Questions by students of the Werkplaats Typografie, 2008
What is your motto?
You can’t get a true beautiful result if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing. So, if we’re not enjoying what we’re doing while working on a certain project we aren’t on the ‘right track’, we should re-think our starting point, change the concept, and stay closer to our own values and ideas. Be honest. For example, we were asked to think about a new identity for the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. After having talked to the commissioner several times we kept having the feeling that something was not right. Their question didn’t make sense in relation to their wishes. To show them this, we made a powerpoint presentation showing an ‘over the top’ approach to the identity. We wanted to present them the opposite of what they probably wanted, to make them realize what they actually were asking us: a new letterhead in the same design as their existing website. After the presentation the commissioner was in shock. We proposed they would ask Min & Sulki Choi, the designers of their website, to also design their letterhead. Which they did.
Where/when did you decide to start your grafhic design firm?
We started collaborating during the Werkplaats Typografie (MA, Arnhem), where we met after our studies at the Art Academy Utrecht (Marijke) and Gerrit Rietveld Academy (Chantal). Since our cooperation seemed to lead to very interesting results, we opened our studio in Amsterdam (2004).
What natural (or supernatural) gift would you most like to posses?
M: Photographic memory / C: Super speed reeding
What is your favorite work that you have done till now, regardless to the client’s opinion?
The work we do for De Hallen Haarlem. The identity gives us a lot of freedom to make a new design for every exhibition, because it excists out of cutting vertically into every possible typefase the identity of the museum is always visible and at the same time each artist/show has its own character.
What is your dream of happiness?
What is your favorite inanimated object?
Drop shadows. We just love them.
Is the commissioner a prison guard?
Absolutely not. For us – the way we work – an assignment, problem or question is a necessary starting point. Without that we’re hopelessly lost. With the question, our process starts. We research the background of this question, who’s asking, why? Is it the right question? To which solution does the commissioner implicitly refer? Why should it be a book, or catalogue etc. By researching this we try to formulate a more relevant frame of reference for ourselves and the commissioner. So it is important to maintain a good and interesting relationship with the commissioner, and we see it rather as an cooperation.
For example, in the identity for the Netherlands Media Art Institute we visually research the question ‘what is media-art?’. In the design-process we found out that we didn’t know so much about media art and it very much seemed to deal with technique. So we use the identity to learn more about it and at the same time show this to the public. Within the image collections we search for features, cliché’s and forms of appearance of themes or technical developments in the history of media-art in relation to a specific exhibition.
If you had to explain what graphic design is to my parents in one or two sentences, what would you say?
It’s best not to go into details, just stick with saying you’re making mostly printed matter, like books and magazines. And no, you do not write them, someone else provides you with the content and your task is to compose this.
Which are your favorite books, (and projects) you designed?
The publication we made for the artist Cornelius Quabeck. At the time we made the publication he had had 5 solo-exhibitions. The work that he makes around each exhibition has a clear difference in subject and technique. We chose to isolate these different ‘bodies of work’ by wrapping the different sections. It looks as if another section could easily be added. Because of the size of his work we placed the images bleeding on a page, so you would get a same kind of ‘in your face’ effect as the work does in reality.
Of what do you consider yourself a connoisseur?
Of nothing really. We are very aware that there is much more to know about almost everything (although Chantal always comes across like she knows all about everything). But when talking (more chatting actually) to people we seem to have watched so much more really bad television than any other, that we know quite a lot about it.
What is your ordering system of your bookshelf?
Books of C and books of M.
If you can stay in another place for one year, where do you want to stay?
There’s no place like home
Do you think that what is suggested in this title (‘History will be kind to me for I intend to write it’) could apply extensively to your design practice? If so, do you see differences among commercial / self-initiated / research (through institutions) practices?
Yes, you could, or even should, apply this title also to graphic design. Not that writing history is a literal goal, but to be as renewing as possible in relation to the assignment, profession and yourself is definitely something to try to achieve. We take the commission of Tubelight (for which we work for free) as serious as for example a stamp for TNT Post.
On the stamp '125 years Vereniging Rembrandt' a selection of signatures is visible from a wide range of artists, who’s work is purchased with the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt. A curl rises from this collection, which shows a vignette symbolising a certification mark that the Vereniging Rembrandt leaves after having supported a work.
Tubelight is a review magazine for contemporary art and appears 6 times a year. The fact that it is a review-magazine with a certain reference/agenda-function is the basis for the design. The tab-system emphasizes the functionality of the magazine, but at the same time we take the freedom to use the tabs in a different way each new issue.
Many of your projects seem to pose/touch questioning in a critical way – demanding reflection and/or participation. I’d be glad to hear whatever you have to say about this issue.
Being critical, asking questions, this whole quest is so important when you’re part of an educational system, that it should be everywhere. These places should breath questions, uncertainty, reflection, search etc, and not only through students but it should be also a way of communicating. That’s what we’re trying to achieve when we work for these kinds of institute’s. The self critical attitude of an institute reflects this onto the attitude of its students, expecting from them to act like this as well.
Could you say something about the path of practice or reflect on the different contexts you’ve been through (WT, JVE, studio, teaching...). Considering there’s also the different timing of those experiences, it would be nice to grasp any particularities of that, if they’re meaningful to you to any extent.
Probably this so called path, or staying in a way connected to an institute, provides us with a great deal of freedom. Although we actually only work for commissioners it is very important to keep our own identity and opinion in relation to these commissions. Our own development is most important, we are aware of that, and by choosing this so called ‘path’ we want keep and expand this.
If you wouldn’t be a graphic designer what would you be?
M: Pastry chef / C: Building constructor
Do you have any other goals besides continuing with your studio?
This question almost depressed us: first we thought, no, we just want to continue what we’re doing and keep growing and developing. And then we imagined still being in the same studio 20 years from now and that frightened us and felt suffocating. So, yes, we probably have lots of other goals, but those will become clear as we go along. Maybe we want to work more for international commissioners or teach more abroad or change our work-environment at one point.
What is your type of man?
When in your life did you work the hardest?
M: Although we hardly work in evenings and/or weekends and everything always feels under controle, it would be now / C: At the Rietveld. Not that I worked harder than now, but I had the hardest time there.
What’s your favorite gadget right now?
We show our least favorite gadgets: A ball to sit on, which is highly unpractical. And a ball, which is an art object, that was the graduation-gift of the WT to the students that graduated the year C did.
Why are you working together?
If we worn’t working together the work of C would probably turn out quite unclear and vague, less detailed and not even finished at all, and M’s would be less renewing, stiff and probably rigid. So – it sounds corny – but we do complete each other in the design process.