ever our intention. It was such a specific solution to a very specific magazine because the streched typography and the references to early desktop publishing was only possible because it was tightly bound to high-end photography. If you have Andreas Gursky for instance you can then go in that direction. Because it really was a question about attitude that whole design process — the streched typography ... it never occurred to us that this will be like the defining element of everything. Because again: we are not typography nerds. For us the typography was just a small detail. For me the defining element was that we have the possibility to work with Andreas Gursky’s images. Every magazine makes his images as big as possible, we put them in a small quarter of a double spread — and the rest in red. Next to the file name in big letters ... that was for me the essence of the whole process. That you completely question certain things. Streched typography was just one element to it. And it was always the idea of this whole design process: doing the extreme and than slowly reducing it to come to a more classical design again, but with the energy generated by that design. If you look at the new issues, we have gone back to very classical stuff… you can still see small elements, but every section has it’s own identity and streched typography no longer exists there. Now you really have very classic, mainstream spreads, like the Nike spread, that looks very much like American Vanity Fair, but still there is an energy there, I think, on the pages… and that energy that comes from those experiments I think, of doing something completely different and antagonizing.
HH For me the quality and achievement of 032c is the position and power to be that radical but to stay very open at the same time. To be able to change directions, and every issue is always quite different, that’s makes it so interesting ...
JK Thank you! As far as I can say that as somebody who is involved with it (Laughs), there is indeed, like you said, a certain sense of unpredictability, and you really can’t say what’s happening in the next issue. Because often we even don’t know it. For example: I am not into comics at all, but somehow we ended up printing 40 pages of an architectual comic on the development in Dubai on red paper few issues ago. You know, two weeks before we went into printing we weren’t aware of this going to happen, but it suddenly made sense and was integrated. Contentwise, the editorial parameters of the magazine are so defined and established, we really can do anything. We can do archaeology, we can do cars, we can do politics… but also pornography. That’s a sense of freedom that the magazine propagates.
HH Thanks alot for the conversation and the interesting insight!
JK Thank you for your interest!