Hello,Erik Spiekermann and p98a workshop

18 September 2017

Questions

Eugene Yukechev

Answers

Erik Spiekermann

Photos

Dawin Meckel, OSTKREUZ

We just like to print — one can find the state­ment on the spreads of the journ­al PA­PER, which Erik Spieker­mann pub­lishes with a small team of type-en­thu­si­asts at the let­ter­press work­shop p98a. At 70 years of age, hav­ing stepped down as chair­man at Eden­spieker­mann and switched between Font­Shop to p98a—after the ac­quis­i­tion by Mono­type in 2014—he doesn’t seem to be re­tired (al­though he men­tions the word re­peatedly). Today, com­mut­ing between vari­ous con­tin­ents and coun­tries, he spends his time con­duct­ing print ex­per­i­ments, giv­ing work­shops, pub­lish­ing re­searches and es­says, and design­ing typefaces. “I wish it was as rosy as it sounds” he says when asked about his en­vi­able re­tire­ment setup, sur­roun­ded by print­ing presses, wood types, and pro­fes­sion­al ad­mir­a­tion.

Erik, a ques­tion just to warm you up. You are def­in­itely a rock star for many de­sign­ers, but who were or are rock stars for you?

Oh, God, what a ques­tion… Well, I’ll give you an ex­ample of a really im­port­ant per­son for me. I worked with Günter Ger­hard Lange. The first thing I did with him was, I don’t know, maybe back in the 1960s. I at­ten­ded his class on ty­po­graphy when he was still in Ber­lin. Then he went to Mu­nich and I did a lot of work for Ber­thold

I had a print shop un­til it burned down in 1977. So I had all those old typefaces like Lo-Type and Block, and when it was ac­ci­dent­ally burnt down, I had an in­terest in pre­serving them. I thought, “Why doesn’t someone re­design this stuff for pho­to­type­set­ting?”, since in the 70s pho­to­type­set­ting was hap­pen­ing. So I star­ted off by re­design­ing the old-meth­od type for pho­to­type­set­ting, be­fore di­git­al. I cor­res­pon­ded with Günter, who sent me a lot of spe­ci­men books. And then he in­vited me, but I hadn’t de­signed typefaces be­fore. I did those old-fash­ioned draw­ings and he made cor­rec­tions—that’s how I got in­to type design. That’s how it star­ted.

Günter Ger­hard Lange (1921–2008) was a re­mark­able uni­versity teach­er and rare com­mu­nic­at­or, be­cause he was true to his con­vic­tions and val­ues. He was an ex­ample to many, a beacon of light. In ana­logy to Amer­ic­an preach­er Billy Gra­ham’s “God’s ma­chine gun” Man­fred Klein dubbed him “Das Maschinengewehr Guten­bergs” (Guten­berg’s ma­chine gun) in an art­icle pub­lished in a spe­cial an­nu­al edi­tion of the Ty­po­graph­is­che Gesell­schaft München e.V. (Ty­po­graph­ic So­ci­ety Mu­nich) at the oc­ca­sion of Lange’s 60th an­niversary. — Yves Peters •Photo from the cov­er of the spe­cial is­sue of Ty­po­graph­is­che Mon­ats­blät­ter (2. 2003), de­voted to G.G. Lange.

I lived in Lon­don at that time and he came to vis­it. He didn’t speak any Eng­lish, so I was like a trans­lat­or and as­sist­ant for him. Then we be­came friends and in the early 80s, when he was about to re­tire, he sug­ges­ted that I should be­come his suc­cessor and be an artist­ic dir­ect­or at Ber­thold. I did not want to do that be­cause Ber­thold was already done—by then the Mac had ar­rived and pho­toset­ting was kind of fin­ished. I didn’t take the job also be­cause nobody could ac­tu­ally be his suc­cessor. He was not just a type de­sign­er, he was a prom­in­ent fig­ure and a great orator. But I turned down this of­fer. He was really an­noyed. He was “Herr Lange” to me for a long time and then al­most 20 years later we shif­ted to first names. We were on first name terms, which is rare in Ger­many. When I said I didn’t want to be his suc­cessor, he went back to “Herr Spieker­mann” for a couple of years, which meant he can­celled our friend­ship for a couple of years. And then we be­came friends again, which was very iron­ic. He was my teach­er and my ment­or mostly. Hav­ing him cor­rect my draw­ings was great, as you can ima­gine.

