Blogs The Gradient Sang Mun

2012/2013 Graphic Design Fellow ✌

Making Democracy Legible: A Defiant Typeface

“We feel free because we lack the language to articulate our unfreedom.” —Slavoj Žižek   For me, Žižek’s words are even more potent in light of recent news about domestic surveillance programs. As a former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA), these issues hit especially close to home. During my service in the Korean […]

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ZXX Type Specimen Photograph

“We feel free because we lack the language to articulate our unfreedom.” —Slavoj Žižek

 

For me, Žižek’s words are even more potent in light of recent news about domestic surveillance programs. As a former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA), these issues hit especially close to home. During my service in the Korean military, I worked for two years as special intelligence personnel for the NSA, learning first-hand how to extract information from defense targets. Our ability to gather vital SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) information was absolutely easy. But, these skills were only applied outwards for national security and defense purposes — not for overseeing American citizens. It appears that this has changed. Now, as a designer, I am influenced by these experiences and I have become dedicated to researching ways to “articulate our unfreedom” and to continue the evolution of my own thinking about censorship, surveillance, and a free society.

“What does censorship reveal? It reveals fear.” —Julian Assange

 

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ZXX Type Specimen Posters

Over the course of a year, I researched and created ZXX, a disruptive typeface which takes its name from the Library of Congress’ listing of three-letter codes denoting which language a book is written in. Code “ZXX” is used when there is: “No linguistic content; Not applicable.” The project started with a genuine question: How can we conceal our fundamental thoughts from artificial intelligences and those who deploy them? I decided to create a typeface that would be unreadable by text scanning software (whether used by a government agency or a lone hacker) — misdirecting information or sometimes not giving any at all. It can be applied to huge amounts of data, or to personal correspondence. I drew six different cuts (Sans, Bold, Camo, False, Noise and Xed) to generate endless permutations, each font designed to thwart machine intelligences in a different way. I offered the typeface as a free download in hopes that as many people as possible would use it.

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This short video shows how the typeface confuses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) artificial intelligence.

 

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ZXX Bold (readable by OCR software) & ZXX Combination (not-readable by OCR software)

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Process sketches testing various OCR software’s readability

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Screenshot image of PDF OCR X software’s conversion of ZXX

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Design 360° Magazine Issue No.41

ZXX is a call to action, both practically and symbolically, to raise questions about privacy. But it represents a broader urgency: How can design be used politically and socially for the codification and de-codification of people’s thoughts? What is a graphic design that is inherently secretive? How can graphic design reinforce privacy? And, really, how can the process of design engender a proactive attitude towards the future — and our present for that matter? After releasing the project in May 2012, I was pleased by the fruitful responses I got and shared with the public. I’ve seen the typeface circulate in publications, web environments, and banners, and it was prophetically featured on the cover of Chinese Design 360° Magazine — amusingly censoring Sagmeister & Walsh’s self-expressive nudity.

 

“I don’t have to write about the future. For most people, the present is enough like the future to be pretty scary.” —William Gibson

 

Our lives in cyberspace are overloaded with impalpable and extensive personal information that is gathered, intercepted, deciphered, analyzed, and stored. With this information government and corporations can easily create an informational architecture that traps us in the structures of the World Wide Web and social media. Restricting and repressing our communication tools under the name of “homeland security” is only a small step into a totalitarian society. This non-physical-yet-ideological violence is what allows us to lapse into lethargic silence. But really, we shouldn’t be afraid to question the authorities’ continual intrusions.

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National Security Agency’s headquarter in Fort Meade, Maryland

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Leaked Prism presentation slide

Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee and whistleblower of NSA’s Project Prism, wasn’t the first man to reveal the vulgarity of the world’s biggest intelligence agency. William Binney, an ex-NSA employee, already disclosed the secrecy of the agency’s perpetual inspections last year. The increasing activities of whistleblowers are a significant cue to the urgency of our diminishing privacy. When surveillance becomes a quotidian exercise, our lives in the network will be completely destroyed. This growing invasion of privacy and militarization of cyberspace dehumanizes us. Government and corporations’ physical, mental, and technological intrusions must stop in order to halt the surveillance state.

