Out of the Lab, In Conversation with Nicolas Henchoz, EPFL+ECAL Lab Lausanne

 Design is an agent of change, which can help us make sense of what is happening and turn it into our advantage.

Alice Rawsthorn


Kinga Kowalczyk: Nicolas Henchoz, you’ve had an interesting career path. By training you’re an engineer; you studied material engineering at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and also journalism. You’ve worked as a reporter, art director, writer and curator. In 2007 you founded the EPFL+ECAL Lab, which is “a design lab that explores opportunities and issues related to emerging technologies”. Your mission is to create meaningful design that translates disruptive technologies into a user experience that strives for more than just aesthetics. It’s important to say that the EPFL+ECAL Lab is not an academic laboratory in the traditional sense, and it doesn’t form part of any particular faculty either. It is fostering a relationship between the academic and industrial worlds, partnering technology received from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne with commercial manufacturers. Let’s talk a little about disruptive technologies first. How do you define them?

Nicolas Henchoz: I wouldn’t call myself an expert on disruptive technologies. A technological advance is all about making little changes, which are rather an evolution than a revolution. You refine the existing technologies by little loops. In my view disruptive means that you have a solution coming from a totally different area, another way of thinking. For example, at the EPFL+ECAL Lab we worked with a technology of dye solar cells inspired by photosynthesis in plants.

Just to explain, Michael Graetzel and his team at the EPFL created this solar cell in the early 90s.

The process is an electro-chemical chain reaction, where a colorant, let’s say raspberry juice, interacts with Titanium Dioxide, which is a powder. In a traditional solar cell silicon captures light and turns it into electricity. In Graetzel’s solar cells colorants are used instead. The colorant catches the light to generate electrical power.

Sunny Memories was a project where your Lab and four other European design schools used solar cells to reinterpret everyday objects by incorporating them into their design.

The traditional solar cell is a sort of plate you stick on top of the object; its form is static and you cannot change it. Michael Graetzel’s solar cells can be a flexible part of the design.

Emilie Rosen’s Heliotone, for instance, explored the concept of a radio where with thinly applied layers of solar cells you could adjust the volume and the channel.

It was interesting to see how an object could be conceived in a totally different way. The concept was to use solar cell as a radio. This cell provided the energy; it also acted as a touch interface and, thanks to an exciter behind it, as a loudspeaker. I strongly believe in objects that are simple and have one function. For a very long time we’ve been trying to integrate everything into a cell phone. The Heliotone shows that it’s possible to create an object that has one specific function and is autonomous, that recharges by itself.

Do you think it will change our relationship with solar energy?

We need to have more autonomous objects that don’t need to be plugged in constantly. The bowl from Sunny Memories is a solar recharger; it can harvest energy. We realized that when the bowl was placed close to a window the light came from the sides and not from above. So the designer decided to put the solar cells—not on top of the bowl but vertically, and inside the material. I think this is the way to work with the solar cell, to find a way to integrate it into the environment, to create a nice object that doesn’t need a lot of energy and is autonomous.

What about Under Pressure? Under Pressure was an exploration of wood and its properties. By using a process called densification, which combines the application of humidity, heat and mechanical force, you changed wood’s physical and mechanical properties.

Densified wood is another disruptive technology. The idea appeared some hundred years ago but has really only been demonstrated in the 2000’s. You can densify fast growing wood like spruce and produce a hard, resistant material like from a rare species in a tropical forest. So you have this disruptive technology. Now how do you create new scenarios of use? How do you open the scope of this technology?

The products that came out of the project were headphones, a door handle, a series of boxes, and high heel shoes.

There were two disruptive elements here. The first was the texture. Nobody expected that we could get such a smooth texture—amazing in terms of touch—straight out of the mold. And then we were able to combine different percentages of densification. In the case of the high-heel shoes we went from 20% to 100%. We were trying to show the potential of the material, its strength and smoothness.

Are you still working on the project?

We would like to, but in Switzerland the wood industry is very small. We need to find a partner in the Nordic countries, or in France or Germany. To make a specific sample is one thing; to begin production is another. You need investment and you need machinery. Wood is a complex material. You must optimize the process. We have some ideas how to do this, but it costs and it’s a risk.

What about Hidden Carbon? It “aimed to make carbon usable in everyday life and offer users new, legitimate, sensitive experiences”.

Often carbon has been used for improving performance, for example in the automotive industry, where you actually don’t see it and don’t care. And carbon has also been used badly and in a stupid way, just to show how high-tech something is, how expensive. Carbon is very stiff, fragile and very light. We asked ourselves, could we find a new typology of objects made of carbon?

The products that came out of this project were a portable swing, glassware, a sort of tube that when connected to an MP3 player, for example, amplified the sound, and a kind of string that was used to easily bind the parts of a bamboo stool. Was this something disruptive?

Was it disruptive? I wouldn’t concentrate so much on that. I want to question this concept because there’s a contradiction. Can we really be disruptive? Innovation is an invention adapted by the user. Why should anybody use something that is disruptive? The important thing is to open up new paths, new perspectives. Solar Cell was purely disruptive. We had a disruptive technology and disruptive scenarios of use, and we could document how disruptive all this was. The bamboo stool with a carbon string was not disruptive at all. It took a vernacular approach and questioned it. The carbon string opened up new possibilities for making the bamboo construction work better. Hidden Carbon is a way of looking at the material differently.

