INDECHS Interview

The following is a conversation I had with Friedrich Gräfling from Indechs a couple of months ago:

To begin with, could you tell us a little bit about your practice please?
I’m a 25-years old independent multidisciplinary graphic designer and art director working mainly on visual identities, magazines, books and websites.

I like the idea of the modern graphic designer being a powerful generalist. But having to work on too many projects at the same time can be overwhelming and counterproductive. Given the fact that I’m too curious and still bad at saying No I sometimes struggle to find the necessary focus. That’s why I became very interested in the art of managing time and energy and became an advocate for creating daily habits to help me stay healthy and productive and happy.
Browsing through your resume, the print medium is dominating. Is this an unconscious act or are you aiming at pursuing a career in this field?
I always loved printed matter and my formation as a graphic designer at the ECAL in Lausanne was primarily focused on making books, magazines, posters etc. When I was working at Meiré und Meiré after my studies I was mainly involved in the creation of print magazines such as Andy Warhol’s Interview, 032c, brandeins, Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

While I still enjoy working in print I have developed a fascination for webdesign over the last years. It’s such a young medium and it gets more exciting everyday with great new developments such as Responsive Webdesign which I’m really fascinated by. With my web design practise I try to bring together the best of both worlds coming from a more “traditional” graphic design background and mingling this knowledge with coding and the newest web design strategies.

Again, for me “graphic designer” is a pretty open term. I think a modern graphic designer should also understand how to create a beautiful and functional website.
Lately you even developed your own typeface, how did this happen?
I actually started designing my first typefaces with FontLab when I was still in highschool. In Lausanne I then had the chance to be supported by great teachers who helped me develop this craft further.

I think I designed around ten typefaces — some of them more, some less extensively. The one you’re most likely referring too is the Grace Jones typeface, which was initially a project I developed in the second semester of my studies. At that time I was a huge Grace Jones fan (still am) and my father gave me all his great GJ records on vinyl and I got a Jean-Paul Goude monograph as a birthday present.

So we had this project where we were asked to create a visual identity for an object of our choice. Luckily I could convince my teacher (Diego Bontognali) that Grace Jones was actually an artistic “object” an “invention” of Jean-Paul Goude — and so it began. I did lots of experiments around the fascinating androgyny of GJ which eventually ended up in several fonts.

The following summer (2009) I interned at Bureau Mirko Borsche and we used the typeface for the redesign of the Super Paper. Since then I gave it to many students for free and sold it to several agencies and magazines until I recently I gave the whole type family a completely overhaul and released it in my web shop.
Has Grace Jones been an one-off or are you interested in developing further typefaces especially with such strong design links?
At the moment there too many other things other things I’m personally more excited about doing than another typeface. But this doesn’t mean I’m not interested in typography anymore. For example I really enjoy the fascinating new type designs my friends Johannes and Fabian (→ Dinamo) are working on at the moment.

I always enjoyed the process of making your own font and I’m sure there will be a time when I’m back in the game. But I think I wouldn’t start a totally new type project but maybe rather redevelop older designs of mine, because I think some of them are still worth building on.
For someone not completely familiar with this operation could you elaborate on the process of designing a typeface from the initial idea to the finished font on our computer, please?
For me it still always starts with paper and pencil before I switch to the computer. In the beginning I always used FontLab but recently discovered a much more pleasant alternative called Glyphs, which is totally sufficient for most of my type development needs.

Inside the font editor you basically draw every single glyph of the alphabet, and every glyph has its own window. While creating your typeface there is constant testing which is fun but can become pretty laborious. But the drawing of the signs is only half of the deal. You have to take care of the spacing which means assigning the individual space at the left and right of one letter towards the others. I spare you with the kerning and further procedures to finalize a font.

But maybe this sound more daunting then it is. If you’re interested in type design I suggest you get a trial of Glyphs and try it out yourself!
Browsing through your different projects, they are presenting different typefaces used. How are you deciding which one to use and what relevance do these decisions then play?
Choosing the typographic direction of a project is always about finding the right tone, vehicle to transport and communicate the content in the most appropriate way.

You can try being very rational about it or let your gut decide, which often turns out to be a good choice.
What are your 5 favourite typefaces and on what ground are these chosen?
Answering this would be almost as tough as defining your five all-time favorite music albums. So I stick with the classics and current favorites (which naturally change from time to time).

Amazing typeface by one of my teachers in Lausanne and a great typographer: François Rappo. This has become kind of my “default” font at the moment. (Available at → Optimo)

Times Modern:
For me one of the most beautiful serif typefaces. I love how it was used by Willy Fleckhaus for TWEN and the Suhrkamp book covers.

A beautiful typeface which I also put it in the list because it was created by one of my early heroes Adrian Frutiger, who showed me early sketches of it when I visited him in his home in Switzerland!

Absolute classic and almost universally applicable. I especially love the heavy weights and the bold condensed italic.

Nimbus Extended:
I got a crush on extended sans-serif typefaces lately and the one of the Nimbus family is pretty nice and in-use on my website at the moment.
In 2010 you have launched your own publication “Better Mjstakes Volume I”, stating, that you do “not want a glossy goldstamped 500 paper, neither a half-assed copied fanzine. Rather something simple build with love – content is king.” Could you please elaborate further on the intention and what relation design, again typography and the actual researched/written content play?
Johannes and I founded this little magazine out of a necessity as we were missing a proper platform for (graphic) design theory with a focus on young creatives and the people we were interested in.

I always loved doing interviews because they are the perfect excuse to get to know the people I’m fascinated by. And the magazine was a great vehicle to put them out there. When I graduated the project fell a little asleep unfortunately and I continued publishing new interviews directly on my blog. But the “Let’s make better mistakes” mantra always stays with me. And who knows, maybe we’ll give it another try!
What’s next?
Next to running my own studio and being busy with my personal projects, I lately also rejoined Meiré und Meiré as a freelancer to work on a very exciting project together with Mike Meiré, Tim Giesen and Agnes Grüb, who are mentors and friends and I’m very thankful to work with and learn from them!

I’m really enjoying life in Cologne at the moment — at the same time I’m looking forward to travel the world again and to work in other countries and cultures in the future!