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Comments (120) Posted 03.29.07 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Dmitri Siegel

The New New Typography

Vier5, Poster for Exhibition Phalanstère with Prinz Gholam, Hans Walter Müller and Matthieu Lehanneur

I first saw the work of French design team Vier5 (Marco Fiedler and Achim Reichert) in Tokion magazine a couple of years ago, but for almost a decade they have been creating what they call "new forward-looking images in the field of visual communication." They have also repeatedly referred to their work as modern — by which I take them to mean not Modern as it has come to be understood, but modern as in contemporary. The duo is adamant that our times require their own letterforms — the typefaces of yesterday will not suffice. This is an ambitious project, and it carries with it an implicit critique, not so much of the Modernists of a half century ago, but of the decades of designers since who have passively forfeited the idea of being new to their predecessors.

Vier5, Cover of Compact and Finite They Pass. Wow for exhibition of Viola Klein at the Frankfurter Kunstverein

In a 2004 interview Vier5 said, "you cannot work with modern pictures and at the same time use the typefaces of the last 50 years. The time for these typefaces is gone." Judging by their body of work these modern pictures require typography that could be described as post-digital. The letterforms they have made for forward-thinking clients like the Center for Contemporary Art in Bretigny, France, and magazines like Colette and Foto, look handmade — but by a hand that has spent a lot of time on the computer. Jagged pixel-like edges appear stretched and inconsistent in a way that a computer would have to be coaxed into rendering. The forms are geometric but our ideas of balance and proportion are inverted. The digital experience informs their work but does not define it.

Vier5, Invitation for exhibition of Nicolas Chardonthe, Centre of Contemporary Art in Bretigny

This mixture of the organic and the technical brings to mind another proponent of new typography. In 1928, Jan Tschichold wrote in The New Typography: "It was left to our age to achieve a lively focus on the problem of 'form' or design. While up to now form was considered as something external, a product of the 'artistic imagination' we have moved considerably closer to the recognition of its essence through the renewed study of nature and more especially to technology (which is only a kind of second nature)."

Vier5, Poster for exhibition by David Lamelas, Centre of Contemporary Art in Bretigny

Tschichold's careful distinction between man's imagination and nature reflects a complicated feature of modernity. As Bruno Latour explored in We Have Never Been Modern, modernity is on the one hand characterized by parsing the differences between things like culture and nature, while at the same time it constructs systems that mix politics, science, technology, nature, and so on. Vier5's work, with its blending of the hand-made and the digital, embodies this contradictory quality. Latour suggests moving beyond a worldview of distinctions and instead accepting continuity between eras, cultures, and epistemes — essentially rejecting the idea of newness. This approach allows us to move beyond a historically fixed idea of modernity and to embrace the connections between Tschichold and Vier5.

It is easy to fall back on clichés about the end of history and the post-modern condition, but this historical awareness can be just a convenient excuse for historicism. I'm not completely convinced that every historical moment requires new letterforms (this assertion contradicts one aspect of Modernism I find myself nostalgic for — the goal of universality and commonality), but Vier5's unapologetic use of the word modern and their quest for the new is gutsy. Their work raises the question: is there a difference between being new and being modern?
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Comments (120)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

I fuckin' love Garamond.
03.29.07 at 10:41

"you cannot work with modern pictures and at the same time use the typefaces of the last 50 years. The time for these typefaces is gone."

Good job you can still use 50 year-old bullshit, though, isn't it?

Their work raises the question: is there a difference between being new and being modern?

I can think of a thousand other questions it raises before I get to that one! ;-)
03.29.07 at 10:48

A) it's not new, or even close to it

B) it sucks
03.29.07 at 11:23

Nice use of Times on their website... ahem! Ah, sweet hypocrisy.
03.29.07 at 11:47

"Our times require our own letterforms"

Wow, the future is now!

And these letterforms should be extremely difficult to read because, well, our times are more difficult than "other" times, right?

And these letterforms should be disjointedly digital because, well, that's what the Internet has made us, right?

And these letterforms should be created by typographers who spend far too much time watching Battlestar Galactica (great show, btw).
03.29.07 at 11:49

Aren't our "modern pictures" still based on tools, techniques, styles, and principles since the dawn of art? I'd like to see one contemporary image that can't be directly correlatted with something done fifty years ago. Or five-hundred. It's a pretty pompous statement they make, which I assume is the actual intention of this work, not the design.