Let’s shift gears. How was disruptive technology and design integrated into the Montreux Jazz Heritage Lab?

Disruptive ideas don’t necessarily have to relate to a specific technology. You can find disruptive concepts in architecture as well.

Montreux Jazz Heritage Lab 1 is a 7×8 meter acoustically insulated booth that fits six people, when closed. But by opening the lateral walls a wider audience can appreciate the 5000 hours of audio-visual content that comes from the Montreux Jazz Festival’s archive.

In the beginning we battled over the concept of what form the archive should take. We didn’t want to recreate the experience of the original concert. We wanted to be as close as possible to the original content for sure, but we didn’t want to create a piece of art based on the concert. To bring it back to life, we thought it should be a different experience.

Could you tell me something more about the design? The booth looks unique.

The key issue here was the screen and the relationship we have with it. We had digital content that we wanted to bring into a physical space, into architecture. How do you integrate the virtual and the physical to produce something that is meaningful? ALICE (EPFL’s Space Conception Research Studio) investigated a lot of different shapes of screen and observed how the image radiated outside of the booth. Inspired by the baroque church’s trompe l’oeil effect, they came up with a curvature that gives you a perception of depth without cheating your eyes the way 3D goggles do. The new shape of the screen allows you to spend hours with the content and stay relaxed. It is much more immersive than the types of screen we know, and you don’t get this tiring stereoscopic effect while watching the concerts. The screen emits light; you are not in the dark and you can see the space around you, which gives you the sense of a very normal situation. And this is something we have been trying to reinforce from the beginning, in other projects as well. We aim to produce something Super Normal, in reference to Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison. The essence of normality is something that connects, in the end, your proposition with the user’s ordinary life. It’s the key challenge to getting disruptive innovation really adopted. Behind this there is a lot of work. The way you frame a concert is different from, say, how you frame action sports. The type of screen we created is adapted especially to how the stage was filmed; it works for certain types of archival material but not for all. So the result is not just a visual reminder of something that already exists. When you are able to succeed in bringing the essence of normality into disruptive design, you can produce something meaningful. And from what we’ve seen here at the Lab, when you produce meaningful design, things don’t become obsolete so fast. In the end you don’t want to showcase technology, you want to create an experience. The thing is to make people forget about the technology and concentrate on the content.

How do you know when you’ve added real value to the projects you work on?

If it’s a good project, it must push us forward. If we produce something that you can see once in a magazine—this is something any good design studio can do. Our added value is producing knowledge that is not just for one project. You must be able to measure results, to draw conclusions, to prove that you have something real and not just something that you’ve convinced yourself of. Our society has always been driven by the search for new stuff, new knowledge. I think that today we’re not disruptive enough, not the way we used to be. My great grandmother lived to be almost a hundred. She experienced the first vaccine, the first car, the first fridge, and the first radio. For me disruptiveness is about thinking outside of the trends and this does not solely involve disruptive technology. What is important is to see how people use and perceive what we create, and then learn from that. The worst case scenario is when you think you have something cool and after three months nobody is using it and you don’t know why.

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Written by Kinga Kowalczyk for DEE Magazine published by Design Friends Luxembourg


Do not go outside, return into yourself; it is in the interiority of the person where the truth dwells.

–Saint Augustine

Human beings are destined for contemplation.

–Éric Chenal

Revelations is the title of a humble and beautifully executed project and exhibition at the National Museum of History and Art (NMHA) in Luxembourg. In 2013 the museum commissioned Éric Chenal to take pictures during the renovation of the museum’s new wing. Chenal’s photographs depict entrances, windows, walls half covered with paint and markings, and other ordinary objects and parts of the buildings. The colors are muted with occasional bursts of light blue and green, vivid red and orange. Chenal describes his first encounter with the site as challenging. It didn’t have a lot of appeal and he admitted in a conversation we had that he was unable to stay long. He didn’t feel welcome. He would only photograph the buildings when nobody was around and it was quiet, because this was the only way he could enter into dialog with the empty space. But as it turned out, the project became a spiritual experience that not only started, but was also shared, and had its continuation within that space.

Chenal divides his time between Lorrain and Luxembourg. His career as a photographer started some twelve years ago and his main focus is commercial photography. In 2009 he began one of his first personal projects called Out of Breath followed by Esprit du Lieu (Nature of Space), and White Inside, which many think was inspired by Brian O’Doherty’s Inside the White Cube. He photographs spaces in moments of transition: old churches being restored, contemporary art centers between exhibitions, houses in renovation. The key elements that thread through his work are the presence of light and a sense of being in the moment. He doesn’t stage anything; he uses natural light, and stays open, unassuming, and respectful. His aim is to let the place reveal itself. It is an organic and intuitive process. While working on Revelations he wasn’t interested in the museum’s past or future, he aimed to capture the here and now. The immediate relationship with the place, the dialog he maintained with the site revealed sublime aspects of the project. The camera became Chenal’s tool in uncovering something beyond measurement or calculation, something that can be perceived within oneself.

