THOMAS MAIER — Interview

Thomas Maier, Karlsruhe, Germany, based graphic designer.

Hello Thomas, how are you?

I am very good. Thank you for asking.

Can you introduce yourself?

Well, my name is Thomas Maier and I study graphic design and philosophy at the University of Arts and Design Karlsruhe in Germany. I work as a graphic designer and do sometimes other kinds of media art or I write. In the last couple of months I was participating in an artist collective at our school where we designed an exhibition/social space called Reling that drew a lot of attention and grew to a central space in our school where people meet, talk, celebrate, work, drink, see exhibits, performances, concerts and more.

Where does your interest in graphic design come from?

I guess I have always been interested in art. As a child drawing easily outdid all other fun activities. And I was always fascinated by good looking things, people, objects, prints, anything. That fascination led me, already during secondary school to do what I then thought was design – basically I was just teaching myself how to use Photoshop. But I loved the freedom of expression and that there were almost unlimited possibilities on how I can make something to look like and I wanted to learn how to do that professionally. Furthermore I was very interested in typography. So I was looking for a place where I was able to learn all that. And I found this place in Karlsruhe, the HfG. Even though I didn’t have a very clear idea about the whole branch, I ended up at a place where I feel I am doing the right thing. The interdisciplinary philosophy of the school gave me the freedom to experience more than a few ways whenever I needed to.

Would you like to talk about one of your project specifically?

There is one project—actually now it grew into more projects—that stood out from the other ones. My fascination, a critical fascination but still a fascination, for the journalistic work of Lorenz Jäger was less a usual graphic design project than more a kind of self-challenge and passion about a single subject, I was basically diving into it. I just couldn’t stop and I seemed to be unable to finish it with satisfaction. I have made two books on him now and I did a smaller graphic design job on his behalf as well, and still I can safely say to not even be close to having the necessary broad understanding of his thinking and his work. The question that turned up was, is this still graphic design? Is it art? Is it basically a research project? Is it really made for developing an understanding or already an obsession that cannot be fulfilled? And at the end it became a complex systematic that incorporated not only his work but also a view on politics, the era of the 68 generation, poetics, talking, reading, watching film, the systematics of conspiracy theories — and I also learned about myself I think. And I am still thinking about it.

What stimulates you outside design?

I fear that there is not much left, if you count art into the game. But I am also very interested in politics. I recently published an article on liberalism in a German online newspaper. My circles of friends are very specific to these matters. I can say, besides design, art, politics and a bit of free and “unmotivated” friends-time there is literally no time left. I would like to have more of it. But I guess that applies for most people nowadays. Leisure time and work time are not very differentiated these days.

Art has always been a very bright inspiration for my work in design. Design is far more guided by trends and styles than art in a way. And personally I especially loved the artworks that had the least “design-approach” as possible, if you know what I mean. In a way it is also an escape from seeing graphic design all day long. Rough, industrial installations with no addition of anything fragile and don’t have “language on the level of a graphical one” are mostly the works that address my taste in art at best.

Who are the designers that you admire?

I could say the usual ones that apply for most “serious” (or trying to be) graphic designers, the ones you can find in design books and that give the most interviews in the usual design magazines, but I won’t: I like to think of me of not being too much connected to a specific admiration towards a designer. Maybe you can read my idols in my own works—who knows. But I find it difficult to make a selection or even call up names. I frequent many websites such as or a number of Tumblr blogs or Pinterest to see what other designers do, but I usually don’t connect those to the individual people. The “big names” never interested me much anyways.

A favorite typeface?

I kept being a fan of modern typefaces but I don’t like to force an ideology on it. I have a set of typefaces, around maybe ten font families, that I use. Sometimes a new one gets added, sometimes an old one gets a bit left behind. But if you want to nail me down on one typeface, it would probably be Times. Times is very well drawn, simple for an Antiqua, reducing itself to its purpose, still can make you say a lot in very different ways and almost never misses the medium, and it’s simply a beautiful typeface. And even an extensive usage over a very long time and the mark of being the first well known web page font, wasn’t able to destroy it. Maybe it made it stronger.

Which books are on your bedside table?

I don’t really own a bedside table. That’s the shocking beginning of it. That should get me thinking. I mostly read theoretical books. Derrida, Zizek, Han and such. I do have quite a big bookshelf. The last one I read was Geniale Dilletanten (genial dilettantes, deliberately misspelled), a book about the German sub-culture of the 80s from various authors at the publisher MERVE. I also like to look around for interesting graphic books and magazines. One of my favorite ones is a 80s poster magazine with very beautiful and fine printed polish poster art in it.

The last word…

Thank you for this surprising opportunity for an interview on



Interview: Dennis Moya & Tiffany Bähler — 10.15

Pictures ©Thomas Maier / Portrait by ©Annekathrin Kohout.

Graphic Design