So you learned from Lange and de­ve­loped your ap­proach to type design in gen­er­al?

It’s not an ap­proach, it’s just draw­ing and look­ing closely at what’s im­port­ant. Also, you can’t do it un­less you know something about the his­tory. Maybe this is not a fash­ion­able view today. He didn’t come from the school of writ­ing like Ger­rit Noordz­ij, even though he took cal­li­graphy as a stu­dent, but he didn’t come from Her­mann Za­pf’s school either. Ac­tu­ally, they didn’t like each oth­er at all. Lange knew a lot about the his­tory, even though he didn’t really speak any Eng­lish or French, like most of his gen­er­a­tion. It was a dis­ad­vant­age, but he knew all the Ger­man sources and read a lot. His lib­rary is in­cred­ible and now it is a mu­seum. I was sup­posed to get his lib­rary, but I didn’t in the end. 

He col­lec­ted a lot of stuff and gave me a lot of books. The biggest thing I learnt from him was also go­ing back to the sources and look­ing at why people did things and how they did it. Ba­sic­ally, his first designs were for met­al type­set­ting and when he came to pho­to­type­set­ting, he was one of the first people to know that you have to change things. For them to look the same, you have to make them dif­fer­ently, be­cause the tech­no­logy is dif­fer­ent. For ex­ample, we had to add spikes to the edges of the let­ters which would dis­ap­pear after the type had been copied between vari­ous stages of pro­duc­tion – pa­per art­work, neg­at­ive film, print­ing plates; and ink traps where strokes meet to avoid dark spots when ink filled in the gaps. I think this is prob­ably the most im­port­ant les­son to learn. Also, whatever we read hasn’t really changed much, but we have to make it dif­fer­ently, be­cause of the tech­no­logy.

The film mas­ter of ori­gin­al Haas Uni­ca. It fea­tures light traps point­ing in­side and out­side of the corners, which was a spe­cif­ic solu­tion in pho­to­type­set­ting in or­der to main­tain sharp­ness.•The photo from the art­icle New from old: the why and how of re­viv­ing a typeface, Mono­type blog

Your last typeface Real, which you de­signed for the book Hello, I am Erik, is a kind of trib­ute to Akz­idenz-Grotesk, but I sup­pose we could also con­sider it to be something per­son­al? Is it?

I grew up on Akz­idenz-Grotesk and on Block, be­cause wherever I worked, that’s what people had. It’s Ber­lin, it’s Ber­thold. I mean, type is like food, so you get the loc­al stuff. So if you have a print­er in Ber­lin, you buy from Ber­thold. It’s cheap­er, be­cause you don’t have to move it on a train. If you live in Leipzig or in Len­in­grad… The stuff is heavy, so you make it there and you should have a ware­house to keep it in. Nobody wants to wait for six weeks. If a print­er needs a type, he wants it to­mor­row, even 100 years ago. That’s why all big foundries had not just loc­al of­fices, but also ware­houses, be­cause type is shit heavy. If you were in Frank­furt, you had Bauer type, if you were in Leipzig you had Schel­ter & Giesecke. The agents sold it and I knew all the Ber­thold sales­men and type spe­ci­mens at that time. So I grew up on the stuff that people had at that time and that’s why I have a great feel­ing for those faces. And Akz­idenz-Grotesk was al­ways my fa­vour­ite, be­cause it had that live­li­ness and un­co­or­din­ated weights that didn’t really be­long to­geth­er. His­tor­ic­ally, they wer­en’t to­geth­er—it was mar­ket­ing. Thein­hardt Grotesk and Kristall Grotesk even­tu­ally be­came Akz­idenz-Grotesk. It was all mixed to­geth­er, so some of this live­li­ness was very nice and it was also very use­ful.

