In conversation with MIRKO BORSCHE

Servus my friends!

I’m working hard these first days of the new decade to finish a bunch of projects for the next weeks. Here comes a fresh interview which will be published (among others) in Better Mjstakes Volume III.

I met Mirko Borsche and his crew when I was doing an internship in his studio in summer 2009. Mirko is a Munich based graphic designer who founded Bureau Mirko Borsche in 2007. Apart from the weekly creative direction for Die Zeit and Die Zeit Magazin the team is constantly working on a wide range of projects including not only printed matter such as catalogues, magazines, books, posters, but also touching areas like industrial-, fashion-, exhibition design, movies and architecture …

Let’s dive directly into the conversation we had a couple of weeks ago via iChat …

Mirko, what does it mean for you to live and work in Munich?

The main reason why I am in Munich is because of my kids. I come from a city near Munich but I lived elsewhere for around 15 years. I studied in London and afterwards I did my master in Germany. Then I was in Amsterdam, after that in Hamburg. In 2007 I founded my studio, after doing art direction for several magazines.

There is no real reason for me to go away anyway. I think you will hardly find a city that is more calm, comfortable, and where the people are so nice. And I think in our profession you need a refugium, a hideaway. I’m pretty often on the road, I’m traveling a lot at the moment. When I would have to come back from a stressful trip to a stressful city again — this would be too much. It’s important for me to come back to a place where I can rest.

Besides I can effortlessly go to the countryside, to the mountains, to the lakes. At the beginning I was a little worried if it would not be difficult to attract young people to come here … but at the moment we are even getting a lot of requests from abroad. And we start working more with international clients — then it is also great if you have native english speaking people in your team too. Anyway: I did not stay in Munich because of clients. At the beginning I did not even have any here!

Where does the fascination for your profession come from actually? Why are you doing graphic design?

Actually I never aimed to be a graphic designer. My father was an advertising and fashion photographer back in those days where the art directors still came to presentations with scribbles … I drew and illustrated a lot when I was younger. I wanted to be an artist — but I guess I just didn’t have the guts for that!

Then came the time when Apple released the Classic II and I started studying and partly learned to design on the computer directly. At the same time I still learned setting hot type in school … this was an exciting mixture. But I have to admit that in the beginning I thought that my profession was shit and no fun at all!

Then I worked quite some time in advertising which I found totally boring too. And so I started to do own projects along the way; the Gomma collaborations for instance (I’m working with them for 11 years now I think).

These personal projects, as SMAL PAZE, really helped me getting over my normal day job. We made many flyers, drew a lot, bombed a lot of trains … this helped me too. In those days I just went to work to make money … and actually only from the first Jetzt magazine on it started to give me pleasure …

But I never wanted to be a graphic designer. Funnily, what we are doing right now — besides the graphic design projects — like all the stuff for Audi which are more like installations which aims in a totally different direction. This is a bit more like what I wanted to do originally …

Besides all the magazines and books that you are regularly designing on tight schedules you seem to have tons of other projects at the same time — how do you deal with working on multiple jobs in parallel?

Well, I’m used to design weekly magazines since 1999 with the Jetzt magazine. This was a hardcore job when you were coming freshly out of the advertisement business. You know, normally as graphic designer you have weeks and months to think about a concept. I relaunched the Jetzt magazine but after the first issues I thought: now it’s over … and then they already came with the next stories! The first months were so stressful I think I really made bad magazines.

Then I learned to think parallel. I realized that when you want to work like me you don’t have terminated projects; one book, one magazine, one LP cover … your whole profession is a process. You have to create a certain style, you have to create a methodology, how to produce ideas, you have to build yourself a huge network … and with all this in mind you have to constantly kick out ideas.

Every week we are doing Die Zeit, Die Zeit Magazin, Weltkunst, Weltwoche Stil … plus seven projects e.g. for the Staatsoper, Audi … all at the same time. And I am still the one who designs everything at the first place.

So you are a designing art director … I understand the term mostly as being someone who has a great roster of creative individuals, and who then picks and collaborates with the ones who match the project best …

Exactly. Well, in the beginning I’m starting with the graphic designer part … typography, paper, all things haptic. How do I want to present the content? how can I translate my language into the clients needs?

Afterwards, maybe like a good craftsman and his tools, or like a painter with his colours, I’m checking which photographer, which illustrator would work the best for the project. But to create a new look, a new language — this only works in collaboration with a good mixture of other people.