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”               —Benjamin Franklin

 

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ZXX ver.02 currently in development

Project ZXX is my humane contribution and homage to the activists, artists, and designers who have been actively fighting for our civil liberties. One such activist is Jacob Appelbaum, an independent computer security researcher and hacker, who co-developed Tor Project to keep our online activities anonymous. Tor Project’s system is structured to bounce around the distributed network of relays, which makes the accumulated metadata dysfunctional. Adam Harvey is an active New York–based artist who has a vast amount of peculiar counter-surveillance projects. Harvey’s works are vital in the way he incorporates privacy matters into provocative fashion aesthetics, such as anti-drone hoodies. Metahaven, an Amsterdam-based design and research studio, might be at the vanguard of critical and social design movements today — mapping the nexus of corporate branding, social media, and government with challenging contemporary graphic design strategies. Hito Steyerl’s How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Education. MOV File, a piece in the Venice Biennale, humorously depicts the dark side of our visual culture with silly DIY educational videos. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) launched a website to provide Netizens alternative ways to opt out of PRISM. People with creative conscience will be the ones to provoke these discussions.

What Snowden disclosed is nothing new. The stakes for our democracy have always been high. But now there needs to be robust action and discussion about the current state of affairs. Many suggest that we’ve already lost our privacy and are indifferent of the status quo. But I believe that stripping humanity of its freedoms can never be justified as a natural evolution. It’s our duty to call out crimes against democracy.

 

Update: I’ve been reading the comments here and elsewhere, and it seems many people are concerned about my understanding of how digital text works — ASCII, binary codes, etc. As mentioned above, I spent two years as intelligence personnel with the NSA and a year researching, so I am fully aware of all that. This project/post is focused on raising awareness, which I should’ve articulated better. That said, it would be great if further conversations ruminated over the growing surveillance state and how we should act. I sincerely appreciate everyone reading, criticizing, and sharing these matters.

 

The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal by Mirza and Butler

The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal is a fictional museum by London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. The exhibition’s multilayered text, sound, film and performance addresses peculiar evolving questions around the public institutions and the collisions of art and the political praxis. In their new act, The New Deal, the duo transforms the […]

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Installation view of The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal

The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal is a fictional museum by London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. The exhibition’s multilayered text, sound, film and performance addresses peculiar evolving questions around the public institutions and the collisions of art and the political praxis. In their new act, The New Deal, the duo transforms the gallery space into an open-ended platform to question the marginalization of the common, perpetuation of the bourgeois, urgency of the political resistance,  growing tension between the 99% and the 1%, among other social and political struggles we are confronting in this geopolitical entanglement. Mirza and Butler keeps the audience at the verge—purporting the importance and the urgency to choose a political position for social change. The artists also curated the Walker’s Art News From Elsewhere as another form of their participatory reaction. Their investigations in the dissonance of the public realm and the idea of turning around the public’s positions and perspectives intrigued the initial idea for the exhibition’s graphics.

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The word MUSEUM is horizontally flipped to create a subtle tension within the title—turning the museum into the city and vice versa. (It’s similar to glass doors that have push and pull signs on the same side to disorient you.) Reversed type also connotes the act of resistance and Urdu alphabet’s right-to-left writing system.

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Attendees perform Bertolt Brecht’s The Exception and the Rule on the opening night

Mirza and Butler, with the curators and local participants, performed Bertolt Brecht’s Exception and the Rule as an inquiry into the conditions of capitalism, free market and power play. Play scripts for the players were incorporated as a part of the opening night performance.

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The enlarged gallery guide (12 × 18 inches) evolved from the urgency of the situation. Non Participation: Acts of Definition and Redefinition is compiled with local and international contributors’ understandings of the art of opposition and resistance. It is on view in the gallery and for those of you who can’t make it, the texts will be available to read on the Visual Arts blog in the coming days.