I'm all for development and newness, but I prefer my newness with less ugly.
03.29.07 at 11:53

I'm having a hard time getting past how self indulgent the works is. The foundation of their theories seems shaky.
03.29.07 at 12:03

Nice thought, but the whole new typeface
idea doesn't really do it for me. But I am a
fan of the work produced by studios such
as A2/SW/HK and Non Format - who seem
to have a similar approach.
Mark Boyce
03.29.07 at 12:09

This is extremely ugly
03.29.07 at 12:15

I recently bought this poster. Even in 1960, I think lots of people thought Josef Muller-Brockman was indulgent and "hard to read." Imagine overlapping DER and FILM? Was it modern or new?

Dmitri, I love this work by Vier5. The question you ask is obviously rhetorical, but it's the question these days in so much new work. Thanks for this post.
William Drenttel
03.29.07 at 12:18

It's neither the ugliness, illegibility nor the self-indulgence that bothers me here. It is merely the blatantly obvious hypocrisy and suggestion that these guys (while some may consider their work/approach appropriate to the subject) are pioneers of some sort.
03.29.07 at 12:41

Most intriguing: subjective contours and perceptual vision. Have we not learned something of this nature from the wise old barn owl in this science?
03.29.07 at 12:46

William, where'd you find the JMB poster? Do tell... Thanks.
rob in chicago
03.29.07 at 01:07

I'm bothered by the visual downfalls of these designs, but what really bothers me is that there doesn't seem to be a basis for changing my typographic worldview. I know we'd probably have to explore their websites, writings, etc. but it's incumbent on Vier5 to convince me that the typefaces I use are worth throwing away. Simply saying I need to doesn't quite cut the mustard, especially while touting new letterforms that seem intentionally inaccessible.
03.29.07 at 01:10

If our times require new letterforms, wouldn't the new letterforms be closer to Geneva or Verdana rather than atari pixel space fonts? Meaning: WORKING, unspectacular web-display typefaces that people can use across a range of online applications (and can be read by mulitple browsers)? To me, while unsexy, that's reality.

See, there's concept of "new" that is based on reality, as was Muller-Brockmann, then there's this concept of "new" that's based on the designer's masturbatory fantasies.
03.29.07 at 01:12

"I have a style! It is driven by a moral imperative! Don't make fun of it! It's a moral imperative! You just don't get it! You don't even have the language to engage in critiquing me, because you're so caught up in your old ways! I am blazing new trails across your barren, dusty designs!"

Sorry people, but '15-year-old Megadeth notebook doodle' is not a earth-changing and contemporary means of communication. It's just an interesting visual style. So please do join the rest of us down here when your horse dies.
Chris Rugen
03.29.07 at 01:26

Honestly, I can barely read any of it. Not mention they are plain ugly.

If they want to improve the typography of our time then coloured links and something other than Times on their website would be a good start.
03.29.07 at 01:29

These comments have me weeping with laughter. Especially the one about joining us down here when your horse dies.
Don't do this to me. I just can't take this kind of thing in the morning.
However, yes--to go back to the last question posed: there is a difference between being new and being modern, though often people confuse "modern" with "contemporary." Modern is a philosophy. You can adopt it or eschew it now or later. But the idea of the "new," perhaps its tyranny-- is our belief that we will find consolation in redirection, in refreshment.
03.29.07 at 01:40

It is refreshing to see design so completely broken from tradition. So many of us begin every project with a desire to create something compeltely "new" and work only from the same set of rules everyone else is working from. What we consider beautiful and functional in type today was, at some point, created by people prone to making dogmatic statements like "you cannot work with modern pictures and at the same time use the typefaces of the last 50 years. The time for these typefaces is gone." Sure, the theory may be (mostly) bullshit, but the work that comes from it can be inspirational, and we may have to rethink "ugly."

Also, Conor, Nice use of Times on their website? Surely they can be allowed to break their own rules when it comes to using web-safe fonts.
Teddy Blanks
03.29.07 at 01:44

Didn't this dialog already take place in the 1990s with Carson? It is indeed ironic that Vier5 should use the word "modern" (even in the purely chronological sense that they do) when their approach is more or less a complete antithesis to modernism.

This is not to say that their approach is universally wrong (I'm not a Loosite, after all), but that they are deluded if they think they are forming any kind of doctrine that was not already penned by early 20th century futurists.

Futurism has always had its eccentric charm. But modernism has always been the future.
03.29.07 at 01:52

Something is new if I made it today.

