Interview with Tobias Hönow


Interview with  Tobias Hönow, graphic designer living between Düsseldorf and Stuttgart.

LIGATURE: Hello Tobias how are you?

Tobias: Hi Dennis, I’m fine. Thanks for the interview!

L: Can you introduce yourself?

T: My name is Tobias Hönow, I am 28 year old graphic designer, freshly graduated and living between Düsseldorf and Stuttgart. Before I studied Visual Communication (B.A.) at the University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf, I completed an apprenticeship as a media designer. Afterwards, I worked two years as a junior designer for a design studio which specializes in package design.

Now there are some interesting freelance and self-initiated projects in the pipeline and at the end of September, I moved to Stuttgart to study at the State Academy of Fine Arts and do my diploma in the book and corporate design class. Exciting times!

L: Where does your interest in graphic and type design come from?

T: I think that there are a lot of different things coming together. My general interest in images and writing somehow began between books, art lessons, computer games and my first camera. To graphic design itself I came by a lucky coincidence.

When I was a kid I never knew what I wanted to do after finishing school but I was always into drawing and building things. I thought that something in an artistic field would fit very well but my parents had something “reasonable for the future” in mind and so I started secondary school specializes in computer science. There I learned the first chunks of HTML/CSS and the basics in Photoshop and QuarkXpress. As I was the only guy they knew who was able to handle these tools, friends and relatives started to ask me to design different invitations for their parties or logos and websites for their gaming clans. From there on I evolved a serious passion for graphic design – even though I didn’t know what it meant at that point.

My interest in type design came up during my first year of university in the typography basics course, where we had to design a poster on the subject of morality by using only type.

I thought about designing a poster on morality in design so I first read a lot of theoretical literature on design. One day I stumbled upon critical texts on dysfunctionality in product design and thought that this could make a topic. Somehow I saw parallels to current developments in typography where a lot of things aren’t formed out of themselves, the content is covered by trendy styles and the aesthetic becomes an end in itself. For the final poster which had the phrase “hauptsache schön” (could be translate as “as long as it’s pretty”) I drew a geometrically constructed typeface that wasn’t legible and thereby deprived of its function. Because of this, the poster basically becomes useless, like a chair that isn’t comfortable.

What gets me thrilled by drawing customized typefaces is the possibility to be able to react on a further level – to emphasize, exaggerate or invert the content and to give it its own identity.

L: Can you tell us more about the Sonntags Grotesk project?

T: Sonntags Grotesk is a classic grotesque typeface which I drew as my bachelor thesis. It combines the characteristics of the original hand-made grotesque typefaces of the early 20th century with modernistic characteristics. There are five weights and each weight also has an extra “Hell” weight. This is a slightly thinner weight which can be used to counteract the optical thickening of the letters of negative set text. Beside the typeface I designed different specimens like a book, a flag, a website and a wall graphic as a tribute to old Letraset dry-transfer lettering sheets.

The specimen book is more than just a container for the sober representation of a font family. It is more like a free artistic exploration of the basics of typography.

The first chapter of the book explores the color perception through a color gradient in 50 steps, each double page in a single color. The following chapter shows simple methods of composition between surface and shape by means of basic forms of type design. From these shapes, the fundamental constructions of the Latin alphabet are arranged on the pages that illustrate the relationship between negative and positive space – the play between form and counterform. The third chapter shows different examples of Sonntags Grotesk in use and a detailed insight into the scope and the functions of the typeface.

L: Who are your influences in terms of design?

T: I really appreciate Otl Aicher’s radicalism as a human, designer and author. The way he permeates all fields of design, his vision and his philosophy were absolutely unique. Karl Gerstner’s systematic thinking and his book “Designing Programmes” has fundamentally redefined my understanding of graphic design and my way of designing.

Finally, the most influence has certainly had Andreas Uebele, who was my teacher at university and in whose studio I worked for 6 months during an internship.

He hasn’t only shaped my aesthetic sensibility – he also taught me, which may be more important, to develop an attitude and to take a stand. His conviction that there is no such thing as creativity, but that graphic design is a tough job that can only be done through hard work within the process of thinking, making and questioning, has strengthened my work ethic and drives me forward day by day.

L: How do you feel about the current design scene in Stuttgart?

T: With the circle around Anton Stankowski and the proximity to Ulm, Stuttgart certainly has a well known past and for quit a long time also a furious mix of established and aspiring studios but as an outsider I can’t really assess whether there is something like a scene at all.

I think that in contrast to Düsseldorf, where advertising and free art are strongly anchored, the applied arts seem highly valued and supported in Stuttgart. What I noticed through different platforms and competitions during the last years: there are a ton of talented people studying and teaching at the State Academy of Fine Arts who attract a lot of attention.

Dennis Moya
Tiffany Bähler


©Tobias Hönow

Werkschau identity with ©Raoul Gottschling

Graphic Design