Flexible Visual Identities: Typographic Systems in Motion
TypeThursday talks to Martin and Lo of The Inner Game of Design, a series of events in Hamburg, about their series of typographic posters in motion.
We discuss their creative process, creating flexible typographic systems — and if automation make designers obsolete.
Ulrik Hogrebe: Welcome Lo and Martin! I am a big fan of your work, so I am really pleased that we get to explore your approach and underlying creative philosophy. But before I get ahead of myself, why don’t you introduce yourselves?
Lo: Hi, I am Lo I work as a freelance Designer and visual artist. I work with Martin on the moving posters for the “Inner Game of Design” series of events here in Hamburg. I love working with any kind of visual content imaginable — from super small to extra large, from commercials and brand movies to trade show visuals, projections, video mappings, exhibitions, web-animations and title sequences.
Martin Lorenz: Hi Ulrik, pleasure to meet you and thanks for the flowers. I am Martin, co-owner of TwoPoints.Net with Lupi Asensio. Since 2016 I am also the co-founder of The Inner Game of Design (TIGOD), together with Lupi, Louise and Florian from Island.
I was born in Hanover, studied Graphic- and Type-Design in the Netherlands (KABK) and lived for the past 10 years in Barcelona. Recently we moved to Hamburg and starting TIGOD felt like a good idea to get to know the city and its designers.
One of the most enriching encounters has been the collaboration with Lo on the moving posters. At TwoPoints.Net we specialize in what we call Flexible Visual Identities (I even wrote a doctoral dissertation about them), but we rarely have the opportunity to turn the systems we develop into something moving.
Ulrik Hogrebe: So TIGOD is a side project born from wanting to connect with the design community in Hamburg — but is also a manifestation of this idea of Flexible Visual Identities? Is that correct? Tell me a bit more about TIGOD in that case?
We just throw in any kind of image and decide which of the components should be substituted and the program applies the change to all the letters of the font.
The Inner Game of Design (TIGOD)
Martin Lorenz: The term “The Inner Game” was coined by Timothy Gallwey in the 1970s. It describes the inner, psychological struggle that has effects on the physiological performance. While Gallwey was mainly concerned with mental performance and its impact on athletic performance, we focus on the inner game of design and the designer. The Inner Game of Design wants to make the invisible side of design visible.
However the event series TIGOD does not necessarily revolve around Flexible Visual Identities exclusively. Our primary goal is to bring Hamburg’s creatives together and talk about the inner game of design. Everybody sits on a very long table. There is theme-related food and a bar where people can get drinks. At the first event, “The Inner Game of Tortilla”, Lupi and me spoke about processes in design, Bruno Munari’s green risotto recipe and compared the Spanish Tortilla de Patata and the German Kartoffelpuffer. Both dishes use the same ingredients, but taste totally different due to their process of preparation. At the same time, Louise was preparing a Tortilla de Patata live on stage.
Naturally, as TwoPoints works often involve flexible visual systems, we were discussing Flexible Visual Identities at this event. But the second event was all about the artist duo Julien Martin and there were no Flexible Visual Identities mentioned. Not once.
The third event though “The Inner Game of the Typographic Universe”, was based on the type classification system by Gerrit Noordzij. Albert-Jan Pool (Mr.DIN) conducted a short workshop and then gave a lecture about the Typographic Universe.
As part of the event, we create a moving TIGOD poster, which is a Flexible Visual Identity per se. It is actually based on a typographic system we developed in 2013 for the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Do you want me to explain how the system works?
Ulrik Hogrebe: Yes, please!
The system is a tool, but also a statement on the whole automation debate and whether or not designers will lose their jobs to machines.
Flexible Visual Identities
Martin Lorenz: Well, it is actually a pretty easy system. We designed a modular typeface which has a limited amount of components. The original system had six components, while the adaption for TIGOD only has three. Each of the components can be substituted by any kind of graphic, or even photographic element. The substitutions are automated by a program Xavi Vilar wrote for us. We just throw in any kind of image and decide which of the components should be substituted and the program applies the change to all the letters of the font. It has become a tool which we’ve used in many projects since. The system is a tool, but also a statement on the whole automation debate and whether or not designers will lose their jobs to machines.
Of course, many design jobs will disappear, especially the ones which do nothing else than apply rules, but not the ones which require human qualities, such as empathy and creativity. Both qualities are extremely important in human visual communication. Designing clever systems will only help us to get rid of the boring part, the application.
Ulrik Hogrebe: So that’s interesting. I feel like there is a lot of your work that revolves around what a designer does and how that is evolving. There are so many facets to your explorations: the process, the collaborations, the tools, even the conceptual inception of the work in what you could call this kind of post-craft landscape where automation is disrupting part of the traditional design process; where application informs concept, which informs application and so on. Where do you see design craft evolving? What will it mean “to design” in the future?
Martin Lorenz: Well, to be honest, a lot of what we think of today as the future of design, has been around for a long time. What has changed is our perception. A huge part of the creative process is the creation of the process itself. Whether the Egyptians had to think of ways to build their pyramids or bookmakers had to find a way to make more books in less time.
…when we at TwoPoint design visual communication we try to take the context into account; time, place and recipient. And with today’s technology we can react more efficiently to the conditioning components of communication.
