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I believe that, whatever design problem you need to solve, you should face it with rationality, logic and careful analysis if you want to get to the right idea. 

Graphic design is always a synthetic work: you need to reduce and remove until you reach the core of the message. When you work with typography and lettering, the essential goal is to obtain the best possible legibility. 

To achieve this result, it is fundamental to know typography and its history. The computer has become an essential tool but its undisputed utility and versatility cannot replace knowledge. As extraordinary as this instrument can be, you need deep roots and the ability to express yourself even with the simplest tools—such as a pencil—in order to use it correctly. 
A good software does not necessarily create good graphics. 

Graphics is not an independent art, but a service. To obtain a correct result, you need to put yourself on the side of the observer, on the side of the public.

A good designer is the one who offers a good service through communication, not the one who wants to surprise at any cost, neither the one who wants to show how good he is.

A designer is good if he can solve a problem, if he puts forward a useful solution.

I believe that these rules could be a good start for a career in design.

Bob Noorda

From Manifesto Project

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Share, Pierre Mendell with Annette Kroger, 2004.


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Go out

Gene Federico, 1953, ad for Woman’s Day magazine.

gene federico

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Design is not art

Over the past decades as design in all its forms developed and started having bigger and bigger impact on our daily lives a certain confusion tagged along. A confusion that design is a form of art.

Actually, design and art could not be more apart even if they tried.

Art creates problems.
Throughout the history there have been numerous incidents where art in its many forms was deemed problematic and was under attack by at least one group. Someone always has problems with a piece of art. Modern art is attacked by traditionalists, traditional art is confronted by new-age thinkers. Paintings are destroyed because someone was offended. Artists were killed because they poked where they shouldn’t have poked.

Design solves problems.
Design as a process observes a certain situation, a certain problem, and addresses it with a solution. Design helps us in our lives by speeding things up, by removing friction between us and the end result we want to achieve. Design makes us safer — it is good design that created seat-belts and airbags, not art. Design keeps us warm, design keeps us fed.

Art is interpretative.
When an observer looks at a piece of art, or when some piece of art is being manipulated it is up to the person to interpret what the artist meant by it. In this interpretation it is not uncommon that different people come to different conclusions what that piece of art is representing. Art requires thinking and repetitive observation.

Design is unanimous.
Every user of a design piece has to come to the same conclusion as to what that piece is about. There should be no conflicting thoughts between two users. Design is supposed to require (almost) no thinking, it should be intuitive from the very first time users connect with that design piece.

Art is exploration.
Wonderful pieces of art and whole new artistic epochs were created as a result of exploration. Artists do have phases in which they iterate a certain theme, but a foundation of art is exploration of new themes, new techniques and new mediums.

Design is observation and iteration.
Design on the other hand observes and exploits what it finds. For example, if an observation in web design field finds out that people would rather click on a button which physically looks like a real button — design will exploit that knowledge and create such a button. Progress in design is, for the most part, created through iteration and correction based on observing previously designed objects.

Art has no goal.
Except when commissioned, art has no clear goal. Artists spawn pieces as a direct extension of their soul with no goal other than to be observed.

Design has specific goal.
Design has a goal and objects are created and refined with a specific result, a specific goal in mind. Design pieces cannot be created for design’s sake — they would be meaningless. They would then become art. Juicy Salif, the iconic juice squeezer is not design. Yes, it can squeeze juice, but anyone can see that there are just too many elements here which make this tool be impractical and inefficient. Where do the seeds fall? Right in the glass. Salif is art, not design.

Art is creating for the artist.
Artists as a rule create pieces of art for themselves. Artists do what they do to satisfy the urge they have, the urge to create, the urge to express their feelings and to give us a piece of their mind. Of course, some pieces of art are commissioned from the artist, but even then artists create those pieces reaching deep into their minds and into their thoughts.

Design is creating for the end user.
Designers create pieces with the end user in mind. Often the designer is not even the target for a given piece, designer might not ever actually use that object. That means that designer must put put himself in shoes of the user in order to create a good piece, leaving own ego behind. Of course, every designer has a signature marking his work, but this signature is never in conflict with the end result.

People believe there is a fine line between art and design, when in reality there is a wide, colossal, gap between art and design. This can be observed in all aspect of designer’s lives in contrast to artist’s lives. Designers have functional kitchens, easy to use objects, they simplify their life. Artists love chaos and unpredictability.

Designers follow function, artists follow form.

Goran Peuc from Medium

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Questions by Rudy Vanderlans for issue 65 of Emigre magazine, answers by Experimental Jetset, february 2003.

1. Why do you use Helvetica?

There are many reasons why we use Helvetica. Each is very different and sometimes seemingly contradictory, and they slowly but constantly change. Some of these reasons may be hard to follow, but we like to believe that it is exactly the complicated nature of our reasoning that, paradoxically, makes our designs so practical and clear.

