When we were planning our follow-up to 2009’s Studio Culture we knew that Julia, the Rome and Paris-based studio, had made use of the first edition when they launched their practice. We were keen to interview them for the new book and, as fans of their publication and print design, we also asked them to work on what would become Studio Culture Now.
Here, we talk to the studio’s Valerio Di Lucente about his approach to designing the book, from structure and typeface choices, to the influence of ‘archiving’ and ‘cataloguing’, all the while ensuring the emphasis was on the “workshop rather than the work”.
Can you outline what the brief for the project was and describe the direction you then took?
The brief was fairly open — in short, to design the follow-up to Studio Culture, first published in 2009. On the back of that edition, the main request was to take particular care as regards to the reading experience.
For everything else, I had complete carte-blanche. My considerations drew upon the experience as a reader of the previous volume. The nature of the content leads to an ‘irregular’ reading experience; jumping from one interview to another, sometimes reading two or three at a time, or just reading key passages.
Visually, there’s a recurrent presence in most studios, a ubiquitous palette of objects: manilla archival boxes; grey-board; paper and colour swatches. All of this constitutes a kind of ‘material landscape’ — a common language of the ‘studio culture’.
Similarly, the questions and answers of the book share a similar register: direct, honest, matter-of-fact, personal, raw. It’s about the ‘workshop’ rather than the ‘work’. My design strategy was to adopt and abstract all of these ever-present forms, to influence the editorial structure and visual atmosphere.
As the reading is irregular, the design should emphasise this aspect and enhance it. I imagined content and moments that would act as ‘reading prompts’ suggesting the reader new connections.
How did you start work on this approach?
Adopting the archive as an analogy, a first gesture was to separate studio imagery and work from the interviews, as if they were separate ‘folders’, where these visual essays would become a prompt for the interview and vice-versa.
It also creates an interesting collective overview — it’s fascinating to see the differences and similarities in the working spaces.
This analogy permeates the book, with an emphasis on indexing and content listing, typography and the colours are raw and direct.
Typographically, there is an obsessive use of indexing, with mini content lists punctuating the book, and a hierarchical page numbering system, increasing in size at the beginning of each interview or chapter, marking the start.
Materially, the studio spaces and work sections are wrapped around manilla or grey paper, as they would be separate folders.
How did your approach affect the structure and layout of the book?
I would argue that the two go hand in hand, in that the archiving analogy helped me to devise a logic for reading, structuring the content and, ultimately, some design decisions.
Since 2009 the dissemination of graphic design work has changed dramatically, and I considered what would be the use of imagery within the book as the work of most studios is so well documented online. It almost seemed unnecessary, yet is essential to characterise and contextualise the diverse work carried out by the studios.
It was a matter of balance, so following my approach, I devised a more evocative way to illustrate the interviews by placing an image as it would be in 1:1 size at ‘studio dimensions’ and then separating the work in a dedicated section titled ‘Files’.
In complete opposition, here the work is presented analytically, somewhere between a contact sheet, archive file and an ever-familiar social media grid.
This allowed us to include many images and give an instant sense of the work, again as per the studio spaces, it’s interesting to see the work together and I feel that this book represents a ‘collective moment’ for a particular model of graphic design practice.
Oracle by Dinamo, the typeface used throughout the book, was an interesting choice. Why did you use it and what do you think it brings to the book?
By instinct I felt a sans would be more appropriate, firstly because I didn’t want any romance, I just wanted the words to feel as they are, direct and honest. Secondly, I needed something that would hold to lengthier reading, but that wouldn’t be too neutral and keep a certain rawness.
Oracle offered that balance. It’s functional, utilitarian but somewhat friendly; there is a casual-seriousness to it. The most visual of the cuts is a Triple-Spaced version, which is almost brutal in its appearance and counter-balances the type used for reading the longer texts.
To quote Johannes Breyer of Dinamo:
“This version can easily be recognised by how unconventionally some letterforms sit next to each other. What looks like pure insanity at first is actually a result of strictly playing by the rules of the game-of-thirds: every character is assigned one of only three possible widths.
“Uppercase characters are allowed to only occupy three-thirds of the total width, Lowercase characters occupy two-thirds and punctuation just one-third.
“Characters have to be stacked upon each other in order to fit (like the quotes, or trademark symbol), large and non-optimised gaps between characters are not closed but embraced as part of the logic’s beauty. We believe it makes for a typeface that neither feels entirely human or machine-drawn.”
This last statement is what I found interesting and I felt well-represented the spirit I had in mind for the book.
Could you tell me a bit about the approach to the cover and in particular the punched holes that go right through the pages?
The cover acts as a letter of intention evoking what’s within. Archiving, indexing and cataloguing was the logic to organise much of the book, so it felt natural to appropriate something from this universe.
Punch-holing 500 pages turns a functional feature into a sculptural gesture. In some ways it’s an obvious reference, but reframing the obvious is what I’m interested in.