Erik Brandt — Interview
Interview with graphic designer Erik Brandt, professor, AGI member and founder of Typografika studio.
Dennis Moya: Hello Erik how are you?
Erik Brandt: I am well, thank you for this chance to talk.
DM: Can you introduce yourself?
EB: I am the father of two wonderful little girls, Beatrix and Colette, and am very fortunate to be married to the brilliant poet, Elisabeth Workman. On the side I am a graphic designer and educator currently living in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Estados Unidos). I am Chair of the Department of Design at the Minneapolis College of Art + Design and Professor of Graphic Design. My wee studio is called Typografika, formerly ¡ü16.øäk!
DM: Where does your interest in graphic design come from?
EB: I am a so-called “third-culture kid”. My father is German and mother is American, and I was very lucky to grow up all over the world. Most of my youth was spent in Cameroon, Malawi, Germany, and Egypt. I only came back to America in 1985 to attend university. I have a fascination for language and culture which initially led to a study of philosophy in my undergraduate days. I didn’t discover graphic design until I moved to Japan and started working for an English language magazine there. When I finally came to study the discipline itself in a master’s program at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1996, it was this same fascination with language and culture that finally found it’s focus in typography and typographic thinking. I have been playing with all of these wonderful toys ever since.
DM: Can you tell us more about your project Ficciones Typografika?
EB: The project has its roots in my own practice and teaching, this idea of “typographic fictions” was born out of Letraset experiments I created in 2002. Over the years, these ideas finally found form in this 72 inch by 36 inch cedar board I built and mounted on the side of our garage. The initial idea was quite simple, to create a stage, so to speak, for typographic experimentation both for invited guests and for myself. Later, a good friend, the inspired Benoît Bodhuin, encouraged me to open the project for submissions and it has grown from there. I have been really humbled by the reception of the work as well as the generosity of the contributors. It is a very personal and hands-on project, I really delight in the production and hanging of the pieces and have even developed some unholy wheatpaste innovations that allow the project to continue even in the sometimes brutal Winter conditions here. Perhaps most importantly, I feel the connections that develop between the contributors and myself are truly human and rewarding, I feel a genuine sense of friendship with all, most of whom I have never met. The project has also been well received in our neighborhood, it is wonderful to engage in conversation with the many passersby who have changed their daily routines to walk, pedal, or drive to see the latest. It is an unlikely and unexpected place for this kind of communication, which makes it all the more special, I feel.
DM: Would you like to explain to us one of your projects?
EB: I just completed developing a graphic system for Mut zur Wut 2017, and am really grateful to the organizers, Götz Gramlich and Alexander Henninger for their invitation to do so. I feel really excited about it, as it was an opportunity to push my interest in elemental forms and typographic expression. It’s a little funny because when Götz started the project in 2010 it was by invitation and I was delighted to participate—the only problem is I wasn’t mad about anything. My wife was expecting our first daughter and I was full of optimistic energy, my solution nevertheless contained a certain cynicism, however, and developed from the found type that I crafted into a message. Given the national, indeed, international tragedy we experienced here last November, I still feel extreme trauma but I wanted to create this formal projection that contained both pointed anger but also some form of graphic celebration of what has become a truly international poster competition. It is really an honor and a delight to be able to contribute some small something to this effort.
DM: Do you have a favorite typeface?
EB: I am fond of saying that I love all great typefaces, great and small, and that a good designer should be able to make something beautiful even with something ugly. Yes, even Papyrus! (A wonderful former student, Dan Sinclair, proved just that. You might enjoy this article from my old blog, Geotypografika, which also covers Avatar, by the way.) Having said that I tend toward Akzidenz Grotesk and Futura. I think it’s just what was cemented in my mind having grown up mostly in Northern Germany. I am wary of this dependence, however, and worry about it. I am really inspired by this latest generation’s acceptance and promotion of new thinking in typography, I see that in Ficciones quite frequently, and would like to think I can still grow as well. The odd thing in developing a voice in your work is wondering whether or not that is a good or bad thing. I remember when colleagues would compliment my work due to its unpredictability, then later by recognition of a voice. I take both as compliments equally, but worry that a voice can also be laziness, perhaps? I want to grow old as a designer, but not as a “something” or “someone”, but more like a student, always developing new questions, not answers.
DM: A designer that you admire?
EB: There are so many, it is really impossible to choose, I have long admired April Greiman and her sheer brilliance, but also Karel Martens. Both for reasons I just stated, they have never lost their desire to explore, to take risks, to emphasize questions over answers—especially in their formal projections. In the end though, it has to be my teachers, Akira Ouchi, John Malinoski, Mary McLaughlin, Rob Carter, Ben Day, and John Demao. Akira and Ben have passed on, John is still a boundless source of inspiration. I keep learning from all of them every single day. This is everything.
DM: Is there a book which opened your eyes about design?
EB: Aside from Hofmann, Ruegg, Gerstner, Müller-Brockmann, Ruder, and Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Imaginary Beings (1967). Especially one chapter, The Fauna of Mirrors. A timeless piece, but perhaps never more appropriate than now.
DM: The last word…
EB: Just one. Let go, and let type. Sorry, that’s five, five last words.