Take Gutenberg as an example. He adapted Chinese printing techniques and invented a new, modular technique for the western world. Gutenberg did not just build the machinery, he or his punchcutter also designed the typeface which would get him the result he wanted. He knew that he wanted a justified block of text, so he took Textura, a modular calligraphic font, as an inspiration to punchcut a typeface which would allow him to calculate exactly the length of each of the lines. Similar ideas can be found in the underlying grids of Aldus Manutius’ publications.
What has changed today is the technology we employ and how that can enhance the process. With it we can process bigger amounts of data which can influence the systems we design. Likewise when we at TwoPoint design visual communication we try to take the context into account; time, place and recipient. And with today’s technology we can react more efficiently to the conditioning components of communication.
Ulrik Hogrebe: Can you expand a bit more on that? “The conditioning components of communication”?
Martin Lorenz: Well, as Niklas Luhmann says: “Communication is unlikely.”. The person you want to communicate with has several filters. First, you need to get the recipient’s attention, then the recipient needs to understand your message, then he needs to interpret it in the right way and finally do what you wanted to make him do. In a nutshell, you need to understand the person you are communicating with and you need to know the circumstances (the context) under which he or she is communicating with you. In personal conversations we do this intuitively. We adapt our gestures, mimics and verbal communications to the person and the context of this person we want to communicate with.
Designed communication is a bit more difficult. Not least, because of the amount of different people we have to communicate with. In the past the static logo was just shouting the same message over and over again until everybody listened. Flexible Visual Identities have the chance to be smarter. But that’s an important question we have to ask ourselves. How smart do we want our communication to be? Knowing more about the person you want to communicate with also means knowing things that might better stay private.
Ulrik Hogrebe: And the posters you designed for TIGOD demonstrate this sensitivity to context? Is that right? Can we dig a bit more into your process and how they came about?
[I]t’s an approach to work faster and being able to quickly test different setups and combine different variations, instead of building an entire animation from scratch that is difficult to change after completion.
The Process behind the TIGOD Posters
Martin Lorenz: As I mentioned, for the third TIGOD event “The Inner Game of the Typographic Universe” we invited Albert-Jan Pool, the designer of FF DIN to talk about the typographic universe. The typographic universe is a theory developed by Gerrit Noordzij. It shows the interpolation between four extremes: low-contrast letters, high-contrast letters, letters based on a broad nip pen and letters based on a pointed pen. As you might know from calligraphy, the two different pens are used differently. While the letters written with the broad nip pen get their contrast from the angle in which the pen is held, the pointed pen gets its contrast from pressing down the feather.
The poster we designed for the event is not really a visualization of the typographic universe of Gerrit Noordzij, more like an interpretation. We used the simplified version of the modular typeface we developed for the MIT which is the typeface we use on every TIGOD poster and then designed three different extremes. One extreme with very thick short lines, one extreme with very thick long lines and one extreme with very thick quarter circles. On a sunny Wednesday morning (8am) Lo and me met at local coffee shop and discussed the idea.
Lo:Martin always starts with a very basic concept and a rough idea in which direction it might develop. I try to do a quick sketch in 3d and pass the work back for discussion. In this case i tried a modular approach. I built a setup that included all extremes within one animation that could be animated with different effectors in 3d space. By combining these different effectors endless possibilities emerge that you can blend together to create a unique loop.
When I am satisfied with the first result I send the animation back to Martin for discussion. Most of these animations are quite raw in the sense of few iterations. Mostly after 2–3 rounds max we are done. For me, it’s quite a gratifying experience.
Ulrik Hogrebe: So you are demonstrating a principle; how you can get a visual identity system to flex within a certain set of constraints — and in that way create a system that reacts to a certain set of parameters rather than one fixed expression. Is this something you are working into more of your client facing work too?
Lo: Yes, it would be nice if it works like that. In this case it’s an approach to work faster and being able to quickly test different setups and combine different variations, instead of building an entire animation from scratch that is difficult to change after completion. But it always depends on the project. In this specific case with TIGOD, I have full control and freedom with every step of the animation. Normally I work on small details of a big project, as part of a big team and have to adapt to the general workflow.
Ulrik Hogrebe: What are you working on currently, and where do you see yourselves heading as a creative practice?
Lo: Actually I will become a father soon and will take this as an opportunity to take a little break from the day to day business to reflect on the past 10 years. I want to play around with strange ideas and cooperate more with such inspirational people like Martin and Lupi. I enjoyed the latest project with them but still have so much to learn on the subject of flexible visual identities. I think it will open a whole bag of exiting options for everybody!
Martin Lorenz: TwoPoints is heading, as always, in a million different directions. We love TIGOD and the opportunity to work with lovely people like Lo, Louise and Florian. It’s fun to host this event series and see people enjoy it. We are excited about the new projects we are about to start working on. Many of them are editorial projects and visual identities, and we will develop flexible visual systems for all of them! Apparently flexible visual systems became TwoPoints approach to anything in design.
I am also working on my book about Flexible Visual Identities and have started talking to publishers. I keep on having fun with Julien and our alter ego Julien Martin, and of course keep on teaching at different design schools in Europe and the States and at our own little design school called “Design Werkstatt”.
Ulrik Hogrebe: Sounds like you will both be keeping yourselves busy in one way or the other! Thank you so much for speaking to us. Best of luck in the future.
If you are ever near Hamburg, go catch a TIGOD event: The Inner Game of Design
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