NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 29

Design Today-1

The Book that Music Built; A review of Leander Eisenmann publication design works

Pouya Ahmadi

Symmetrical by nature, the book is a three-dimensional object centered on the axis of its spine. Considering the element of time—consumed through the act of reading—and the properties of its material, the book is a rather complex medium. It requires a depth of knowledge and a mastery of practices that range from micro-typography, typesetting and macro-typography, to layout and imagery. By expertly weaving these elements, the designer facilitates the transformation of the book into a highly intricate exhibition of information, whereby the relationship and juxtaposition of text and images present a unique interpretation of the content.
Editorial design1 has a long tradition in Switzerland; where it notably advanced during the Second World War by Jan Tschichold’s concept of design through elemental visual and typographic forms. These concepts were further developed in the 1950’s by the masters of the Swiss Style, predominantly Max Bill, Josef-Muller Brockmann, Karl Gerstner, Armin Hofmann, and Emil Ruder. An analysis of their work would reveal the concept of ‘Raster’ as a linchpin of their philosophy2. To this day, Swiss book design continues to be influenced by this approach; displaying a highly structured content, minimal use of font styles, and a meticulous attention to the use of typography. Within the Swiss design community, there stand a handful of professionals whose works embrace these qualities, yet they reconcile with a newer, more conceptualized approach to imagery.
Leander Eisenmann (1968, Schwarzenberg), a Swiss-born designer and teacher, merges a precise approach to content structure and hierarchy with a strong sense of typography and visual language. In his words, “A book resembles a building. You have to be able to find the entrance easily, and once inside, you should be able to quickly orient yourself. Then, what’s next? A door, staircase, escalator, etc.” At the same time, his design process does not limit itself solely to the successful organization of content. Rather, it strives for constructing an environment, wherein visual and typographic elements become orientation points that guide the reader throughout the journey. Eisenmann’s work examines the very act of experiencing and discovering visual queues in relation to their context. Hence, it comes as no surprise when you open the book, Design und Architektur—a study on the compatibility of education and practice in the field of Architecture and Design—that you encounter a photograph of a distorted Henry van der Velde flanked on either side by his students. The photograph, which spans across three pages, has been stretched in the center, effectively blurring the image of the teacher. Voila! This is a book for and about students. Design und Architektur, a book of 504 rooms occupied by thousands of words and tables is organized and formatted in such a way that no two pages look the same. Sihlcity is another example of Eisenmann’s exploration of spacial issues through the medium of print. The book is a collection of architectural photographs taken by nine photographers where the physical structure is inspired by and evokes the feeling of a building.

Language is not the sole purveyor of concepts, as images have equal capacity to originate and communicate meaning. Juxtaposed in the symmetrical format of a book, text and image are conditioned to a certain coexistence. The physical act of holding a book and turning of pages confers a very specific form of life to this medium. These interactions establish unique patterns and conditions in which concepts manifest themselves as concrete realizations. Was am Ende Bleibt takes advantage of this physical format of a book. The dust jacket presents a male character on the front-cover and a female on the back, “… Was am Ende Bleibt, plays with four possibilities to handle a book: front and back, closed and open. [Eisenmann] made a dramatic composition with the represented couple. They are indeed a couple, but at the same time are solitary too.” He explains: “Howsoever you hold the book, they will never come together. Even when the book is open, they smile and toast, but with a wall of paper in between…”.

How is the life of one medium reborn in the shell of another? Mr Thundermug is a rebirth of the medium of newspaper in the body of a book. Specific visual elements carry the weight of this transition from the first host to the second. Newspaper-based content finds new life in new housing: “…based on an article in the newspaper of a fictional city (a mixture of Mumbai, Delhi and London), where an intelligent speaking monkey serves as a reporter. Commonly a book cover has four “stages” to engage with information. The cover introduces the title, author, and publisher. The back presents brief summaries and quotations, while the inside flaps contain longer descriptions and biographies. I altered this system by bringing the short text and quotations to the front and locating the longer descriptions and biographies at the back. This created more space for an image of the fictional urban setting, something I developed from elements of all three cities.” The new structure allows for the reader to associate their own story with that of the actual content, resulting in a new and personal narrative.

As concepts and ideas can be embodied purely through imagery, the method of visual representation is critical to their ability to communicate. Indeed, unless carefully realized and genuinely translated, the outcome creates nothing but confusion for the reader. However, this is not to say that the designer must account for every possible audience. “I don’t think at first “what would they want to have...?” Because, “they” are so many. Too many for not being mainstream.”, states Eisenmann. “Sometimes I have a disagreement with the marketing expert. He has a fear of something new, because new is not proved and measured.” What is proven throughout the course of time slowly becomes convention, and conventions lose the very important and lively aspect of innovation. “I try to act like a musician: I have the sheet music, the composers intention. And I have my subjective comprehension of this music/intention. My own interpretation. That’s the main thing.”

1Editorial Design is a general term which encompasses a wide range of media of autonomous authorship. In the case of printed media it refers to publication design, books, magazine, newspaper, etc.
2Richard Hollis, Swiss Graphic Design, The Development of an International Style 1920-1965, Basel., Switzerland.

Pouya Ahmadi

is a Chicago-based typographer and art director. He is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago—School of Design—and an editorial board member ​of Neshan magazine focusing on contemporary graphic design and the visual arts. Pouya's work has been showcased by It'sNiceThat, AIGA Eye on Design, People of Print, Grafik, Etapes,​ ​Type Directors Club, Print Magazine, and many others. Pouya holds a MA/MAS degree in Visual Communication from the Basel School of Design in Switzerland and an MFA in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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