And the me­di­um weight (Hal­b­fette) was al­ways my fa­vour­ite and you could see what Swiss ty­po­graphy was like. All the stuff from Zurich in the 60s was in AG-Hal­b­fette. There was this one size… Do we have the spe­ci­men book here? I grew up with this sort of typeface. To me this is the es­sence of 1960s Swiss ty­po­graphy. I al­ways wanted to re­draw it for my­self and that’s what I did. Mine has a little Anglo-Amer­ic­an ac­cent in there. It has the three-storey g, for ex­ample, and the 8 with a more defined loop. So I looked at it for a long time, it’s my copy, but it looks dif­fer­ent be­cause I drew it from scratch. What I es­pe­cially like about Akz­idenz-Grotesk is that the reg­u­lar, light and me­di­um are not re­lated to each oth­er, they are not con­nec­ted. If you look at the fam­ily that Ral­ph Du Carrois drew, now we have those big nine weight fam­il­ies again. But I don’t like it that way. I really like them to be dif­fer­ent, but it is un­prac­tic­al, though.

Today, every­body wants these dif­fer­ent weights, styles for neg­at­ive and for pos­it­ive type­set­ting, to have these little dif­fer­en­ces between book and reg­u­lar, me­di­um and demi and so on. And this des­troys the char­ac­ter of its Akz­idenz-Grotesk ori­gins, be­cause the fact that they don’t be­long to­geth­er was kind of nice, but it’s not prac­tic­al. So this is my prac­tic­al ap­pro­pri­ation of Akz­idenz-Grotesk for the 2020s. I’ve been mean­ing to do this for 40 years and I al­ways needed a reas­on. The book was the reas­on— and it was four or five years ago and took a long time. It was a very emo­tion­al pro­ject, it’s dif­fi­cult when someone else designs a book about you. Did I want to help to design it? No, that would be a really bad idea. But how could I get in­volved? So I told Jo­hannes [Erler, the au­thor of the book] that I had only one re­quest: “You do whatever you like, but you can use only one typeface and two col­ours”, and he agreed.

Jost Ho­chuli in one es­say about Ad­ri­an Fru­ti­ger said: “Every good type de­sign­er not only holds strong views re­gard­ing let­ters, but their curved strokes also have a highly per­son­al qual­ity.” I won­der, whose per­son­al qual­ity of strokes does Erik Spieker­mann ad­mire?

I’m a great fan of Fru­ti­ger, who is the best type de­sign­er. Maybe the most im­port­ant thing about his typefaces is that he is a prob­lem solv­er and most of his designs were done for a pro­ject, for a pur­pose. Univers was a real suc­cess, Fru­ti­ger was a great pro­ject and then there was Avenir and so on. Most of the great Lat­in typefaces come from hand­writ­ing and they all have their his­tor­ic­al pre­ced­ents, while Fru­ti­ger is much more ana­lyt­ic­al. He didn’t draw, he cut with pa­per, while I’m bet­ter with a pen­cil. That’s why his shapes are the way they are. He is a lot more mod­u­lar, be­cause he takes a couple of shapes and then just com­bines them. He made dif­fer­ent let­ters us­ing the same pa­per. He drew a, c and then an e out of it and so on. I do the same with a pen­cil. I make one mas­ter copy with all the shapes on it and then I take tra­cing pa­per and draw on it. Such draw­ing with a pen­cil adds my own style to it.

So every­body has their own hand­writ­ing in a typeface. It was the same for Fru­ti­ger and for Za­pf, etc. You can see it in Fru­ti­ger’s Avenir, which is based on Fu­tura, but it is Fru­ti­ger’s typeface. It has his in­her­ent shape, you can al­ways re­cog­nise it. The same with me—my typefaces, for ex­ample, are al­ways nar­row, and Real is my only non-nar­row typeface.

You re­cently de­signed an it­al­ic ver­sion for it?

Yes, and it is quite con­tro­ver­si­al, be­cause it is very it­al­ic. Ac­tu­ally, it is quite ex­treme and al­most like hand­writ­ing. The first time that I made those draw­ings, they were very nar­row and ob­lique, very con­tras­ted. We have already used it in Pa­per.

