Nº 274
Focus:

„Nicht nur neu, sondern besser“

 

Kill Your Darlings

Interview: Stephan Ott

Translation: Emily J. McGuffin

Logo and typeface are vital in defining the identity of a company and ideally convey its values and how it sees itself. Consequently, every change to this has to happen with great sensitivity, particularly when this is a design agency, whose daily bread is closely connected to strategic brand consulting for globally operating enterprises.

Atelier Markgraph, located in Frankfurt/Main, has taken this step and is currently implementing its new corporate design. We spoke to Lars Uwe Bleher and Stefan Weil, two of the three managing directors, and with Marc Schütz and Ole Schulte, founders and owners of the graphic design studio Schultzschultz, about the process of creating the new identity.



 

Where does the name Markgraph actually come from?

 

Stefan Weil: The name is derived from the atelier’s first address in Frankfurt’s Markgrafenstraße. In 1986, graphics were still a major focus and so the name fitted, however, with the small artistic touch of writing Markgraph with “ph” like in “graphics”. Even if we do handle brands holistically today, both parts of the name still suit us perfectly. “Mark” and “graph” stand for our mission to make the brands of our customers something permanent: to mould brands.

 

Lars Uwe Bleher: And, I think the founders Rolf Engel, Meinhard Hutschenreuther, and Roland Lambrette were in full agreement not to allow their name to appear like that of a law firm or an architects’ office. The projects of Atelier Markgraph arise from interdisciplinary interaction. That is still how we see ourselves today: we don’t have any stars standing at the forefront, but are creative as a team. That is also conveyed by the logo we have had so far, which combines the word Markgraph in the form of individual employees’ handwriting.

 

 

Which brings us to the topic of identity. Before we touch on your new corporate identity, how would each of you describe Atelier Markgraph in one sentence?

 

Stefan Weil: We are pioneers of communication in space and competently act at the interfaces of analogue and digital, temporary and permanent, culture and corporate.

 

Lars Uwe Bleher: We stand for made-to-measure communication solutions, which we profoundly derive from the content – our work is not recognisable by its particular aesthetics or format vocabulary, but by its intelligent translation of our clients’ themes, no matter whether it concerns a museal exhibition or brand experience.



 

In issue 230 of form in the year 2010, you, Lars, are quoted as having said: “Don’t linger in the present!” At that time, you were talking about your strategic consulting for Mercedes-Benz. Is the search for your own identity more difficult than for clients?

 

Lars Uwe Bleher: In contrast to Stefan, a new development of our logo did not in fact seem to me to be absolutely necessary as the previous logo, the multi tag as we called it, always optimally embodied our team spirit. What convinced me was the fact that the overall identity has now taken on corporate strategy to a greater degree.

 

Stefan Weil: I think that we, particularly as creative service providers and as an idea manufactory are more obliged by change than our clients. That’s why it’s important for us to stride ahead and demonstrate the ability to change. Our multi tag is, of course, great because it celebrates the collective momentum. But we wanted something that shows the way we work in all its facets.

  

 

Yet everyone on the team and the clients ultimately have to be able to live with it.

 

Lars Uwe Bleher: That’s not all, they have to be inspired. I think we have succeeded quite well here with the extension of the dimensions that Schultzschultz developed.

 

 

And now we come to this question: How did your co-operation with Schultzschultz come about?

 

Stefan Weil: We often work with freelance graphic studios and graphic designers. Based on how we integrate the topic in our projects, we have a good knowledge of the market. And because we wanted something that is digital and generative, but also something that continues the idea of what is experimental in our work and the idea of teamwork, the search area was actually relatively clear. For our word mark, we were looking for someone who both stands for digital processes, and that is what Ole and Marc have proven impressively particularly in the context of electronic music, and someone who commands the dimension of craftsmanship, substantial and research genres, like is evident from the design of the Neue Kabel type. That’s why I was relatively sure that they were the right ones for us.



 

How did you do this? Was there a brief?

 

Marc Schütz: We received a brief and then thought about whether we could manage the scope of the job. It’s not a matter of making something new, but making something better. We then juggled with a few ideas and decided in favour of a formal approach. We thought that it would, in fact, be charming if Markgraph would become more formally reserved, particularly because this would more clearly highlight the strong brandings that are created for various clients. Clarity was anyway a term that arose again and again.

 

Ole Schulte: It has to be said that the brief basically played into our hands. The approach of wanting to depict the analogue and the digital in one word mark, which could make someone as a designer despair, suits us as a concept, but also formally, because we also manoeuvre between these two poles ourselves with our own work.

