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Interview: Typomaniac Erik Spiekermann

We speak with famed German typographer, designer and entrepreneur about his comprehensive visual biography "Hello I am Erik"

by Graham Hiemstra in Design on 28 August 2014

Berlin, Books, Design, Graphic Design, Interviews, Monographs, Typography, Erik Spiekermann, Gestalten

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Few individuals within the design community deserve as much acclaim as Erik Spiekermann—and even fewer typographers at that. Throughout his storied 30-year career, the prolific German typographer, designer and entrepreneur has influenced contemporary design—and society as a whole, whether they recognize it or not—in countless ways, from designing guidance systems for the Berlin Transport Authority and a typeface for Deutshe Bahn (Germany's national rail system) to developing the corporate identity for such brands as Audi, Volkswagon and Bosch. To celebrate his significant achievements, Gestaltan is set to release "Hello I am Erik," the first-ever visual biography of Erik Spiekermann's life and work. Edited, written and designed by longtime friend and colleague Johannes Erler, the 320-page compendium was produced in close cooperation with Speikerman, of course.

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Following Spiekermann from birth to present day, the unconventional biographical presentation brings the designer's highly revered work down to a personable level that's directly in tune with the personality of the man himself. Though intermittently interrupted with insightful accounts of his career from colleagues, friends and family, the rather linear path is completely complementary to understanding the magnitude of Spiekermann's influence, allowing the viewer to move along with the subject from his early years of typesetting at age 16 to founding the internet's first font retailer in FontShop International, as well as MetaDesign, United Designers Network and most recently Edenspiekermann. To gain further insight into the living design legend, we were lucky enough to speak with Spiekermann about his interest in returning to analog typography and working with the letterpress at P89a, his affinity for bicycles and what he enjoys most to do at home.

What excites you about "Hello I am Erik" and the way it presents your life and work?

It is more interesting to read about how things evolved—what didn't work and why—than just seeing flash representations of just one page as the end result of years of work. The process is more interesting than wrapping the whole story of a project into one image—unless you only design one-pagers like book covers, posters and record covers. Which is why I've always thought it unfair that those designers get to be more famous simply because their work can be shown in one stamp-size image.

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From former colleagues to family members, many people close to you offer insight in the book. If asked the same question (of who is Erik Spiekermann), what would you say?

The fellow who's got to where he is by picking the right people and not being afraid to hire people who were better than him. Their work makes him look good. His main talent has been to spot talent, get the right projects and let them get on with it.

Technology should be invisible.
Given your agency's efforts with ProRail and NS Dutch Railways, how do you feel the general population's interaction with technology-informed design is changing, and will change in the future?

Hopefully it won't change. Technology should be invisible, which is half the trouble: the slicker things get and the more invisible the technology becomes, our work also becomes invisible behind a thin veneer of user interfaces. But then, we've always spent most of our time developing complex projects for information or other visual systems of which the end-user never saw anything but a few nice pages, a logo or a website. Tip of the iceberg, unlike those record covers I mentioned above.

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You've said your work for Berlin's public transit is perhaps your favorite. Again looking back, is there a single project that you wish you could revisit and rework with the knowledge and experience you now hold?

The project for Deutsche Bahn could have been more effective if we had managed to involve other departments besides branding and corporate design. That goes for most large projects. The work for NS Dutch Railways only became successful because we brought together people from separate departments who had never met before. They exchanged knowledge which they all had but didn't know about. And we just facilitated the process, plus visualized the result.

What about using technology in conjunction with analog typesetting and design are you most excited about?

What about it? We're in the middle of making things. The Hamilton guys in Wisconsin have already cut some type for me manually. The result wasn't good enough, so now they're doing it again with a CNC router. We're also having letters printed by stereolithography. Works well but is too expensive for now. The good thing is that I have all the data for my typefaces and can easily supply those for all types of digital processes. And in the case of CNC routing, I designed a special typeface (HWT Artz) that allows for the tolerances and characteristics of that process.

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What interests you most about bicycles and bicycle design?

Cycling is the most efficient form of transport if you measure effort involved and distance achieved. That is mainly because the technology involved is so basic and clean. A single-speed bike is virtually the same it was more than 100 years ago, with lighter materials perhaps. The human body hasn't changed and the conversion of human power into lateral movement is still the same. Like with most machines, the ones that offer the most transparency into their function are the most beautiful ones. That's why I also collect Braun equipment. And that is the problem with digital stuff—the workings are invisible, so we have to design a surface that pretends to show functions. Much more difficult to design and impossible to comprehend. Anybody [can] understand how a bicycle works.

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You've recently moved from CEO to the Supervisory Board at P98a, which you refer to as a quasi-retirement. Will there ever be a day when you step away completely?

They call that day a funeral. I'll be as involved as people want me to be. I do not want to be one of those ex-bosses who cannot let go and keep interfering and talking about the good old days. I have plenty of interests which keep me from being bored.

What do you like most to do at the end of a long day?

Read.