I had that dis­cus­sion with Ad­ri­an Fru­ti­ger. We took his Fru­ti­ger Con­densed and made it in­to the typeface FF Trans­it for the BVG (Ber­lin Verkehrsgesell­schaft) and we did a real it­al­ic for it, which Lu­cas de Groot de­signed back in 1991. So I sent it to Ad­ri­an Fru­ti­ger—who nev­er made real it­al­ics for his sans-serifs, he al­ways did ob­liques—and he wrote back, “I wouldn’t have done it, but I like it”. This was his bless­ing. Then a few years later Lino­type did Fru­ti­ger Next and it also had real it­al­ics. But Fru­ti­ger him­self nev­er did it, he de­signed ob­liques, and that’s his philo­sophy, which I don’t sub­scribe to. So why not do this? There is no law that says you can’t do it. In any case, it­al­ic sans-serifs are his­tor­ic­ally a con­tra­dic­tion. Any­way, I like this typeface.

Tra­cing the his­tory of your typefaces, it seems—be­sides Meta Serif, Deutsche Bahn Serif and, per­haps, Lo­Type—there are no oth­er serifs in your pock­et. Why is that?

Be­cause I’m not very good at it. I tried for about ten years to do Meta Serif, but I couldn’t do it. Then I had Chris­ti­an Schwarz and even he had prob­lems, and then we got Kris Sowersby and he fi­nally did it. I’m not good at serif faces—it doesn’t really in­terest me, be­cause I didn’t come from writ­ing.

Do you have the Rus­si­an edi­tion of Stop Steal­ing Sheep? Sur­pris­ingly, it has a cov­er sim­il­ar to Hello, I am Erik and, to be frank, there are a lot of ques­tions about the book. How do you like it?

I’ve seen the pre­vi­ous Rus­si­an edi­tion but not this one. Who did this? Why didn’t they ask me? Ob­vi­ously, they got the data from the pub­lish­er [Adobe Press]. They changed the format, the cov­er, the type­set­ting. I see Meta Serif here, but we didn’t ac­tu­ally use Meta Serif for the Eng­lish ver­sion… I nev­er heard a word about this book. It’s quite ri­dicu­lous.

1 — Hello, I am Eri, Erik Spieker­mann: Ty­po­graph­er, De­sign­er, En­tre­pren­eur. Jo­hannes Erler, Die Gestal­ten Ver­lag, Ber­lin, 2015. 2 — О шриф­те. Эрик Шпи­кер­ман, «Манн, Ива­нов и Фар­бер», Моск­ва, 2017. 3 — Stop Steal­ing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works (3rd Edi­tion). Erik Spieker­mann, Adobe Press, 2013.

I can’t not ask you about the ac­quis­i­tion of Font­Shop by Mono­type. Many type de­sign­ers were pretty up­set when they found out about the deal. At this point, it is nearly three years since you sold the com­pany in 2014. How have things changed over the years?

Don’t ask me, I’m not there any­more. I was nev­er there, I was only an out­sider. A typ­ic­al thing happened. First, it be­comes more and more bur­eau­crat­ic, if you ask the Mono­type people in Ber­lin. Font­Shop was al­ways kind of easy­go­ing—note that this is just my im­pres­sion, I was nev­er a man­ager. It was my ex-wife, Spieker­wo­man, who was al­ways the man­ager. It was al­ways very com­fort­able and we were kind of young and very un­bur­eau­crat­ic. Not like now when people have their titles that are four lines long… At that time we didn’t have titles, we had names. Ivo was Ivo, Jür­gen was Jür­gen, Jens was Jens and so on. We kept it simple. Nobody had titles.

Then at the same time they have not al­ways re­cog­nised loc­al tal­ents, be­cause it is so far away. But I think they are just be­gin­ning to re­cog­nise that Ber­lin is dif­fer­ent from Bo­ston and from New York; that’s why there seems to be a lot more work hap­pen­ing here in Ber­lin, be­cause we have a spe­cif­ic ap­proach. We are even start­ing to real­ise that our own foundry Font­Font was dif­fer­ent—we had a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to it. I still think that Font­Font is one of the best lib­rar­ies out there. We sold things that maybe they didn’t see. We had tal­ent that they didn’t have. We had a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, be­cause it was very much what we liked. There was no mar­ket re­search ever. Most of the time when I was around we made best­sellers. For ex­ample, DIN was al­ways a best­seller, and it has been since 1998. It is totally amaz­ing. I re­gret not do­ing it my­self (laughter). I was too lazy, it was too much work and it was bor­ing. Al­bert-Jan Pool did it and it’s good for him.