One of these many reasons involves the neutrality of Helvetica. Of course, we fully realize that no typeface is neutral, and that the objectivity of Helvetica is a myth. But it is exactly this myth that turned Helvetica into one of the most widely used typefaces in the first place. So it is fair to speak of a myth that created its own reality. In that sense the neutrality of Helvetica resembles a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The neutrality of Helvetica, real or imagined, enables us and the user to fully focus on the design as a whole, neutralizing the typographic layer as a way to keep the concept as clear and pure as possible.

There are however cases where, for specific reasons, the concept demands a less neutral typographic layer. In those cases we never hesitate to use other typefaces. But those cases are rare.

2. What do you think Helvetica signifies?

The fact that we ascribe a certain neutrality to Helvetica doesn’t mean that we believe that the typeface signifies nothing but itself. But we do think that most of what Helvetica signifies exists primarily within the specific context of graphic design. Helvetica refers mostly to graphic design itself. And this self-referentiality is yet another reason why we use Helvetica.

In our work, we constantly try to underline the physical qualities of graphic design. By stressing the idea of design as matter, rather than as an accumulation of images, we try to get away from the alienation of visual culture.

Just to be clear, when we talk about ‘images’ we don’t literally mean illustrations or pictures; we mean representations, or projections. For example, a ‘grungy’ typeface that is used specifically to attract a ‘grungy’ audience is for us an image or a ‘representation’.

(By the way, we have nothing against grungy typefaces per se. When the inner-logic of a certain design demands a specific typeface, so be it. But if that grungy typeface is used only to reflect a certain target-audience’s presumed lifestyle, then we have a problem with it. Because in that case graphic design is reduced to a representative, immaterial layer that hides more than it reveals.)

For us, one of the many ways to underline the physical, material qualities of a design is through the use of self-reference. The referring of an object to itself or to its own context can be seen as a form of ‘materialization’. To quote British conceptual art collective Art & Language: “in order to perforate art with reality, it [art] has to be folded back into itself.” We think the same can apply to graphic design. Using Helvetica, with its self-referential qualities, helps us create designs that function as a part of reality instead of as a representation of reality.

So in short, one of the reasons why we use Helvetica is this self-referential side.

3. Isn’t everything you create a representation of some sort? My words are a representation of my thoughts. My thoughts a representation of my experiences…

Yes, and your experiences are formed by the world around you. We agree. But let’s extend that line of thinking. Now imagine that the world around you is trying to be a representation of your thoughts. Wouldn’t it just go round and round then, as you will only experience your own representation? We’re not against representation in general. But we do think that a material environment that just tries to represent its audience will lead to some kind of cultural degeneration.

In our view, design should have a certain autonomy, an inner-logic that exists independently of the tastes and trends of so-called target audiences. As the ways to measure the taste of the public are becoming more refined every day, culture is in real danger of turning into a gigantic mirror that offers nothing but a false reflection.

(By the way, when we talk about autonomy it has nothing to do with whether an object is functional or not. For example, a paperclip represents absolutely nothing outside itself. It has a strong, almost hermetic, inner-logic. But despite this, or, in our opinion, because of this, it is regarded as one of the most functional objects on earth.)

And this loss of autonomy is not only happening in design. Political parties, for example, are becoming more and more populistic, losing the inner-logic of their ideologies, only trying to reflect what the voters want on a day to day basis. So instead of politicians presenting a certain viewpoint where you can vote for or against, they will first find out what the public wants and then form their viewpoint, not based on a certain belief but just on daily trends.

4. Do you use Helvetica to show allegiance to a certain approach or style or to a certain ideology?

There are without doubts links between our use of Helvetica and the fact that we are extremely sympathetic towards a lot of the ideas of past modernist movements. But these links are more complicated and indirect than some would expect. Our use of Helvetica is not some sort of direct formal tribute to the aesthetics of modernism. It’s not as simple as that. We have no affinity with formalistic retro-modernism at all, as we find this kind of retro-modernism too post-modern for our taste.

If there is indeed a connection between our use of Helvetica and modernism, it can be found in our ideas of design as matter. For us, one of the core beliefs of modernism is the idea of ‘makeability'; the concept of changing society through changing material circumstances. Our own attempts to rematerialize graphic design, by using Helvetica for instance, can be seen as a manifestation of our own belief in this ‘makeability’.

5. I’m not sure if I understand this. It would be easy to distill from this answer that you are saying that you hope to change society simply by using Helvetica. But I’m thinking that’s not entirely what you’re saying. Or are you?