In this photographic and spiritual search Chenal has found inspiration and guidance in Jean-Louis Chrétien’s latest philosophical work, L’Espace Intérieur (The Interior Space), a book which combines elements of practical philosophy and Christian theology. Chrétien analyzes texts of Saint Augustine, Saint Teresa of Ávila, Origen, Dante, Baudelaire, and Freud among others. Chenal was particularly interested in the idea of representing what Saint Augustine calls the interiority of a person, in other words, the human soul as a space, cell, temple, castle, or room, where it can stand face-to-face with God.

To discuss the concept of Chenal’s project I met with him at the Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain. It’s 10:30 in the morning, the museum is still closed but I can get in to meet Éric. He wears a grey linen suit and welcomes me with a warm smile. There’s something modest and direct about him. The museum is between exhibitions so it’s noisy and full of people. Chenal seems to know everybody; he greets and shakes hands with the museum’s staff. We retreat to the Casino’s kitchen and sit by a small table. We talk about his commercial work and personal projects. Then I show him a selection of images from Revelations that resonate with me. It turns out they are also significant to Éric. “Tell me something about the entrance blocked by a big piece of play wood?” (Figure 1), I ask. “It’s a veil, the light is behind, you see, you’re in contact with it. You see how to get out”, replies Éric. When we look at the image of a pillar covered with a piece of semi transparent plastic (Figure 2) the first thing that comes to my mind is an offering pillar. When Éric sees this photograph he talks about generosity and sharing. Next we look at the image of a vivid red stain on a wall surrounded by patches of white paint (Figure 3). There is a moment of silence before we say anything. “It’s about how to accept the given moment”, observes Éric.

The exhibition space is intimate and transmits a sense of ascetic emptiness (Figures 4, 5). The design of the installation is simple and conveys the meditative nature of the project. The first room is an homage to Jean Louis Chrétien’s The Interior Space. The six wooden pillars scattered around the room have six quotes printed on top. The quotes come from Heraclitus, Pascal, St Augustine, St Ignatius de Loyola, Hugh of Saint Victor, and St Teresa of Ávila. These quotes, as well as a short text on the wall and the leaflet with a map, frame the exhibition. The pieces of text are meant to be a guide when you are exploring the rooms; they also introduce a contemplative mood and can help the viewer to understand the artwork. The exhibition’s layout is circular; you begin and end in the first room.

Can silence and simplicity give a profound experience of beauty? Can a state of being in the moment equate to being happy? To appreciate silence you need to disconnect from the usual rhythm of life. The message has to play itself rather than be played. Behind the words and images in Revelations there’s something that cannot be seen until it reveals itself. You just have to stay open and give yourself time. The exhibition doesn’t impose on you; it has the quality of a discovery. In an interview after the exhibition White Inside Éric said something that is also relevant to Revelations, “Photography taught me that everything is a gift. It is all offered to us. I’m just here to look at the light, to try not to search for it…”

Éric Chenal (Figure 1)
Éric Chenal (Figure 2)
Éric Chenal (Figure 3)
Éric Chenal (Figure 4)
Éric Chenal (Figure 5)


A few days ago I had the chance to talk to Nadine Clemens, the president of Design Friends Luxembourg. We spoke about Resolute–Design Changes, Postscript: Luxembourg and the local design scene.

With Resolute exhibition Design Friends celebrates its 5th anniversary. It has always been its mission to invite internationally renowned designers from many fields of design and present their work to the local community. But for some time now the association’s leaders have felt there was something missing in the rich programme they offered every season. In October of last year, during the Night of the Museums, Design Friends presented a portfolio show featuring 100 Luxembourg-based design studios, so now Resolute–Design Changes is accompanied by Postscript: Luxembourg. This addition presents socially involved projects that come from designers who are either based in Luxembourg or have some link to it.

Postscript perfectly complemets  the themes chosen for the main show. Two projects that caught my eye were  “A Do Something But Not Anything Manifesto” by Isabelle Mattern and “Jailbird Manual” by Socialmatter. The first is a compilation of questions, keywords and instructions that relate to, among other topics, personal experience, commitment, motivation and ways of working. These are presented in the form of a layered recording, a poster with a transcribed text that is typographically interpreted and a jar filled with small pieces of rolled paper that each has a short text on it. The second project is a guide with a set of tools and techniques useful in carpentry. Designers from Socialmatter, Giacomo Piovan and Lynn Schammel, decided to present the guide as graphically interpreted manual of instructions. This graphical tool is now being used at the penitentiary centre Givenich, Luxembourg.


Existing political, economical, ecological and even social structures are widely questioned. … As a consequence design can no longer only be defined by just technical performance, aesthetics, or creativity. …

Dennis Elbers, London Calling, Dee, Issue 3, 2014

It is still quite rare to see a design exhibition in a museum. But thanks to Dennis Elbers and Sven Ehmann’s initiative, and the sensitive approach to design of Nadine Clemens, the president of Design Friends Luxembourg, it is now possible to see Resolute–Design Changes exhibition at the Casino Luxembourg–Forum d’art contemporain. The projects presented in Resolute and Postscript Luxembourg give us insight into how socially responsible designers approach social problems and how they try to solve them on a bigger scale. What’s interesting is that these designers always work in, with and for a community. Their work is no longer just about staging provocations; it is about involvement and finding solution.