"Hello I am Erik" will soon be available from Gestaltan for $60. And, for those in Berlin, be sure to stop by Gestalten Space at Sophie-Gips-Höfe, Sophienstraße 21 for a special book launch event with Erik Spiekermann and Johannes Erler tonight, 28 August 2014 at 7PM.

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DKNY Jeans + Raat City Present "New Art City" Group Show

A one-night-only showcase of emerging NYC artists focused on Big Apple realities

by David Graver in Culture on 27 August 2014

Carlos Santolalla, Donna Karan, Group Shows, John Tuite, Raat City, Exhibitions, Installations, NYC, Photography

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It all began with a taxi ride. Carlos Santolalla, a photographer working under the moniker Raat City, had just finished modeling in DKNY's FW '14 runway show and an unexpected opportunity appeared. "After we did the show," he shares with CH, "I was in a cab with someone from Donna Karan and I said we should do an art show together. After we talked further, they thought it was a good idea. By the next week they had given me a check." Tomorrow, the result of such a serendipitous exchange premieres as a one-night-only group show dubbed "New Art City." Santolalla's first time as curator sees over 20 artists—emerging and established—come together with a view in mind to tackle the identity of real New York. From large-scale installations to intimate photography, it's an exciting, clever and at times aggressive debut.

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Santolalla explains the taxicab discussion was prompted by the fact he'd never had an art show before. "I've had people buy prints from me after I started putting everything up on the internet, but I had never even thought I would actually do a show. It's just something I had imagined." He thinks of "New Art City" as an introduction, and already admits he has "a ton of precise concepts for the future and the next ones." While the breadth and depth of his own work warrants a solo show, right now he's more than pleased to share the space with this group of talented artists.

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Santolalla put out a call for contributors and, as he describes, it spiderwebbed from there. "I've been friends with [photographer] Sandy Kim and [artist] Jeanette Hayes for a long time and I asked them first, and they told me to ask their friends. Then everyone began sending me art. I had at least 150 submissions and just started picking people who I thought would blend together as a community." Work from A$AP Ferg is not far from Brandee Brown's contribution. Artist Cole Mohr's piece is a few steps from Miyako Bellizzi. Ultimately, the community is reflective of the many different types of personalities the city has to offer.

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An entire room showcases the work of artist Matt Starr, where he has given life to a thematically ambitious wonderland of downtown cleanliness. There, a yoga goddess dangles over a grassy knoll and a full juice bar touts a clean lifestyle (though that bar will be serving rum during the event). Starr was asked to center his installation on the downtown scene, and its role almost as an urban oasis. "I was more interested in the SoulCycles and the juiceries, and I thought that was a better representation of what downtown actually is. I was really influenced by Citibike and Citibank and Citigroup and Citifield and my prediction is, in about 10 years, there will be a Citi-sponsored city. So I created this lifestyle brand called 'Diet' in this space," Starr tells us. He constructed diet condoms and diet cigarettes to be sold in an entire diet store. Even the ceiling will be covered with projections referencing the whole health infatuation.

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An additional standout piece hails from Sophia Lamar, an artist and famed fixture in New York nightlife. "My piece is based on when I take my makeup off. I collect the tissues and I make work with them, all these mixed hues of makeup," Lamar notes. Some of the tissues are as old as five or six years, and saturated with color—all presented together in the form of a collage. It's an appropriate, impressive piece for a show digging into identity.

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Santolalla's vision of the city, as portrayed by his art and that which he has selected, is electric and alive. There are moments of sensitivity banging against harsh critiques. There's diversity. There's hope and humor. "I had just moved to New York and I was broke but I still thought everything I was doing was amazing," he says about how he entered the world of photography in the first place. DKNY took a chance, and now New York is culturally richer.

"New Art City" opens tomorrow, 28 September 2014 from 7-10PM, at The Safari, located at 255 West Broadway, NYC.

Matt Star and Sophia Lamar images by Cool Hunting, all other images courtesy of New Art City

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Table Tennis Anytime, Anywhere with Corknet

The elegant portable net works with any table and doubles as a protective mat for pots and pans

by Nara Shin in Design on 27 August 2014

Entertainment, Kickstarter, Kitchen Goods, Nets, Ping Pong, Recreation, Table Tennis, Tables

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It's an exciting week for tennis fans as the 2014 US Open kicked off on Monday, but there's equally good news for table tennis fans as well—thanks to RCA alum and product designer Julian Bond. Not only can ping pong tables be expensive, they take up a great deal of room: not an ideal situation especially for those living in cramped apartments. (Though, there's always SPiN for those in NYC). As a fun solution, Bond developed CorkNet, a portable ping pong net made solely from recycled cork, so your dining room table—or any table or desk for that matter—can host some informal matches.

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Portable nets often call for skewers or clamps, but—as Bond points out—they look awkward and only serve one purpose. In comparison to these plastic alternatives, CorkNet is elegant and meant to live in the kitchen, not hidden away in a junk drawer until needed, as it also serves as a protective mat for hot pans. Perhaps consider taking this to your friend's house in lieu of a bottle of wine at the next dinner party.

Secure your own CorkNet by contributing £20 to the Kickstarter campaign.

Images courtesy of Julian Bond

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