We agree that this is where our reasoning gets complicated and we’re not sure if we completely understand it ourselves. But by underlining the physical proportions, qualities and inner-logic of our designs we try to stress the fact that they are objects. This may sound obvious and futile and not very revolutionary, but it’s our humble way of resisting to dissolve into a immaterialized visual culture in which there are only representations and the object is completely disconnected from its image. We try to go against this alienation by focusing on the idea of design as matter.

One way how we try to stress the idea of design as an object is through this notion of self-reference, which we discussed earlier. By referring to itself or its context the object gains some kind of ‘self-awareness’, it becomes an object-in-itself. We’re not saying everything should posses this self-referentiality, it’s just one way to achieve this materiality. And one of the many possible ways to achieve this self-referentiality is the use of Helvetica, even though it plays only a small part in this scheme.

6. Can you give me a more specific example of a piece you’ve designed that accomplishes this.

Last time you visited us we showed you this ‘four-sided’ letterhead we designed in 1998. It showed the names of four different people who work together in the same space, but not necessarily with each other, on one piece of paper. The names were printed on the top front, bottom front, top back and bottom back. This way it could be used in four different ways, depending on how you turned the paper. By using all four sides of the paper, we tried to underline the physical proportions of the design.

The typography (Helvetica) was used in a non-representative way. A representative way to use typography here would be to do some ‘research’ of what a certain ‘target-audience’ wanted, and then try to find a typeface that would illustrate that, that would reflect that certain feeling or mood back to this audience. We would never do that.

The reason we used Helvetica had to do with the fact that it didn’t interfere with the concept. A more expressive typeface would have destroyed it. But also, the fact that Helvetica refers mostly to graphic design itself turned the letterhead into an almost ‘archetypical’ letterhead, which made the concept of four letterheads printed on one piece of paper even clearer.

We didn’t use the piece of paper as a neutral background to just print a representative image on, neglecting its physical qualities. We tried to design a letterhead that would work as an object. A piece of paper that wouldn’t deny its role as a piece of paper.

7. Would you agree that there is a renewed interest in Helvetica at the moment?

As a matter of fact, we don’t think that there is a renewed interest in Helvetica at all. Although we’re not particularly interested in today’s trends and fashions in graphic design, from our point of view the revival of Helvetica reached its peak five, six years ago (say, around 1997). What we see now is more a swing to the other side: to more ornamental, decorative typefaces. [Editorial note: this interview took place in 2003, four years before the movie Helvetica created a true Helvetica craze].

8. Are you familiar with the original ideology behind the design of Helvetica? As a designer, do you think it is important to be aware of this original ideology?

We are aware of the history and original ideology, but if even we weren’t, it wouldn’t make our use of Helvetica less valuable or honest or effective. The question implies that ideology is something that exists outside reality; that theory is something that exist outside practice. Our way of thinking is very different. Ultimately the ideology of Helvetica is an intrinsic quality of the typeface itself. Using Helvetica is enough. That’s all the ideology one need.

(For some strange reason this question – or what it implies – reminded us of a certain illustration in ‘Days of War, Nights of Love’, this excellent book written and published by CrimeThink, an anarchist collective from the U.S. The illustration shows a barebacked chained man, being lashed with a whip by another man. Superimposed on the chained man is the word YOU. On the whip, it says LANGUAGE, and superimposed on the guy holding the whip is the word IDEOLOGY).

9. Do you think that the way Helvetica is used by yourself and others – often very stripped down and restrained, almost default-like – is an easy way out typographically? Does it in any way signal a general disinterest in the finer details and art of typography? Or does it signify something else entirely?

To suggest that the way we use Helvetica is an easy way out typographically is ridiculous. We spend an enormous amount of time spacing, kerning, lining and positioning type. The fact that we use only a small variety of typefaces demands a certain discipline, a skillful precision, a focus on the finer details. It’s certainly not that a-different-typeface-for-every-occasion attitude. Now, that would be an easy way out.

When a composer writes a piece for a limited amount of musicians, would that be an easy way out? When a director writes a play for a limited amount of actors, would that be an easy way out? Of course not. Likewise, designing with a limited amount of typefaces is definitely not an easy way out. To suggest that it is would be a travesty.

10. Any final words?

Rudy, you probably think we’re completely out of our minds, as we realize all of the above might sound pretty bizarre. But as long as our complicated ideas translate into practical and functional designs, we’re happy.

Experimental Jetset, February 2003

Related link: Emigre 65

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“A good typographer always has a sensibility about the distance between the letters. We think typography is black and white. Typography is really white. It’s not even black. It is the space between the blacks that really makes it. In essence, it’s like music. It’s not the notes. It’s the space between the notes that makes the music.”

Massimo Vignelli nel film Helvetica (2007) di Gary Hustwit.

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