This is one thing that I find fascinating about the profession: having a huge network knowing many different people from all over the globe …

… and it’s very helpful, too. Yesterday for example my friend Kostas Murkudis came by at the studio and we talked about several things for example about our idea to build special rain capes out of 3M reflector foil — and on his way out of the studio he says to me: why do I not design them? And I was like: “Of course you do so … feel free!”
The result is that Kostas Murkudis is now designing rain capes for the Staatsoper!

… sweet!

And the bigger your network the broader and vaster the connections. But you have to know how to use this connections and be wide awake all the time. Your skill to create these connections is what’s demanded today.

And this anecdote with Kostas shows how it can work out beautifully getting in touch with other professions and artistic directions …

Exactly. At the moment we are doing also a lot of filming and installations — one of the newest is a fully chromed 60’s gas station () for which we took the master from the road and rebuilt it in Miami. At the same time we are currently doing all together funny linocuts for the Staatsorchester … this is what I like about our profession: everything is possible.

Many people are limiting themselves to certain areas, specializing themselves. I’m rather specializing on my taste and what I’m interested in. I’m not specializing on a certain kind of client or a style. I think style always arises or unfolds itself all alone.

When you look at our works, you see that they are all different but at the same time they seem to be related to each other. You can only achieve this by having a strong specific character, expression … and when you are having fun with what you are doing! (The other way to have a recognizable design is, to respect corporate design restricitions. Then everything has to be left-aligned, a certain font, sizes … then it looks all the same in the end too.)

It’s simply another work approach. But as you said, a good art director is also a good communicator. It’s important that people can trust you but that you also have the ability to brief people — that’s important because often you cannot be present at every shooting or look the illustrator constantly over the shoulder. We are not preparing stuff for shootings etc. — we are not like agencys drawing scribbles or composing mood-boards. I’m talking as long as it takes until the person knows what I want. Otherwise it would cost too much time. I mean, we have probably ten shootings every week only for the Zeit Magazin. And to prepare every one of them with mood-boards … this would be insane.

How do you stay on top of all the things you have to do? I find it oftentimes useful to focus completely, cutting everything else off and trying to concentrate on one project only …

… well, I’m really doing everthing at the same time. (Laughs) — It wouldn’t make sense otherwise … I’m getting calls from downstairs to check a poster before it goes off to the printer, then someone comes to me to talk about a colour problem, then I get a call from Max Borka because we are currently doing a book for Martha Herford about a turkish design exhibition, too — and at the same time while we are talking — I have 12 different layouts of the Zeit Magazin opened up in front of me. I can’t take myself the time to just do one thing … then there is a client calling me, then there is my mum calling me, then I have to plan the weekend for my kids, then my girlfriend is coming home … no way. (Laughs)

But all this is simply a question of concentration. I’m concentrated but I have adapted another way of focusing.

How are the roles defined in your studio? Can you tell us more precisely of how you work with your team?

It’s me who starts designing every project. Then I always pick someone in the bureau — you know it from back in the days — with whom I then continue to work. Everyone is bringing in their influence, we talk a lot together — and at some point I’m giving the project completely away. After some work phases we are getting together again discussing the next steps. Then, when it comes to the production phase, we are working side by side again.

Let’s jump to the more specific questions: Can you describe the intention behind the little reference images/thumbnails in the issues of Human Globaler Zufall? They are quite banal

… mostly they are totally banal! Actually it’s a rule that the pictures have no real relation to the meaning of the text, but to the solarized meaning of every single word. We thought this is kind of a experiment anyway and it’s dealing with chance, coincidence … and because you are as a designer always searching how to get and attract people to read the text, we had the idea of the marginal columns so that you are always having an extra bracket if you don’t want to read the long main text. Somewhere along the way I had the idea to put in little images because I found it nice but it was difficult as they would need a caption. Then one day was sitting on the problem again and thought it was way more funny if the images would just be trashy pictures from the internet … there are examples like “fast mann” (nearly man) and we put in a picture of Angela Merkel … like all kinds of stupid jokes (Laughs) … or some words just half-used …

… like Erdgeschoss where you just used “geschoss” (fast object) in order to put in a shiny Lamborghini.

Yes, and all this was not only funny but nice a nice way to create an additional narration!

How did you sell it to the client?