Design for Social Innovation applies the abilities of talented individuals to collective creativity and to the transformation of complex systems at great scale. In this new role, the designer’s practice takes place not in private studio but inside an organisation or community. It the invisible dynamics of individuals and their relationship with each other instead of material resources. Its method and value are in collective participation and creativity that engage organisations in finding solutions that work for them.

Cheryl Heller, The Social Innovation Revolution

An interest in social matters has become a hot topic in the world of design. Dutch design, for example, aims to make an impact on a society rather than show off strong visual concepts. With Works That Work, Peter Bil’ak, a Slovakian graphic and typeface designer based now in The Hague, quietly revolts against the usual magazine publishing models and promotes design that happens in most unexpected places and circumstances. Alice Rawsthorn in Hello World casts light on the new challenges we all face when it comes to solving delicate social issues using design systems. In her book she showcases fantastic examples of projects concerned with communities. Everyday Rebellion documents social movements that speak up against inequality, injustice and fraud. And, last but not least, the V&A curators have recently shown Disobedient Objects, an exhibition which explores the role such objects play in grassroots movements.

Conclusion? Designers and people involved in design fight to be sustainable; they put their efforts in growing something, often intangible, rather than creating objects that you can buy and throw away when obsolete.

The Maker Movement

Olduvai stone chopping tool

Everything made now is either a replica or a variant of something made a little time ago and so back without break on to the first morning of human time.

Georg Kubler, The Shape of Time

I have recently seen, long expected, documentary from Mu-Ming Tsai MAKER and it inspired me to have a closer look at the maker movement. I was wondering how and why they became so popular in the US and what are the opinions about the movement outside the makers circle. In this post I gathered quotes from the Form Design Magazine based in Frankfurt, The New Yorker Magazine and MAKER documentary. I also felt Esther Pasztory’s Thinking with Things: Toward a New Vision of Art would give a dipper understanding of the phenomenon. I see the maker movement as a gathering of creative and independent people in action. The makers connect to the physical world around them. They look for self-respect and the possibility to decide for themselves. The makers are not consumers. They are ordinary people who, with some powerful tools at hand, can make a difference.

The maker movement, as we know, is an umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers. … Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology like 3-D printers.

Time, Why the Maker Movement is Important to America’s Future by Tim Bajarin

The Maker Movement as being the web generation meets the real world. It is the tinkerers, the do-it-yourselfers, the hobbyist, the workshops  of the world, now working together online and using digital tools to do something that none of them could do by themselves. Let’s say the first industrial revolution was the mechanical revolution. 1700, the replacement of muscle power with machine power. The second industrial revolution was the information revolution. But this was not the creation of the computer, but rather the democratisation of the computer. … The third industrial revolution is just a combination of the two. The information revolution meets the mechanical machine manufacturing revolution. And, the reason it’s happening now is because that essential democratisation movement has finally kicked in. It’s not enough to invent technologies, they have to be put in the hands of everybody … it liberates the ideas and creativities.

Chris Anderson, C.E.O. 3D Robotics, Maker

An anthropological view on the material culture.

All things are related to each other in a vast chain of formal transformations. It is not as simple as the nineteenth-century writers thought, developing from naturalism to abstraction or vice versa.

Between levels of different social integration there are major dislocations and reformulations in material culture. I suggest that two processes are at work: translation and innovation. Innovation is almost always necessary at times of change and may effect both the type of object and its style. Innovation can be very sudden and dramatic. Translation is the term I prefer for the continuous reinterpretation of forms which have in them at least as much change and innovation as is often necessary to translate a statement from one language and context to another. Through a process of translation, a form may last many hundreds of years, but the relationship may be unrecognisable in terms of its appearance.

Althogether, “things” need to be reevaluated against other technologies such as writing and media. In fact, they all need to be looked at together as parts of a systemic and changing whole. This rises basic questions about things and how we relate to them biologically, functionally–and, yes, even aesthetically. Humankind has existed without writing and media for a long time but thinking with things goes back to Kubler’s “first morning”.

Esther Pasztory Thinking with Things; Toward a New Vision of Art 


Although, the maker movement is a fascinating concept not everyone seems to be impressed by it. Stephan Ott from the Form Design Magazine has a rather critical view on the makers community.

There is talk of a culture even a movement of “makers” who are revolutionising design, as cheap production of spare parts and small production is no longer a problem. But a cursory look at design history is enough to at least temper any such notion of revolution.

Whether in film, music or writing, it has always taken professionals to shoot, compose and formulate coherent content. This need still applies, and the availability of widely affordable 3D printers will not alter that: good products will continue to depend on a design file produced by a professional designer. There is nothing wrong with the maker community — essentially an amalgamation of the long-established do-it-yourselfers movement and the hacker scene. But one thing must be kept in mind: even by their own self-definition, makers are tinkerers and hobbyists, but not (yet) designers.

Stephen Ott Wohin der Wege? Designer 2014, Designer Quo Vadis?, Form Design Magazine Nº 251

Finally, in Making It: Pick up a spot welder and join the revolution Evgeny Morozov touches on a slightly darker and more complex side of the maker movement.