Painter Painter: Exhibition Identity

Painter Painter, co-curated by Eric Crosby and Bartholomew Ryan, is the Walker’s latest contemporary painting show. Comprised entirely of new works, it serves as a open conversation on the medium of painting today, and how these fifteen artists deal with the role of the “painter”. Instead of being weighed down by the history of abstraction […]

Painter Painter, co-curated by Eric Crosby and Bartholomew Ryan, is the Walker’s latest contemporary painting show. Comprised entirely of new works, it serves as a open conversation on the medium of painting today, and how these fifteen artists deal with the role of the “painter”. Instead of being weighed down by the history of abstraction in the 20th century, the artists in the show use the process to clarify their own visual vocabulary, and find complex potential in a medium bound by the four simple corners of a rectangle. Well, that is, when they are rectangles:

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Our initial sketches for the identity started out as purely typographic solutions, shying away from anything that was too mannered or too painterly, I suppose. Because the nature of the show was more akin to a dialogue between painters with different studio practices rather than a definitive survey of contemporary painting, we were looking for a typeface that had a kind of voice that was open, casual, and engaging. We quickly landed on Cooper (a family of weights developed by Bitstream, but based on Oswald Cooper’s original typeface Cooper Black in 1920s) and were drawn to its calligraphic qualities, and its versatility as both a display and a book face.

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As we were going through this process, we kept going back to language as the base of the identity, trying to surface a sort of overall voice that could speak for all the artists in the exhibition. (It was also a way to avoid using particular pieces to represent the exhibition as a whole, as that didn’t make too much sense, conceptually.) At this point, nothing was really that interesting to us, other than the visual look of the words. But then, for some reason, we noticed the way punctuation marks were drawn and modeled in the typeface, and wondered if there was an idea in there we could use.

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Punctuation marks help to define the rhythm of a sentence, the tone of language, the character of voice, depth of information; heavy tasks for things that are basically dots, dashes, and loops in the written word. But they’re also just marks. Paintings in a way could be traditionally understood as a series of marks built up on a surface, this time on canvas (mostly), rather than on paper or screen, but by no means do these type of marks lack the same conceptual weight as punctuation.

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Alex Olson, one of the painters in the exhibition, describes the marks she makes as signifiers, visual gestures that suggest many things, references both within the unbearable history of painting, but also in daily life. Some marks look like a product of reproduction, some marks explicitly exaggerate the notion of the brushstroke as a unique moment, and sometimes, if you’re really fancy, it does both. Even the absence of the mark in painting is kind of a mark in itself, the attempt  trying to conceal the act of painting itself.

marksFrom this new conceptual standpoint, we finally created these “ditto” marks as a way to graphically represent the title of the exhibition. In the way that these quite literally refer to the repetition of the word “painter” in the name, they forefront the mark as the basis for many of the paintings in the show. Even the repetitive nature of the marks themselves suggest production and reproduction, constantly painting as a way to refine and clarify their own strategies as they tackle each work, which are then endlessly re-blogged in a contemporary context that shares images of these works online and in print. I think this provided a unique visual entry point into the ideas of the exhibition, and was a natural complement to Cooper. It could stand alone as a graphic gesture, or it could impose itself on other things, or hide itself as a discrete signifier. Here are some of our initial sketches exploring these ideas:

 

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∴ After going through this sketching process, here is how the final identity system turned out:

Admission passes & event flyer (gate fold with translucent metallic spot):

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Landing page for Studio Sessions blog posts:

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Posters in the Garden Café and bus shelter:

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Title graphics (translucent cut vinyl marks layered on phototex printed vinyl—the marks get switched out in new colors on both title graphics over time):

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Gallery guide: Notes for an exhibition (Marks gloss coated on the cover. *Notice where the staples align.):

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Call for Applicants: The Walker Design & New Media Fellowship 2013-2014

Now accepting applications for the Walker Design & New Media Fellowship–Deadline: May 5, 2013 Take our new  T.B.W. Creative Personality Test to see your geometric relationship with the “collective creative unconsciousness.” This year we are inaugurating our first Design & New Media fellowship. We are searching for designers who are comfortable and adept at developing projects […]

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Now accepting applications for the Walker Design & New Media Fellowship–Deadline: May 5, 2013

Take our new  T.B.W. Creative Personality Test to see your geometric relationship with the “collective creative unconsciousness.”