I said we are doing it. I said that nobody else did that before and that it is fun and worth a test. When they looked at it I didn’t really had to convince them anyway … they checked it, laughed, and had directly some fresh ideas themselves.

After the last day of production it was always good fun for everyone to make up some more of them … and even the editors-in-chief helped us search images because they enjoyed it so much!

Let’s talk about the Zeit Magazin — what does the process look like?

Well, I always have to start quite quickly and I just finished the issue 49 of the Zeit Magazin in advance …

When is it coming out? Next week?

Thursday in one week. Tomorrow, saturday and sunday will be printed, monday it’s shipped to Die Zeit, then it will be inserted in the newspaper when this one is printed on wednesday.


I’m permanently in contact with the journalists, I’m always having a plan with the image stories to discuss everything with the image editor. I’m telling him which photographers shoot which story and how it will be done. Then the finished pictures are getting send to me. In the ideal case it is ok, if not we have to reshoot. Finally I’m editing the images e.g. which one for the cover, which one will to be fullpage, the whole rhythm etc. … then everthing is send to the graphic department (of Zeit Magazin) where they start a rough layout, sending it back to me — if I like it it’s done — if not I’m rebuilding it myself. This is the procedure for nearly every project.

Right now, for example, I’m redesigning the layout of the Zeit Magazin — we are analysing it … there won’t be groundbreaking changes, maybe you won’t even notice it in the beginning. Maybe if you put a older issue next to it. In this case we had quite some different font sizes and other experiments and now we are reducing all this again so that everything becomes a bit clearer and calmer again. Maybe next time I’m redesigning everything again.

Well, there is no moment where I’m relaxing because it is a weekly magazine. It’s a steady work … what do you like, what do you dislike? You have to question everything, constantly. You have to be critical. Spot things. And not be sad if something is shit but saying: ok, that doesn’t work and go on.

I worked with many designers who could barely let go their layouts to the final printing. They were too perfectionistic — here a change, there a change — but the thing is: unless it is not printed you don’t know how it will really turn out! You know, when it’s in the right format, the right paper … then it mostly looks different than on your screen or your own print-outs. Always different.
And then you know what a magazine rhythm is, or how a magazine becomes exciting or not. And these are processes that we activate here.

I’m interested in your relation to pop culture … You are a lot on Facebook, aren’t you?

Yes, but Facebook has become a serious work tool for me …

… to get new influences?

No, chatting! (Laughs)

Seriously: with photographers, illustrators … before I’m sending emails back and fort, or call … calling is not often sufficient enough. And it distracts me. Chatting on the contrary I find easy. Then I can really describe what I want to say, and send links, references directly … it’s a faster tool.

Pop culture doesn’t interest me because we already have a lot to do with it in our projects. For example with the music labels or clubs we are working for. It’s kind of a diffcult subject for us because we are a bit too close to it. But the external influences are coming in constantly.

What comes to my mind are e.g. these showreels that I always loved … regarding the works presented they were kind of informal, loose, funny …

Because our work is already serious enough. I mean, also, when you look at our website … it’s … funny. Most of the projects we are doing — like Weltwoche or Die Zeit — are serious objects.

So for the presentation of your works it’s all about the contrast …

First and foremost I think that it is simply very boring to flick through jpg’s of a magazine on the internet — we want to make a little more fun to look at it! And I think that having fun is the most important thing.

What I find interesting with the showreels is that it is always some kind of a document of time. You can remember which music was playing in the bureau at that time, what the atmosphere was … and then you see the work that came out of it.

When we recently showed a film like this in Gent we became a montrous applause because the people knew directly: that’s it! That’s how they feel! That’s how they work!

So it’s not really about presenting the works … and our website is not for attracting possible clients. I don’t want to inspire clients but young people who someday write to me for asking if they can work with me. Internet should be entertaining and attract people.

Do you still have role models, idols … ?

Of course, everyone has role models. I mean, they come from all different directions. Sometimes I’m fascinated by young designers … most of the time I’m inspired by photographers, artists, architects … people that don’t have anything to do with our profession directly.

This is a good motivation making your own great projects. In the end we are all profiting when we have a bunch of good designers here in germany. If there would only be 3-5 daring designers in this country, there wouldn’t almost be any chance to convince people to dare anything. Competition is important. There is already enough boring design around.

Thanks, Mirko!