Now they real­ise that we have some tal­ents. It has noth­ing to do with that stu­pid Amer­ic­an mar­ket­ing, like this spe­ci­men that was sent to us last week. What is it, Mas­cararo or Mas­calino…  It gets sent by this ex­pens­ive mail ser­vice from the USA in a spe­cial en­vel­ope. So this is a very ex­pens­ive silk­screen and a very ex­pens­ive four-col­our em­boss­ing. It is in­cred­ibly ex­pens­ive to pro­duce. They prob­ably guess I should hang it on my wall. However, there is no in­form­a­tion about the typeface and it really an­noys me. I have no idea about the num­ber of weights, about the char­ac­ter set and so on. If you look at the spe­ci­men that Alex Roth did, you can see a spe­ci­men that I value. In com­par­is­on, this spe­ci­men is just use­less for graph­ic de­sign­ers.

That’s why many type de­sign­ers were pretty up­set by this ac­quis­i­tion.

Of course, the last bit of in­de­pend­en­ce went away. When we did it in the late 80s, there were a few big foundries and one or two type de­sign­ers. Three years ago there were already hun­dreds of foundries and bril­li­ant people like Com­mer­cial Type or Type To­geth­er, and we were already quite big. We had lib­rar­ies with our own faces. The main reas­on for the deal was that I simply wanted to re­tire, I couldn’t do this forever.

Be­sides, at that time there were also a few crises in the busi­ness and we knew that next time maybe we wouldn’t sur­vive all alone, be­cause it be­came very dif­fi­cult. There were nev­er big profits: the busi­ness ran, but nobody was go­ing to be­come a mil­li­on­aire. To make it safe, most of the jobs were kept, be­cause you can ima­gine that a lot of people were em­ployed. My main con­cern was that most people had been there for over 20 years and some of them are still there. Some of them have gone, fol­low­ing Chris­toph Koe­ber­lin [link] and Jens Kutílek [link]. But they went be­cause they wanted to go, not be­cause they were thrown out. Some stayed. Jür­gen Siebert [Mar­ket­ing Dir­ect­or at Mono­type] has been there for 20 years, An­dreas Frohloff [Head of the Type De­part­ment at Font­Font] has been there forever. I know it was a shame. People thought we were big in­de­pend­ent rebels, but we wer­en’t.

It looks like Mono­type is be­com­ing an in­ter­na­tion­al mono­poly?

They are not a mono­poly, they are just a big com­pany. There are so many com­pan­ies out there—there is a new foundry open­ing every day. Even the small ones are big­ger, like Com­mer­cial Type or Op­timo Type Foundry or Grilli Type. There are hun­dreds of them, thou­sands of them! Among them you have small ones and really good ones with good stuff out there. There are so many good foundries out there: Hoe­fler & Co., Frere-Jones Types, Font­Bur­eau. So Mono­type is not a mono­poly. They are big and a good thing about them is that des­pite be­ing big, they are not go­ing to lower their prices. It won’t do them any good. It’s al­most the op­pos­ite. Be­cause they are so big, you have to buy cer­tain things from them: if you buy Hel­vet­ica, Fru­ti­ger or Fu­tura, you have to buy it from Mono­type now.  So the op­pos­ite is good. It’s good to have a big com­pany with high prices and the little ones can sur­vive be­cause they do ori­gin­al stuff. They have to be good though and we know there are some really good people out there. I think it’s quite use­ful to have a big com­pany—it does the mar­ket good.

Have you been sur­prised by any typeface re­cently, say­ing, “Wow, that’s amaz­ing work”?

Oh, yes. There’s al­ways something. Our fa­vour­ites for a while were FF Fran­ziska by Jakob Runge—it is just fant­ast­ic—and FF Hertz by Jens Kutílek. They have a little dif­fer­ent ap­proach. FF Fran­ziska looks like a 1920s news­pa­per typeface, but it has a little edge to it and FF Hertz also looks like an old-fash­ioned typeface, but it works per­fectly on low-res­ol­u­tion screens, as well as in Riso print­ing. There is a long list and every year we find something un­usu­al. There are not  so many mod­els, but if you look at the whole pic­ture, I’m al­ways sur­prised that so much is go­ing on and so many new faces are ap­pear­ing.