This year we are inaugurating our first Design & New Media fellowship. We are searching for designers who are comfortable and adept at developing projects for both print and screen and can move fluidly between media. Ideal candidates will be firmly grounded in visual design principles and the print design process with demonstrated experience in interaction design and front-end development. In addition to print projects such as exhibition identities and collateral materials, this year’s fellow will be focusing on select projects such as design updates to the Walker website, online publishing initiatives, and our first e-publishing project. The fellow will join an accomplished team of professionals known for creating industry-leading work. Immersed in the Design, Editorial, and New Media departments, fellows gain a deeper understanding of design; work on projects with rich, interesting content; and are expected to produce work to the highest standards of design excellence. Fellows are employed full-time and are involved in all aspects of the design process, including client meetings and presentations through production and development.

Selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants, fellows come from graphic design programs throughout the United States and abroad. Fellows represent a diverse range of design programs, such as Art Center College of Design, California College of Art, California Institute of the Arts, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Eastern Michigan University, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, NC State University, Rhode Island School of Design, Royal College of Art, Werkplaats Typografie, and Yale University, among many others.

How to apply

Please attach a letter of interest, a résumé with the names and contact information of three references, and a pdf portfolio containing 8–10 examples of graphic design work (print and web) to walker.design.fellowship@gmail.com. Keep your files under 10MB. No phone calls please.

For more information, visit our fellowship page.  Also check out the Walker’s job listings.

We look forward to meeting you!

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Conversations on the Contemporary

A flyer to promote Conversations on the Contemporary: 20 Artists on 16 Topics at the Walker. Each icon articulates and celebrates the institution’s multidisciplinary approach to the contemporary.

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A flyer to promote Conversations on the Contemporary: 20 Artists on 16 Topics at the Walker. Each icon articulates and celebrates the institution’s multidisciplinary approach to the contemporary.

Over-Booked: Sandra Kassenaar

Sandra Kassenaar (1982, South Africa), lives and works in Amsterdam where she runs a small graphic design studio. She graduated with a BA from ArtEZ in Arnhem in 2003 and an MA from the Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem (NL) in 2007. Besides running her own studio she regularly teaches at the graphic design department of the Willem De Kooning […]

Sandra Kassenaar (1982, South Africa), lives and works in Amsterdam where she runs a small graphic design studio. She graduated with a BA from ArtEZ in Arnhem in 2003 and an MA from the Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem (NL) in 2007. Besides running her own studio she regularly teaches at the graphic design department of the Willem De Kooning academy in Rotterdam.

Sample of Sandra’s independent & collaborative works.

Pick five books that would/could/should be buddies. 

‘The Island of the Colorblind’ by Oliver Sacks

‘Through the Language Glass – How words Colour Your World’ by Guy Deutscher

‘Interaction of Color’ by Josef Albers

‘The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt – An Illustrated Dictionary’ by Manfred Lurker

I only get to four… All four great books talk about the use, meaning and value of colour in a completely different way.

What is the first book you can remember?
Together with my sister, looking at the baby albums/diaries that my mother made for us. I must have been three or four years old. Thinking back, it’s quite strange how fascinated we were with our own first steps.

What is the last book you read?
‘Through the Language Glass – How words Colour Your World’ by Guy Deutscher. A very interesting book about how language influences the way we think and see or seeing think or thinking see.

Do you agree that a book is the best medium to disperse and accumulate information?
No, not necessarily. In the past fifteen minutes I have cycled past the stock exchange display at the Beurs van Berlage, looked up ‘Happiness Machines’ on Wikipedia and used a public transport time schedule website. I’m glad that I didn’t read this information printed in a book.

In what form would “books” be in the year 2112?
There will be many hybrid mediums, but the printed book – as we know it now – will remain to exist.

Do you have a great idea for a book that didn’t happen?
No, I need a more specific context to reply to, before I can start coming up with ideas at all.

Do you have any current publication projects that you’d like to feature on our site?
Success and Uncertainty / Back Up
is a publication that Bart de Beats and I made to contextualise our poster project. The publication features all 21 English and Arabic posters that form the series Success and Uncertainty. This poster series was the result of a collaborative project during a four-month-residency in Cairo from March until July 2011. The title of this work is an existing headline taken from the 12th of February 2011 front page of The Evansville Courier & Press, a local Indiana newspaper reporting Mubarak’s resignation as the president of Egypt. It was a very challenging but great project. We’re very proud to present this publication with reproductions of those twenty-one twinned posters and gives more detail on how they came together. Success and Uncertainty / Back Up is a magazine of our hard drives, containing four months in Cairo just after the fall of Mubarak’s regime.

