Charlotte West is a design writer for Print, Icon, Computer Arts and Men's Journal. She authored Projekt: The Polish journal of visual art and design, published by Unit Editions in 2011.
You currently live in Seattle (USA) and have previously been based in Stockholm (Sweden). What would you recommend visitors to see and do in each city?
I think both cities are similar in that they are very much built around the water and have a lot of green spaces. In Seattle, if the weather is nice, I'd rent a kayak and paddle out onto Lake Washington. There's always the classic visit to Pike Place Market to watch the fish mongers and stroll in between the fruit and vegetable stalls. Although it’s probably the number one tourist attraction in the city, locals go there as well.
It’s been about three years since I’ve lived in Stockholm, but the Swedish capital has a good museum scene and one of my favorites is Moderna Museet contemporary art museum on Skeppsholmen. If you are interested in sustainable urban planning, take an afternoon and visit the neighbourhood of Hammarby Sjöstad. The Old Town (Gamla Stan) is also lovely, as is the Stockholm archipelago, which is made up of 30,000 islands. You can take a boat from from Strömkajen or Nybrokajen.
You translate the Swedish design magazine Form into English. This means that you still follow the Swedish design scene? Is there anything worthwhile going on?
Form has pretty extensive coverage of the entire Nordic region.
I think the Swedish design scene is pretty vibrant right now. Stockholm Design Week, held at the beginning of February, is getting bigger every year. Similar to what's happened in Milan,
I think some of the most interesting installations and events are not out at the main fairgrounds but rather in alternative venues in the city centre.
Designgalleriet near Odenplan always has something going on, and there are all sorts of small design shops in the Södermalm neighbourhood. A lot of people have an image of Swedish design as something stuck in the 1950s and 1960s with the classic, sleek design by masters like Bruno Mathsson. While you can still see some of the same clean lines and focus on functionality, I think Swedish designers exhibit a lot of humour and playfulness. Some names to keep an eye on are Form Us With Love, Fredrik Färg, and Folkform.
How about the design scene in Seattle?
I think the Seattle design scene is a little fractured, but there are definitely some interesting things going on. Some of my favorite Seattle-based designers are Modern Dog, who are best known for their poster design, and graypants. Graypants make some incredible cardboard lighting. When I first met Seth Grizzle and Jonathan Junker, Jon was still working fulltime at another architecture firm and their studio was their living room. It’s been cool to see them grow graypants into a full-fledged business. They went to Milan this last year and have recently opened up a studio in Amsterdam. If you are in Seattle, another great stop for design books is Peter Miller Books, which is downtown not too far from Pike Place.
Are there any interesting books, magazines or blogs you are reading at the moment?
I always enjoy reading what other people are writing at Imprint, the blog for Print magazine. I write for them occasionally.
Anything that has caught your eye on TV or in cinemas?
I'm pretty hooked on New Girl with Zooey Deschanel. I'm excited the second season just started here in the United States.
How did you get to know Polish design magazine Projekt? What can contemporary designers learn from it?
I ended up working on a research project on Eastern Europe when
I was in grad school, and I guess my interest in the region stuck. I actually first found out about the poster scene in Poland through Modern Dog, who had a poster in the Warsaw International Poster Biennale.
It was fascinating to learn just how important posters were in Poland during the Communist period. (For more on the Polish Poster School, check out the documentary Freedom on the Fence) One interviewee described the Biennale, which started in 1966, as a 'window to the world' since posters gave the Polish designers a glimpse of what was happening outside of the Soviet Union.
When I went to Warsaw to visit the Biennale at the Wilanów Poster Museum, I decided to write an article on what younger poster designers were doing. That's how I came into contact with Edgar Bąk. He had a copy of Projekt in his studio. We stayed in touch for a few years, and finally managed to pull the book together. He was instrumental in getting some of the interviews with the editorial staff who had been involved with the magazine.
I think design always has to be placed in context, and an awareness of the past is essential to understanding the creative and historical forces that shape one's own design. Even in an era where design is increasingly globalized, I was struck by just how much younger Polish designers like Edgar were aware of and appreciated their own design history.
Charlotte co-wrote Projekt: The Polish journal of visual art and design with Edgar Bąk — see our Culture Lust with Edgar here.