The maker era might not be upon us yet, but the maker movement has arrived. …

Like the Arts and Crafts movement–a mélange of back-to-the land simplifiers, socialists, anarchists, and tweedy art connoisseurs–the makers are a diverse bunch. They include 3-D-printing enthusiasts who like making their own toys, instruments,  and weapons; tinkerers and mechanics who like to customise household objects by outfitting them with sensors and Internet connectivity; and appreciators of craft who prefer to design their own objects and then have them manufactured on demand.

Each of these groups has its own history. What turns them into movement is the intellectual infrastructure that allows makers to reflect on what it means to be a maker. …

Then there are the temptations facing the movement. Two years ago, DARPA–the research arm of the Department of Defence–announced a ten-million-dollar grant to promote the maker movement among high-school students. DARPA also gave three and a half million dollars to TechShop to establish new makerspaces that could help the agency with its “innovation agenda”.

Mark Hatch (C.E.O. of TechShop), for one, shows no concern that proximity to power might compromise his movement’s revolutionary potential. “Now, with the tools available at makerspaces, anyone can change the world,” he writes in The Maker Movement Manifesto. “Every revolution needs an army… My objective with this book is to radicalise you and get you to become a soldier in this army.” How radical is Hatch’s project? At the start of the acknowledgements that open the book, he thanks Autodesk, Ford, DARPA, the V.A., Lowe’s, and G.E. His talk of becoming an army soldier may not be a metaphor. … Hatch and Anderson (C.E.O. of 3D Robotics) alike invoke Marx and argue that the success of the maker movement shows that the means of production can be made affordable to workers even under capitalism. … But both overlook one key development; in a world where everyone is an entrepreneur, it’s hard work getting others excited about funding your project. Money goes to those who know how to attract attention. Simply put, if you need to raise money on Kickstarter, it helps to have fifty thousand Twitter followers, not fifty. It helps enormously if Google puts your product on the first page of search results, and making sure it stays there might require an investment in search-engine optimisation. Some would view this new kind of immaterial labour as “virtual craftsmanship”; other as vulgar hustling. The good news is that now you don’t have to worry about getting fired; the bad news is that you have to worry about getting downgraded by Google.

Hatch assumes that online platforms are ruled by equality of opportunity. But they aren’t. Inequality here is not just a matter of who owns and runs the means of physical production but also of who owns and runs the means of intellectual production–the so-called “attention economy” (or what the German writer Hans Magnus Ezensberger, in the early sixties, called the “consciousness industry”). All of this suggests that there’s more politicking–and politics–to be done here than enthusiasts like Anderson and Hatch are willing to acknowledge. For Anderson, such innovation is prelude to a great business: when hobbyists cluster together to work on obscure technologies, someone eventually gets rich. But it’s misleading to view the Homebrew Computer Club solely through the prism of innovation and entrepreneurship. It also had, at least at first, a political vision.

Evgeny Morozov, Making It: Pick up a spot welder and join the revolution, The New Yorker, Jan.13, 2014 


Typography is not only for reading and must not be a pain. Typography can be a game and a lot of fun.

A drawing inspired by: Schematische Darstellung des M-Buchstabenwürfel-Experiments in: Schonwiedertypografie 1970, Sonderdruck der Typografischen Monatsblätter, Rückseite, Buchdruck
A drawing inspired by: Es war einmal und ist nicht mehr | 1989

At the beginning of September I went to see Weingart Typografie at the Museum of Design in Zurich. I spent a couple of hours there looking at his work and the work made by his students. And, while I was sketching and taking notes, all of a sudden, Weingart entered the exhibition room and I said hello and he looked at me and asked me if he had taught me…

On my way out I bought a copy of 30 Years of Swiss Typographic Discourse  in the Typogrfische Monatsblätter: TM RSI SGM 1960-90 published by Lars Müller Publishers. Typogrfische Monatsblätter was a typographic journal that became a discussion platform for professionals in the field of typesetting and printing.

In “Typografie ist eine Kunst für sich” from 1973, Tschichold called typographical game playing a hybrid decadence, stressing that a good typographer, unlike the self-aggrandising graphic designer, never actually feels free, he does not play, but rather follows the considerations of his reason.

30 Years of Swiss Typographic Discourse  in the Typogrfische Monatsblätter, p.134


 Is this typography worth supporting, or do we live on the moon? Typography is not dead, yet! But its effect is undoubtedly anaemic and vague. But, by and large, it is intact, it is definitely less than ever a practical skill. Instead, it endures as an intrinsic necessity. Typography lives! It is not regarded with the primacy of perhaps 10 or 20 years ago, and is comprehended less as a “picture”, but rather, more as a “text”. Nevertheless, it remains a prominent element of “visual communication”: indispensable, and occasionally fresh, even original.

Peter Kornatzki, 30 Years of Swiss Typographic Discourse in the Typogrfische Monatsblätterp. 157

As for the exhibition, it is a thoughtfully organised space that shows Wingart’s practice as a constant search for solutions. It shows clearly his regard for process-oriented work.

I was not interested in a single result, but in the research. I was interested in process-oriented teaching…

Wolfgang Weingart in an interview for Typographische Monatsblätter (TM)  


At the Basel School of Design they try to bring out in people a kind of intuitive approach to making things visual, whether it’s typography, or drawing, or whatever, and help them find ways of analysing what they’re doing while they’re doing it.