Things have changed dra­mat­ic­ally in the last 20 years: now a lot of young type de­sign­ers are work­ing at a pretty high level be­cause of de­vel­op­ing type design tech­no­lo­gies.

Type de­sign­ers have nev­er been the prob­lem. The prob­lem is the users. We make it very com­plic­ated for users who can chose from maybe 50.000 typefaces but every­body uses the same 80. The use changes over time. You know, now every­body uses Cir­cu­lar or whatever else, they don’t use Avenir, Hel­vet­ica and so on be­cause there is this fash­ion. They will also fol­low fash­ion and some typefaces of the last gen­er­a­tion will prob­ably come back in 70 or 80 years.

Now we have a dif­fer­ent fash­ion, but there is still fash­ion for types, this is ob­vi­ous. It’s very strange and it’s not about de­tails. Most graph­ic de­sign­ers un­for­tu­nately don’t ap­pre­ci­ate the de­tails that we provide as type de­sign­ers. I’m not a type de­sign­er, I’m a graph­ic de­sign­er. That’s the main dif­fer­en­ce: most type de­sign­ers are type de­sign­ers. That’s all they do and most of them are ac­tu­ally really bad graph­ic de­sign­ers. And I just design some type on the side—I’m not a type de­sign­er and I have nev­er called my­self type de­sign­er. I’m a graph­ic de­sign­er. I use type. And be­cause I have de­signed type, I have an eye for the de­tail in it. It also helps to di­git­ise a type, be­cause once you’ve done that, it gives you ap­pre­ci­ation for the de­tail and know­ledge. I think it’s great for all the graph­ic de­sign­ers today to design their own typeface at least once, even if it turns out shit and nev­er gets suc­cess­ful. Once you’ve done that, you ap­pre­ci­ate the de­tail and how im­port­ant that is. Then you go back and be­come a graph­ic de­sign­er, which is much more im­port­ant, and you un­der­stand that the whole thing is good, not just the de­tail.

Erik (Look­ing at the pages of the book Two Types of One Re­volu­tion by Schrift Pub­lish­ers): “What is it, Geor­gia and Verd­ana? Hmm, the Cyril­lic looks not bad at all there”. 

And that is a ques­tion of edu­ca­tion. How do you see the edu­ca­tion of graph­ic and type de­sign­ers in Europe and the US today? The level is ob­vi­ously rising.

Well, it’s def­in­itely get­ting more com­plic­ated. One has to know a lot more about tech­no­logy today. When I star­ted, we had print­ers, pho­to­graph­ers and repro-people, and you did your part—now we have to do it all ourselves. I have to use Pho­toshop, In­Des­ign, Il­lus­trat­or and so on. I just made mockups and someone else did the type­set­ting and re­pro­duc­tions and it looked good, be­cause they are ex­perts. And now we are all the ex­perts: we have to know about tech­no­lo­gies, res­ol­u­tion, HTML, Javas­cript, dif­fer­ent me­dia and all that shit. My God, 50 years ago when I star­ted we just had pa­per. And now there is pa­per, dif­fer­ent screens, dif­fer­ent me­dia…

…and we’ve got more di­vi­sion of la­bour. For a while, a graph­ic de­sign­er also had to be a coder: you had to make your own web­site. Now they are so many spe­cial­ists like back in the old days. We can do a mockup for a web page and give it to the spe­cial­ist like I would give it to a spe­cial­ist in the 70s. And they know what to do to make it look good for me.

What do you ex­pect from mod­ern tech­no­lo­gies, how do they af­fect the design pro­cess and what do you ex­pect from the vari­able fonts?

It’s a bor­ing ques­tion. It’s ob­vi­ous that the tech­no­logy changes things. But on the oth­er hand it doesn’t. Look—two hands and two eyes—noth­ing has changed. Tech­no­lo­gies are de­vel­op­ing, sys­tems are get­ting smarter, but there are still a lot of is­sues to fix  If you go, for ex­ample, to type­set­ting today in In­Des­ign, there very well might be a simple ex­ten­sion, like sens­it­ive­ness to op­tic­al sizes. So us­ing 16 point, you could get zero track­ing, and as the size goes down, it would auto­mat­ic­ally get more space. But you still can’t do this auto­mat­ic­ally with In­Des­ign, which an­noys me. As far as I’m con­cerned, In­Des­ign should put it in there by de­fault. With the vari­able fonts, ma­chines will learn not only to switch the track­ing for dif­fer­ent type sizes auto­mat­ic­ally, but modi­fy typefaces, for in­stance, at 14 point a typeface would be nor­mal and at 6 point it would be more open and wider and so on.