 

Marc Schütz: It sounds banal, but the word clarity made us stumble over the term Ligne claire. This comes from the 1970s, but refers to a drawing style from the 20s and 30s. Here, an even, consistent line generates a calmness that is rarely seen in typographic layouts. That was the basic idea.

 

 

How did the new typeface Markgraph arise from this basic idea?

 

Marc Schütz: The artistic touch for the word mark was that we didn’t proceed as is probably normal, that you sit down with Illustrator and tinker about. The word mark was thus not drawn, but programmed directly. The individual points of the line, that are the elements of the Ligne claire, were given characteristics that ensure that they can react, that they move in a particular way. This conveys the feeling that the word mark is a still, a state in a process. This association suited us because for Markgraph it is always a matter of finding new forms, individual solutions. Apart from that the programme ensures an even line weight and thus, as wished, lightness, elegance, and clarity for the word mark.



 

And so the programme generates the word mark. How did you then develop the alphabet from this?

 

Marc Schütz: From the basic form. The individual letters comprise individual skeleton paths, there is no contour line like there usually is for typefaces. What was interesting about this method was that from this, the formal fundament for everything else was developed. We have certain proportions that are possible, and we have a design vocabulary deriving from it, from which we then devised a complete alphabet.

  

 

So what is special about the typographic system is that the line weight always remains the same?

 

Marc Schütz: To get this effect, also called optical sizes in type design, that is to give the various type sizes the same impression of type weight, corresponding to the principle of Ligne claire, we created the typeface “Markgraph”, that is exported in type sizes. If you put the six-point and 36-point versions next to each other, they are optically matched. Geometric typefaces, in particular, are normally not optically adapted to varying type sizes. But this is exactly what we have done in the case of the “Markgraph”, but in such a way as to make it invisible, but compensate for undesired optical effects.

  

 

So the first part of the task was solved. How did you continue?

 

Marc Schütz: We knew that such a strongly reduced draft runs the risk of becoming boring – we had to avoid that. That’s why it very quickly became clear to us that the logo had to have an interactive momentum, also chiefly because the old logo is formally very strong. It unleashes visual dynamics, which we also had to guarantee although our approach had to be very reduced, very legible, very clear.

 

Stefan Weil: We have to actually remind ourselves again of the difficulty of this apparent contradiction, that faced us: expressive reduction – words forming a paradox.

  

 

What was the next step then when it became obvious that an interactive momentum was imperative?

 

Marc Schütz: From the outset, we were concerned with transforming the content of the old logo. Basically, adapting the handwriting would have been possible but we wondered who today still signs by hand. The signature is digital even when you accept a parcel from DHL. Interaction, at the moment, almost always has to do with language. It is a matter of not having to adapt ourselves any longer to interfaces or any programming language. And so, we had found a suitable translation of the handwriting into the 21st century.

 

 

… and it is as individual as the handwriting.

 

Marc Schütz: Exactly. On top of that, language is far more dynamic than type, and even if these dynamics cannot be expressed through all media channels, the images generated are learnt like a jingle.



 

A question in-between about the procedure: How many discussions took place during the design process?

 

Stefan Weil: There was a certain maturing process and then there was a meeting, which, however, was declared as a peak and not as a final presentation. But it was matured enough to be convincing.

 

 

So it worked at the first attempt?

 

Stefan Weil: I’ll have to explain a bit here: at the beginning, just the type system was presented. That was like it used to be in a typeface sample book. I did think it was good, but something was missing.

 

Ole Schulte: That was our intention, to first only concentrate on part one of the brief, on the established, the analogue. In the presentation, we then totally ignored the opposite and initially only showed this sober type draft that had only sufficed for half the brief. And then we realised that a kind of expectation, attitude arose, not to say disappointment.

 

Stefan Weil: It wasn’t disappointment, it was surprise.

 

Ole Schulte: Which is of course what we wanted …

  

 

A sort of staging?

 

Ole Schulte: You could say that. We did know that we had an ace up our sleeves. The logo was depicted on the screen and then Marc activated the voice control. We just held ourselves back because we knew someone would say something at some point. At that moment, the logo moved a little and strongly resembled the old logo.

 

Stefan Weil: … yes, and suddenly it went well all round. When the logo started to unleash this generative aesthetic, I knew the right approach had been found.

 

Lars Uwe Bleher: I am delighted to see that, instead of just one interpretation, a complete storytelling is now possible about us. For me, the new logo represents both the maximum precision we ensure when observing budgets or deadlines as well as the maximum radicality in creative scope.

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Nº 274
Identity

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