Hamish Muir, 30 Years of Swiss Typographic Discourse in the Typogrfische Monatsblätter, p. 169 (originally published in Heritage, Emigre, no.14, 1990)

…but one of the important things I learned from him was how to work; a healthy process. It was more of a process of discovery and exploration than of trying to make something that looks like the teacher’s or anybody else’s work. When he gave an assignment, he would encourage us to work on 20 different iterations all at the same time. I found that method very useful. …They may all be good solutions, but maybe only one is really appropriate. I think that is the strongest thing I learned from Weingart: a playful, beginner’s-kind-of Weingart mind.

April Greiman for Typographische Monatsblätter (TM)  

In my search for information about Herr Weingart I found out that he liked listening to Bruno Walter’s rehearsing Mozart’s Linz Symphony.

While working on the week ends in the typeschop at the school, Weingart often wheeled out a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and played the music of German composers–Wagner, Bethoven, Mozart–would accompany his labour. One of his favourites was a recording of a legendary orchestra conductor Bruno Walter rehearsing Mozart’s Linz Symphony in which Walter implores his musicians to share his grasp of a particular passage as a “shimmering”. The same could describe Weingart’s body of work. His typographic vision embodies a similar vitality and richness. It shimmers.

Wolfgang Weingart, Biography by Philip Burton

typography as illustrated music

graphic landscape

repetition, densification, scattering, progression, tension

Wolfgang Weingart’s My Way to Typography is a publication that accompanies the exhibition. It is an interesting read for anyone involved with art, design or typography.  Keith Tam and Stuart Bailey, among others, wrote about the book and it is striking how contrary their opinions were on Weingart’s practice, the design and the content of his book. Either you love it or hate it, I guess.

[hlysnan], it is all about listening

[hlysnan] in old English means to listen with intention and attention. The exhibition and the publication titled [hlysnan] The Notion and Politics of Listening prepared by the curators Berit Fischer and Kevin Muhlen for the Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain presents sounds that inspire to reflect on spatial and sociopolitical relations. The selection of recordings presented in the Casino carries meaningful messages that examine usually unexplored territories, like the impact of drone surveillance on civil communities in FATA, the voice as a tool to gain position in society, historical speeches as a source of recreation of history, the concept of mimesis as resistance, etc. As for the publication that accompanies the exhibition, it is a conceptual piece that records some aspects of work made by sound artists who take part in the [hlysnan] project. The book contains, among others, a very interesting essay by Peter Cusack who is a ‘sonic journalist’ and records sounds in dangerous places like Chernobyl. Anther essay worth mentioning is a piece about the linguistic diversity under threat of disappearing by John Wynne.

The exhibition focuses rather on sound than an image. There is a sense of emptiness in the rooms which enhances the experience of listening. The artists invited by the curators presented powerful projects that made me listen and think about some of the aspects of sociopolitical dependencies I didn’t realize existed. The curators wanted as little visuals as possible. For me that was an invitation to produce some drawings. The images below are some of the drawings I made while listening to the recordings in the Casino Luxembourg.

The sonic bleed of a circling drone that one cannot necessarily see, but hear, is a constant reminder that a deadly strike may come at any time, quite literally out of the blue.

Susan Schuppli, Uneasy Listening: The Chronic Sonics of Life under Drones

Subliminal Projection Company is an experiment  to transduce memories of the artist to the visitor. The method applied — subliminal text concealed under nature sounds — imitates the self-hep CDs that are widely used in the hope of effortless self-improvement. Instead of the inspirational self-improvement messages, Menick infiltrates recollections of his childhood.

From the booklet for the exhibition, John Menick’s Subliminal Projection Company

The future’s past has caught up with itself. In the Citadel residents are equipped with special auditory mechanisms for acute hearing. Communication has been stripped down to its most basic level; the voice and its aural residuals. Here, voice recognition technology controls the flow of social exchange. The Interlocutors of the Citadel control the social order as well as the very limited resources of life. The voice is the key to pass. The Interlocutors guard vocal codes with full authority. Those in the half-light exist on the periphery without access.

Angel Nevarez and Valerie TevereWhat we might have heard in the future is a science-fiction based radio drama


NEVER FOR MONEY ALWAYS FOR LOVE and Bruce Duckworth’s lecture at Mudam Luxembourg, CONSUMPTION at the V&A

We’re culture that is always looking for that other message, always looking for that new arrangement.

Cloude Levi Strauss The Strange Mind

The last couple of weeks I spent on reading about brands and branding, about material culture and self-transformation. I have also visited NEVER FOR MONEY ALWAYS FOR LOVE exhibition and had a chance to listen to Bruce Duckworth’s lecture on packaging design. The lecture inspired me to go back to a series of interviews from Brand Thinking by Debbie Millman and Chief Culture Officer by Grant McCracken. I also went to London to see CONSUMPTION at the V&A. And, the whole thing in this post is an interesting mix of different aspects of our material culture.

