Spassky Fischer — Interview
“Design graphique concret et photographie sensible.”
Interview with the Paris-based studio Spassky Fischer.
Hello Hugo, Thomas and Antoine. How are you guys?
Hi Dennis. First of all, we have to apology, it took us almost two years to honor your invitation. We had a very busy time and we are really bad at this kind of exercise. Suddenly 2017 is here with its New Year resolutions. Answering to your interview was on top of the list. Anyway, in the last three years we settled Spassky Fischer and worked on numerous projects. We moved in a new studio where we are more confortable and we even managed a little space dedicated to photography. So, at the end of the day we are exhausted, but all this is very stimulating and we are fine.
Can you introduce yourselves? How did you come to start up the studio?
Thomas has worked as a graphic designer for over ten years now. He studied Architecture, and then he focused on graphic design. He founded a small studio called Hey Ho in 2007. Hugo did an internship with him at that time. Back then, Thomas had no office so we worked somewhere in between his kitchen and living room. Then, in 2012, when he was art director at Maquette et Mise en page, he offered Hugo a position in the agency. A couple of month later, we bumped on Antoine in a burger restaurant and proposed him to join us. We worked as a team for a year and we decided to found our own structure. Today, Spassky Fischer also includes Manon Bruet, a graphic designer from Ensba Lyon, and Julia Andréone, an art director and photographer from ECAL. Thomas Petit is also part of the family, working with us as often as possible. He is our mascot, from ECAL too. Then, we sometimes have interns and for now, Morgan Carlier from the HEAD is here with us.
Where does your interest in graphic design come from?
Hugo has a personal history for that: “That was in 1996. Maybe in 1997. Before 1998 for sure, the 1998 FIFA World Cup had not yet happened. I was around seven and I played Basketball. My father fixed a hoop in my garage. The net of the hoop we attached was made of metallic chain, just as Shaquille O’Neal’s in Blue Chips. At that time, I used to love Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls 33. Actually, I was so much on him because of his Nike Air Uptempo. The shoes had three big letters in white outline on black leather. They moved the usual swoosh to enlarge the letters. It was an unprecedented shock. Three simple letters. It made one of the most important sign of our era look totally armless. And on top of that, the trick totally avoids the ugly shape of this shoe that I proudly wore for a few years.”
What are the key features of your design?
It’s not easy for us to have a clear interpretation of our work. Here in France, it is often mentioned as “Swiss”. We hope it’s contemporary and efficient. I remember Dennis, one day in Chaumont you called it “concrete”. So to say, color is used for color, text for text. No symbols. It was a really sharp view of our work. We really liked this idea.
Our design sometimes shows a functionalist aesthetic and we love it. But honestly, most of the time it’s just an appearance. We love to design systems, but most of the time, at one point the content put the system down. Then, most of the designers would modulate the basic system to make it more efficient. We don’t. We like to accept the failure of the system. It’s an exciting moment and quite poetic in a way. A simple manner to show it’s still human made.
Some designers don’t believe in systems. Some only trust in systems. We attempt to be at the breaking point of the system. Our most boring projects are made out of efficient systems.
Can you describe us the identity you designed for MAC VAL?
We started to work for the MAC VAL, designing books for exhibitions, posters, and only after we were asked to design the identity. This is obviously not the usual way to proceed. Though, it was quite interesting. The aim of our work for the MAC VAL was to make posters inspired by old French popular posters. The result is simple, easy to describe: a background color, a centered text and a picture. A standard poster. The name of the museum comes on top of this all. The result is a little bit goofy, but very quiet and noticeable in the streets. After that, the museum was confortable with our work, and then it was easier to develop a simple, sometimes even a bit rough, identity. This experience was very useful when we started the work for the Mucem last year.
Would you like to explain to us one of your projects?
One of our best projects is not finished yet, our archives. We are planning to store the projects already settled in boxes. We would like to name these boxes after typical French retirement homes, such as “les Accacias”, “les Magniolias”, “les Mimosas”, and so on. It’s a poetic project in our mind. A good way to protect the past, have a good view on it and to be able to focus on the future.
Do you have a favorite typeface?
Obviously it would be Neue Haas Grotesk by Christian Schwartz. But it’s not a choice anymore. When we change to another one, it feels always clumsy. More important than a choice of a typeface, how you use it is crucial. We are always going for the simplest: one typeface, one style. When you write with a pen, if you need to highlight some content, then you write bigger, you underline, but you should never change your tool. Though the Snell Roundhand by Matthew Carter is impressive.
A designer that you admire?
Thomas often compares, Arman Mevis and Linda Van Deursen to his own version of Michael Jackson and Céline Dion. Maybe Antoine would say French people, like Mathias Schweizer or Syndicat, Olivier Lebrun or Bizzarri Rodriguez. And to say something completely different, Hugo is fascinated by scorpionfish, in French “Rascasse”. It can hide like no one and you only see it when he stings you.
Which books are on your bedside table?
At the moment, the Code Vagnon, a book for learning boat license.
The last word…
Thank you for your patience.