Daniel Seemayer — Interview
Interview with German graphic designer Daniel Seemayer.
Dennis Moya: Hello, Daniel how are you?
Daniel Seemayer: Pretty good, thanks. I just received my masters a few months ago so things have been very exciting.
DM: Can you introduce yourself?
DS: I’m a German graphic designer, currently working in Basel (CH) and graduated from the Design Department of the Sandberg Institute, the Masters programme at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam (NL) this summer. My focus is on typography, editorial work and design, publishing discourse and the synergy of these elements. The results are mostly books, posters, identities and other printed matter, for both, cultural purposes and myself that underlie a process-driven approach based on observations, which evolve into solutions regarding questions around aesthetics, content and politics.
DM: Where does your interest in graphic design come from?
DS: When I started high school as a teenager I got into music, especially punk and metal, and began to play in different bands. Besides that strange new sound I was also fascinated by the powerful logos, artworks and lyrics, which I drew and wrote everywhere, all the time. We organised our own shows and gigs but since we were quite young nobody knew how to make a poster. I happened to have an old version of Photoshop on my computer and soon discovered dafont.com. You can imagine what my work looked like back then, but I liked it so much that I kept going. I hope I’ve gotten a bit better since then though.
DM: Typography seems to be your main design tool. How do you make the right typographic choices?
DS: I’m neither an illustrator, nor a photographer, so I mainly use language and type in my work. It’s very stripped down, yet an eclectic and vivid way to communicate visually. I agree that typography is supposed to be functional in the first place, but I also think that it can be looked at from an angle that allows us to engage more in the content rather than just creating a solely practical framework. I think there is no such thing as neutral typography and since each project is different we have the privilege and responsibility to narrate through that extra layer of reading. David Rudnick discussed this very well in his lecture at Strelka Institute recently.
Therefore, two things are very important to me when choosing a typeface: a distinctive form and a certain degree of functionality. If you look for these two qualities in a specific context, your choice gets very limited already. However, for each project it takes some time to understand or to get a feeling of what may be a good pick.
When it comes to layout, first I come up with a set of rules for different types of material that I think make sense, to organise it in an accessible way. Together with the content, that system pretty much generates the design by itself and often leads to quirky and interesting results. Those typographic choices are also based on the format, materiality and so on, which again depend on conditions such as print run, budget etc. It’s one big puzzle in which everything affects each other until you find the right solution.
DM: Can you talk about one of the most recent projects you designed?
DS: One project that I think is a perfect example of how I like to work is “Speculating Systems,” an essay reader I edited and designed together with Andrea Karch for the Design Department of the Sandberg Institute last year. To comment on contemporary publishing culture and reading behaviours, we wanted to break down all hierarchies as much as possible and link the different contributions through numerous keywords that emphasise connections and offer different points of entry to the reader. In this project, the design and the radical editorial approach mutually affected each other, which I think became very visible in the final outcome as well.
DM: Do you have mentors or influencers?
DS: I’ve worked and studied with a lot of very different people in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, who had completely different ideas of what graphic design should do and be like today and in the future, so I wouldn’t say that I had one mentor. I guess my personal approach is somewhere in between and informed by all these different opinions and ideas. I like the political discourse around people’s practices as much as I love the formal aspects. Funny enough, the ideas and people I disagreed with the most, turned out to be most inspiring and fuelling so far.
What most of these people have in common though is the urge to proactively expand the discipline, to make it more intelligent and to go beyond the idea that graphic design is just a commercial service that serves capitalism, but something that can shape our environment, society and politics as much as architecture, fashion or art do in some kind of constant feedback loop.
I recently got the chance to talk to Florian Cramer, a brilliant German Rotterdam-based researcher and writer who is very aware of this, which was one of the most inspiring conversations I’ve had in a while, to name one person at least.