Susana Soares Insects au Gratin


Design has successfully established itself-so much so that it has become an and in itself, something more than just a tool to boost sales; rather, it creates “meaning” and becomes the actual purpose of buying. … Good designers must be part-sociologist or “social seismographers”: they must be in close contact with the needs, desires and fantasies of society. … but design can make important contributions to help change people’s mentalities. Design is linked to daily life, its gestures and objects-and this is precisely the terrain on which profound social changes operate. If, in the past, design has helped to circulate the consumerist lifestyle, it can now in turn prepare the minds to accept a less predatory relationship to our natural and social resources-a relationship where the physical appearance of objects is not continually offered up to value and money. At the same time it can contribute to a more playful relationship to life in which not everything must necessarily be seen under the angle of power, wealth or self-affirmation, and where ‘gift’, ‘sharing’, and ‘free’ are not empty words.

Design, the ultimate stage of  capitalism?  by Anselm Jappe, philosopher and essayist


Some notes from Bruce Duckworth‘s lecture at Mudam, organised by the  Design Friends Luxembourg:


20th century: smoke and mirrors, facades, brand and business are separate, opaque and secretive, advertising is communication, controlled and consistent…

21st century: the brand is a business, open and transparent, communication is everything, everything is communication, coherent, collaborative, brands are culture…

Design is the material culture of brands. Material culture reflects the things they value.

Some notes from Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman:

  • branding is an experience; advertising is a temptation
  • branding leads to ownership, one that has a touchy feeling to it; advertising is more distant, it offers promise, but it doesn’t give you a product
  • design is a part that you pick up, the bit you touch, people have more relationship with brands
  • branding is a replacement for religion, a process of self-discovery, a moral code you have to follow

from the interview with Bruce Duckworth

In Chief Culture Officer Grant McCracken said:

I think of brands as bundles of meaning and branding as a process of meaning manufacture and management. Branders find meaning in our culture and invest this meaning in brands.

Hong Hao's My Things No.7 2004, Beijin, China
Hong Hao’s My Things No.7 2004, Beijin, China

CONSUMPTION, the fifth cycle of the Prix Pictet (the global award in photography and sustainability) at the V&A, London

We are all consumers. We have invented new forms of building, industrial production, farming and energy; we have emptied the seas and ravaged the land in our relentless drive to satisfy our unquenchable desires. We have at times sustained our appetites through the exploitation of the world’s poorest people. The consequences of our voracity are everywhere for us to see. We override the eternal cycle of the seasons to be sure to satisfy our daily cravings. Even our basic needs are now commoditised; we crave things we didn’t know we needed and which quickly become obsolete.

My favourite selection of photographs was scanned objects by a Chinese artist Hong Hao. For twelve years he’s been scanning objects he consumed. Hong Hao created a visual diary of things, a unique and personal inventory that attempts to question the culture of consumerism.

I’ve been here; I hope the same for you, Henryk Tomaszewski, Warsaw

I do not have patience to admire beauty in itself–skilful eye or hand. I prefer failure to mastered perfection… I am not interested in showing-off accomplished forms anymore. I enjoy, instead, playing with a language I do not know yet.

 Henryk Tomaszewski, editor Agnieszka Szewczyk, translation Kinga Kowalczyk

I have recently visited Zachęta – National Gallery of Art in Warsaw where Henryk Tomaszewski’s graphic work is on show till 10th June. The exhibition and the work of the leader of the Polish Poster School was a revelation and a fortunate coincidence. In this post I used some of the photographs I had shot in the gallery, fragments of the exhibition catalogue, Steven Heller’s article for the New York Times (2005) and one of the episodes of the Polish Film Chronicles (1978).




Even when he made a poster to advertise another artist’s exhibition, Mr. Tomaszewski interpreted the content. For example, to announce a 1959 show of Henry Moore’s sculptures, he created a veritable sculpture garden from the letters of the artist’s name and placed Moore’s “Mother and Child” on a pedestal made from the “O” in Moore. But this handling of the subject was not just a flagrant personal conceit; Mr. Tomaszewski succeeded in showcasing the salient features in Moore’s work that were akin to his own.

Steven Heller, Henryk Tomaszewski, Leader of the Polish Poster School, Dies at 91

PKF – Polish Film Chronicle, a 10 minute long newsreel, was part of the official information media in the communist Poland. I decided to use one of the episodes here to give a feel for the times in which Tomaszewski lived and worked in.

“Politics is like the weather,” he once said, “you have to live with it.” His art benefited from this resistance, since he was forced to come up with concealed satiric images in his work. He stayed clear of overtly political issues and focused entirely on designing posters for cultural institutions and events.

Steven Heller, Henryk Tomaszewski, Leader of the Polish Poster School, Dies at 91

“Atmosphere Rooms” for Philippe Apeloig, Paris

The Typorama finished a couple of weeks ago and I am still thinking about the walls of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris filled with Apeloig’s fonts, Metro-size posters and the music used for his animations composed by Barbatuques, Iannis Xanakis, Maurice Ravel and Laurent Rochelle, among others. Typorama, the exhibition and the catalogue, presents the panorama of Philippe Apeloig’s work which is conceptual, functional and artfully crafted.

For me, the most important thing in the exhibition were Apeloig’s sources of inspiration, his Jewish roots, the fact that his grandparents came from Kazimierz Dolny in Poland, his fascination with movies like, 8 ½, Orfeo Negro and Battleship Potemkin.