 

 

Over-Booked: Wayne Daly

Wayne Daly is a graphic designer at the Architectural Association, London, an independent school of architecture founded in 1847. Working with a small team of designers and editors in the AA Print Studio, Daly’s activities encompass the design and production of the school’s publications and other printed materials. With Zak Kyes, he co-founded Bedford Press […]

Wayne Daly is a graphic designer at the Architectural Association, London, an independent school of architecture founded in 1847. Working with a small team of designers and editors in the AA Print Studio, Daly’s activities encompass the design and production of the school’s publications and other printed materials. With Zak Kyes, he co-founded Bedford Press at the AA in 2008, a private press with the dual purpose of establishing an on-site facility for the production of printed matter and to create a new typology of publications that extends beyond the Architectural Association’s existing programme.

In 2011 he founded Precinct, a micro-press concerned with publishing and distributing short-form critical essays on music, as well as books touching on architecture, art and their allied activities. Precinct succeeds an earlier publishing platform, For Further Information, established in 2008, and continues to use print on demand facilities to probe new channels of circulation.

Daly recently participated in the touring exhibition Zak Kyes Working With…, and designed the accompanying catalogue, published by Sternberg Press in September 2012.

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1) ‘Heaven is Real’: John Maus and the Truth of Pop by Adam Harper, Precinct, 2011. 2) Wayne Daly in conversation with Alexis Zavialoff, Architectural Association, 9 December 2010. Photo Scrap Marshall. 3) Zak Kyes Working With…, Sternberg Press, 2012

 

What is the first book you can remember?

The first time I can remember a book having some kind of significance was seeing a microfiche bible on a school trip to a book fair. Seeing the most iconic of books reduced to a grid of grain-sized specks was magical, and probably also offered early lessons in economy and levity.

 

What is the last book you read?

A handful: a critical study of the BBC TV series Edge of Darkness by John Caughie; the manuscript for Ahali, a book by artist Can Altay that we are soon publishing with Bedford Press at the Architectural Association; and I’m in the middle of reading issue 2 of Cannon, a magazine published by graphic designer Phil Baber.

 

Pick five books that would/could/should be buddies.

1.  2. 3.

4.5.

1) Puckoon by Spike Milligan 2) How German Is It by Walter Abish 3) Infinite Music by Adam Harper 4) Directory 1979 by John Cooper Clarke  5) The Use and Abuse of Monuments by Sean Lynch

 

Describe an impossible book that you’d like to make (if you could do the impossible).

Having recently moved home, it’s tempting to wish for hard copy books that can only be read once, before evaporating, relieving the owner of the burden to add yet another book to their collection. It might also promote hyper-focused reading. Or perhaps the self-organising book, which will always locate to its correct position on the shelf. I also would like to test the possibilities for dust-repellent paper, as seen in Back the Future II (1989).

 

Do you agree that a book is the best medium to disperse and accumulate information?

Yes, even more so now that ‘book’ has expanded to encompass other formats besides a bound paper hard copy. E-books are valuable and efficient in different ways from a hard copy, and it is becoming a necessary role for the designer to question and exploit these avenues of possibility. I think it’s a promising time to be producing books.

 

Do you have any current publication projects that you’d like to feature on our site?

Public Occasion Agency 1–22, published by Bedford Press, is part of the ongoing archive of activities conducted by the independent event bureau Public Occasion Agency (POA), founded by Jan Nauta and Scrap Marshall at the Architectural Association in 2009. The book is a collection of essays which respond to the first twenty-two POA events, including texts by Pier Vittorio Aureli, Shumon Basar, Mark Campbell, Barbara-Ann Campbell-Lange, Henderson Downing, David Greene, Samantha Hardingham, Ingrid Schröder, Nicholas Simcik Arese, Silvana Taher, Tom Vandeputte and Carlos Villanueva Brandt.

Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music by Ferruccio Busoni, (originally published in 1907, republished by Precinct, 2012) is a daringly progressive statement about the necessary freedom and future of music, its broad and prescient outlook all the more fascinating for its having arrived so early. Busoni was a composer, composition teacher and virtuoso concert pianist of early twentieth-century Europe, born Italian but working in Germany, and a highly respected figure in his time. Sketch was written immediately prior to his mentoring of avant-garde composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Edgard Varèse, whose ground-breaking work came to define twentieth-century classical music. Yet Busoni’s writing is steeped in ornate, deeply poetic language, in nineteenth-century philosophy and Romanticism. As a bygone era metamorphoses into the new one that will stretch all the way to John Cage, he even brandishes news of the first keyboard-based electric sound synthesiser with enthralled delight. This edition features a new translation into English by Pamela Johnston, a foreword by Adam Harper, and includes the rare and remarkable Epilogue, an abstract imagining of a ‘Realm of Music’.

 

Methods of printing/communicating changes with technological advancement. What do you predict after this digital epoch? 

I’m especially interested to see how developments such as flexible e-ink paper can be exploited; I also read recently about successful tests to project onto the world’s thinnest screen, a membrane composed primarily of a soap bubble called a colloidal display. E-readers are already getting less expensive, so it will be interesting to see how these new kinds of capabilities will influence the technology over the next couple of years. We will likely see a continued increase in niche publishing – in print and electronically – as publishing tools become ever more accessible and consumer-friendly. It would be nice to think though that this amplified book democracy will be weighted with a more heightened critical and editorial awareness; though that seems uncertain. Perhaps most importantly will be the ways in which book sellers continue to respond to these recent market shifts; larger chains may no longer require vast expanses of physical retail space in a near-future era where e-books dominate sales. This implies then that there will be a fight for some other kind of visibility and to obtain significant stakes in new distribution channels. Even more interesting will be how smaller, specialist art book stores, which in general seem to be flourishing right now, will also engage with these changes, either directly or indirectly, which seems entirely necessary given that there are already many art publications and magazines, as well as experimental artists’ books available in e-book formats.

 

In what form would “books” be in the year 2112?

I don’t think that books will be fundamentally different in 100 years, in terms of their primary use; there will simply be a wider array of available formats and reception channels. Technology might allow for novelty additions, like sensory e-books for instance, but I’d guess that people will still prefer their reading material to be delivered in a structured and finite form – however they are delivered and displayed.

 

 

Over-Booked: Other Means

Other Means is a graphic design studio in New York City founded in 2012 by Gary Fogelson, Phil Lubliner, Ryan Waller and Vance Wellenstein. Since 1958, the firm has pioneered the modern movement of idea-driven graphic design across every discipline, specializing in brand identities, exhibitions, print and motion graphics, and art in architecture. The firm […]

Other Means is a graphic design studio in New York City founded in 2012 by Gary Fogelson, Phil Lubliner, Ryan Waller and Vance Wellenstein. Since 1958, the firm has pioneered the modern movement of idea-driven graphic design across every discipline, specializing in brand identities, exhibitions, print and motion graphics, and art in architecture. The firm is owned and run by 19 partners, a group of friends who are all leaders in their individual creative fields. We work in London, New York, San Francisco, Berlin and Austin. We design everything: architecture, interiors, products, identities, publications, posters, books, exhibitions, websites, and digital installations. For more than 15 years we have been working to redefine the role of the designer in translating business strategy into tangible and designed experiences.

Pick five books that would/could/should be buddies.

What is the first book you can remember?

What is the last book you read?

Describe an impossible book that you’d like to make (if you could do the impossible).

What makes a book valuable?

Do you agree that a book is the best medium to disperse and accumulate information?

Do books start to look like their designers? Do designers look like their books? 
Can you tell a cautionary tale related to the design or production of a book?
Do you have a great idea for a book that didn’t happen?
Let’s be honest (and exaggerate a little…) Everything looks similar online/offline.
How do you see the current globalized movements in design?
In what form would “books” be in the year 2112?
Methods of printing/communicating changes with technological advancement. What do you predict after this digital epoch?