But it also de­pends on type de­sign­ers, be­cause a lot of type de­sign­ers look at a typeface in large sizes and it looks great this way, but at 6 point it looks shitty—they don’t think about the pur­pose. There is so much go­ing on with the soft­ware, but if you start to think about it, re­mem­ber that a lot of people have trouble find­ing simple Open­Type fea­tures. At this point, ma­chines can’t even man­age track­ing auto­mat­ic­ally and we’re try­ing to speak about vari­able fonts! Life is too short for that, that’s the prob­lem.

Back in the 90s you brought cor­por­ate design from Bri­tain to Ger­many. How do you feel about the mod­ern state of cor­por­ate design these days?

I think it has pretty much died. Cor­por­ate design today rather means brand­ing, which is a dif­fer­ent thing. The whole tech­no­logy has changed. Ba­sic­ally, cor­por­ate design made sure that everything in the com­pany looks the same and con­sist­ent, so you had your col­our, your logo, your typeface, your ty­po­graph­ic style and you had manu­als. You could con­trol it from the cent­ral stand­ard. You can’t con­trol it any­more, be­cause there are too many me­dia. It’s too di­verse, so the whole busi­ness has be­come quite dif­fer­ent.

I’m not even sure if corp design ex­ists any more. It does, but it’s much more about the at­ti­tude and what a com­pany is, rather than what it looks like, be­cause the look can change. The last and really big one I did was in the 90s and it was for Audi and Volk­swa­gen. It took two years to design it, then it took two or three years to im­ple­ment it and then it had to change again. These days it is also chan­ging and it’s much quick­er—you could do a new logo today and in­tro­duce it to­mor­row. You just send the data and that’s it, be­cause there is not so much print­ing around and you don’t make big guidelines any­more, so the whole busi­ness has be­come much more flex­ible, which also makes it com­plic­ated. But how a brand sur­vives de­pends much more on how it is than what it looks like.

You can have the best logo in the uni­verse and be­have like an as­shole. Luck­ily, nowadays people have more ways to res­ist and not buy shit. I’ve al­ways hated the com­pany Uber, and now they are get­ting a lot of flak and it’s good, be­cause they are a bunch of as­sholes. I’ve al­ways said that and I’ll nev­er use them for any­thing in the uni­verse. I also hate Amazon, which is a very bad en­ter­prise that is just killing all the re­tail people and now they have star­ted their own re­tail shops. No one from cor­por­ate design can make that bet­ter.

Switch­ing to your work­shop p98a. Is what are you do­ing here ac­tu­ally your busi­ness or a hobby?

We are ac­tu­ally sup­posed to work here and you have come for an in­ter­view (laughs). The idea was to make ex­per­i­ments. It is my hobby that costs me a lot of money. That’s why we can’t do this much longer, be­cause soon I will just be bank­rupt. Ini­tially, I needed to find a space for the print­ing presses. I found the space and it’s big—this space al­ways fills it­self some­how. We have lots of ideas and lots of type, lots of cool stuff, but at the same time we also have to make money, which is really bor­ing.

Any­way, we are try­ing to do cool stuff. We make wood type, we print posters, but posters are ac­tu­ally a side­line to make some money. What we really want to do are pro­jects, like we have a mono­graph about Louis Op­pen­heim that we are try­ing to do this year. We are also try­ing to bring back let­ter­press print­ing, but on a high­er tech­nic­al level—not nos­tal­gic, not mono­type and lino­type set­ting, but di­git­al. That is what really in­terests us.