The way Philippe Apeloig presented 30 years of his work made me think of Alexander Dorner’s “Atmosphere Rooms”.

Across the Atlantic, the German curator Alexander Dorner was experimenting with a different approach to explaining the relationship between art, design and architecture as director of the Landesmuseum in Hanover. Since the mid 1920s he had used pieces from its archive to depict the cultural history of particular eras by creating what he called “Atmosphere Rooms”. The grand finale was the Raum der Gegenwart, or Room of Today, for which Dorner commissioned Moholy-Nagy to create an immersive sequences of images depicting glimpses of contemporary art, architecture, design, theater and sport with screening of experimental Soviet films including Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” and Dziga Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera”.  

Alice Rawsthorn, Hello World

In this post I gathered some quotes and images which are glimpses of culture, design and art that I wanted to dedicate to Monsieur Apeloig.

I begin with a small town in Poland, Kazimierz Dolny. Then I move on to Malevich’s Black Square, Dutch Design, Wolfgang Weingart’s Line Pictures for Armin Hofmann, Phillippe Petit’s tightrope walking at the World Trade Center in 1974, and, finally, Pina Bausch’s Nelken from 1982.

Acoustic Walk

Kazimierz Dolny in Poland used to be a place of two cultures and two religions, Catholic and Jewish. They existed next to each other till the Soviet and German occupation almost wiped the Jewish out of the town, out of the whole country. But, there are people, young people who want to remember that Jewish culture influenced Polish culture and that it is an important part of our heritage.

Jaśmina Wójcik is a Polish multimedia artist. In 2011 she created the acoustic walk around Kazimierz Dolny. It was a project with audio guides in which she used stories about Jewish that don’t live in Kazimierz any more, but are still present in the memory of its inhabitants.

…the acoustic walk around Kazimierz Dolny consists of prints of Jaśmina Wójcik’s drawings hung on the facades of houses. The drawings are the central part of the project, and create the points on the walk’s map. The path is created by places – existing or not – where Jews used to live (e.g. the cheder, the mikveh, the Tzadik house, the synagogue, the kosher slaughterhouse). Each participant gets an MP3 player, a map and an instruction. The MP3 player becomes a personal guide.This is a personal and alternative way of touring around the town–through something that does not exist anymore, or what remained in a very small scale. Yet it constitutes a very important part of the town’s history and heritage. The project aims at creating a universal message relating also to contemporary events. In their headphones the participants hear real memories of the pre-war life in Kazimierz Dolny (archived by Bożena Gałuszewska and the Brama Grodzka Center – NN Theatre in Lublin). The town used to be bicultural – Poles and Jews where neighbours here. After WWII the Jewish community vanished completely. The project is an expression of memory about them. Of respect. Of preserving their presence… of their metaphysical return…


Black Square

A section of Suprematist works by Kazimir Malevich exhibited for the first time at the 0.10 exhibition (via Wikipedia)

The Last Futurist Exhibition 0.10 in 1915 … the placement of the suprematist paintings suggested the way icons were hung; … Black Square, which was, with total explicitness presented as an icon, or rather, in the position of an icon.

Igor Zabel on The Last Futurist Exhibition 0.10 in 1915

Dutch Design

Theo van Doesburg, alphabet design, 1919

Van Doesburg’s upper-case alphabet was constructed from vertical and horizontal slabs of the same thickness and could be stretched vertically and horizontally to force texts to fit any format. Neither aesthetic nor legibility were major considerations, and the assumption that conveying information is a primary objective of typography as of marginal concern. Perhaps Moholy-Nagy was referring to Van Doesburg when he wrote that ‘clarity is the first prerequisite of all typography. For the sake of legibility the message must never suffer from a priori aesthetics. The letter types must never be forced into a pre-planned form, for instance into a square’. Yet, as demonstrated by the cover for the published 1920 Antwerp lecture Klassiek Barok Modern, Van Doesburg could use his alphabet quite effectively.

Dutch Graphic Design: A Century of Innovation by Alston W. Purvis andCees W. De Jong

Wolfgang Weingart

The Line Pictures for Hofmann by Wolfgang Weingart

Not able to sit still during Hofmann’s class for an entire day, and to avoid having to draw lines with a ruling pen, I found refuge in the typeshop. There I was in my element. In a thin, square slab of wood I drilled one hundred holes, a grid of ten by ten, into which I then screwed one hundred L-hooks. With this construction it was easy to turn and twist the hooks into any desired direction or pattern. The technical problem of designing the Line Pictures for Hofmann was solved. By securing my construction in the bad of the letterpress I could print many variations by adjusting the height of selected hooks to the exact height of standard metal type. The hooks of the grid not intended to print were screwed deeper into the wood, too low to be inked by the rollers.

Weingart: Typography

Tightrope Walking at the World Trade Center, New York, 1974

Petit was charged with disorderly conduct and criminal trespass and received a quick sentence doing a free show for children in Central Park.

Chris Kelly, CBS, New York



Nelken, Pina Bausch, 1982


What inspires me is the fact that I learn how to stop to look at things at one point. You need to learn how to seek, not to look and then you’ll refresh your eye, then you can meditate more about what you can do. That’s the way to find the best inspiration. … It has to be playful.


Philippe Apeloig