For any de­sign­er, es­pe­cially these days, it is very im­port­ant to re­mem­ber where it all came from phys­ic­ally, that it is all still done by people who have two hands and two eyes. And the rules that we all still use come from this met­al back­ground, from the grid. You can see it when you see that met­al type. It’s just good dis­cip­line for any mod­ern de­sign­er to learn this, not for nos­tal­gic reas­ons, but to un­der­stand how the sys­tems and con­straints work. It must be very dif­fi­cult if you are twenty now to go out there and sud­denly be able to do everything: print in dif­fer­ent sizes, col­ours, use nearly fifty thou­sand fonts. There is too much mess­ing around. That’s why we have only one size of type for posters and if we run out of cer­tain let­ters we have to fig­ure out what to change. It ac­tu­ally pro­vokes you to make de­cisions, it makes you mod­est and ap­pre­ci­at­ive—some­times it’s quite re­fresh­ing.

Here at p98a you pub­lish a journ­al called Pa­per and some stuff about ty­po­graphy. Could you tell us about your pub­lish­ing ideas? Do you feel any lack of present-day lit­er­at­ure about type and ty­po­graphy?

We just want to print. We said that in the fore­word of the journ­al. It’s in Eng­lish, be­cause the ed­it­or [R. Jay Ma­gill Jr.] was an Amer­ic­an guy, but it could be in Ger­man. We just want to print stuff. For some reas­on I bought this Riso­graph about five years ago and the next one might be done in let­ter­press or di­git­al, I don’t know. Phys­ic­al print­ing is still nice.

How do you chose what to pub­lish?

We have an ed­it­or who is from an Amer­ic­an academy; he is a journ­al­ist and writer, and he found all this stuff so far. We print a few hun­dred, so it doesn’t mat­ter if it is in Eng­lish or Ger­man. It’s just that people like to write stuff and we like to print.

We are al­most an iPad magazine, but iPad magazines last about one sum­mer. Be­cause it’s crap. If you read an iPad, you want to read news. You don’t want to read a long book or a magazine on an iPad. When I’m in the USA, I read it once or twice a week, be­cause I want to read Frank­fur­ter Allge­meine and I can’t get a phys­ic­al copy. If I want to read the New York Times, I can buy it. And I can read Frank­fur­ter Allge­meine on my iPad in PDF, which is very stu­pid, but also good. I can zoom in or out as I read.

People still like to read print if you have stor­ies. Print is dif­fer­ent. As you know, now there are more magazines than ever. They just don’t print 500,000. They print 1,000 or 5,000. You go to one of the shops here in Ber­lin and it’s amaz­ing how many magazines there are, be­cause every­body wants to pub­lish, print and read. What’s wrong with that? It’s easi­er than ever. You could print di­git­ally, it’s very cheap. You can print it in a day or an af­ter­noon. It’s fant­ast­ic. But di­git­al print­ing has be­come so af­ford­able, you could print your Rus­si­an journ­al to­mor­row.

So you think that there is no chance of de­vel­op­ing read­er’s habits so they read stor­ies and lon­greads from screens?

There are lon­greads, but people are find­ing out it’s not the right place for lon­greads. When we were work­ing on the Zeit On­line magazine, we were sur­prised that people ac­tu­ally read lon­greads. They have 85% of their stor­ies as lon­greads. But a lon­gread still means that you scroll 4 or 5 times—it’s not 48 pages, it’s still from 4 to 5 pages and is called a lon­gread, but not more. With a real lon­gread it’s not that com­fort­able and nev­er will be. It doesn’t work with day­light, for ex­ample. It’s good in a way that you can make it your own size, you can play with it if you have poor eye­sight and you can scroll quickly.

It’s just a dif­fer­ent me­di­um for cer­tain people, cer­tain situ­ations and cer­tain con­tent. It’s ac­tu­ally easi­er to read it on pa­per. That’s what I’m say­ing. If you really want to in­dulge in read­ing, it won’t be easy, be­cause you have to scroll back and forth, which is just tir­ing. It’s not real read­ing. It’s good for a change and then we are back to nor­mal. We have our iPads, our com­puters, and we have our books and magazines. These are al­tern­at­ives and we all use them prag­mat­ic­ally. We are not anti-com­puters at all. We are very di­git­ised. It doesn’t mean that we are dream­ing of go­ing en­tirely back to print. But there seems to be a hu­man urge to pub­lish and we have the ma­chinery, so we might as well use it.

Pa­per is still a pretty de­cent me­di­um.

Interview
Spiekermann
Experience
630