The present will be informed by the past even if ignored. Breaking with the past assumes there is a past to break with... this could go around and around.
03.29.07 at 02:01

Aren't Vier5 guys german and not french ?
03.29.07 at 02:17

Ok sorry, they are french.
03.29.07 at 02:19

ah- I think it's cute. The memories of our C64 comes flooding back.
Cute statement, cute convictions.
(a description I'm sure the creators would detest)
Refreshing, yes, but I do not feel the earth move under my feet.
03.29.07 at 02:19

Sorry, this is more of a query than a contribution. But I was wondering if natalia (or someone else if she has gone) could explain the funny side of comments. Not being smart but Im genuinely interested in issues at stake here. Find whole topic of typography very slippery so love to see points fleshed out.
03.29.07 at 02:30

It's nice work, but it's probably not going to change anyone's mind about anything.

The attitude is pointless, and their attempt at hype and self-importance impairs the ability of the work to speak for itself. Beware pretense in all its forms...

Additionally, while much of the work is nice, its not like "different" typefaces will somehow change the meaning of the words. C'mon. Are we about the expression of ideas, or just about achieving new levels of stylish vapidity?
Brad Gutting
03.29.07 at 03:14

It seems this work is very easy to dismiss for many of you because you see it as failing to live up to its rhetoric. It's almost as if you believe the work needs to convince you of its view point in order to gain your approval. Oh well.

Who cares if the work actually makes you want to delete all your classical fonts? That's not the point, not for me at least. The point, as I see it, is that we have some designers here that are approaching typography with an ambitious philosophy, the result of which is aggressively contemporary, and, to me, at least, quite beautiful
Ahrum Hong
03.29.07 at 03:22

vier5 are two german guys studied at hochschule fuer gestaltung offenbach and now living and working in paris.

and i really like their approach and their work. brachial schoen.
03.29.07 at 03:27

Being "new" is similar to "style" is only genuine when one isn't trying to force the issue..Also it has to do with the context of one's era. Many novelties in typeface design came about through the stimulation of cultural, commercial, and technological shifts — new niches opened doors for designers to explore..But this wasn't art for art's sake..

These guys are essentially artists..their work is limited to a special niche which values the eccentric, but is this "new" form valid for the mainstream?

There seems to be a tendency for some to treat design as some sort of art science, in which designing in a vacuum can lead to some breakthrough - in this instance, the typography of our era. However, eventually one has to come to realize the fallacy of such behavior.
Frank Lin
03.29.07 at 03:27

I believe it was Peter Behrens who stated circa 1901 that typography provided "the most characteristic picture of a period." He was an early German proponent of sans serif faces, which were relatively unappreciated in Germany at the time, as the gothic and fraktur styles were commonplace.

This idea of throwing out all that is old is not new. The Futurists, whose typographic expression freed us from our rigid adherence to setting copy line by line, expressed an anger towards all old ways of historicism. The Dada artist wanted to destroy all the museums and the art idea of the past for new ways of seeing and presenting visible images.

Like these designs or not, we need movements like this every 20 or 30 years to help us at least explore possible ways of presenting our visual communication.
03.29.07 at 03:46

Vier5 work in Paris, but they are indeed German (as their name, meaning "Four/five", suggests). Being French myself, I can assert that their work can exist here only because of the terribly bad quality of everyday French graphic design and the snobbery, carelessness and visual illiteracy of publicly-funded institutions like the Centre d'Art contemporain in Brétigny.
Which makes Vier5 suspect of at least two things : first, that they came to work in France because there was much less serious competition here than in Germany ; second, that they chose France because it is probably the only place in Europe where such self-indulgent bullshit can be taken seriously (even by academics).
On one particular level, Vier5 ARE French graphic designers : like so many graphic designers in my country, they have been lucky enough to find a publicly-funded cultural institution (theatre, museum, art gallery) which they now use as a milk cow to pursue the personal "creative agenda" without the slightest regard for the public.
Stéphane Darricau
03.29.07 at 03:49

I fuckin' hate Garamond.
03.29.07 at 04:11

And these letterforms should be extremely difficult to read because, well, our times are more difficult than "other" times, right?

Letterforms can never be a 'crystal goblet' to content. You read well what you read best and I think the letterforms and typesetting reflect a design that questions the common graphical conventions of today. 'Ugly' is a personal opinion on the aesthetic of a thing, and therefore subjective. I know a lot of young people my age (early 20s) who would find this work beautiful. But we are judging the work from a prospective that has not yet been shaped by living in the age when modernism (universal language) was born - we were born during the age of the computer, electronics, and the birth of 'post-modernism.' Perhaps this work will cause controversy within the design community, but what graphic revolution hasn't? Regardless of whether this aesthetic will cause a graphic revolution, it has pushed and will continue to push our aesthetic away from the everyday, the ordinary, the expected. Isn't that enough to be considered new? One could say that nothing is ever new. But perhaps we can say something is not expected.

My concern is that hopefully this will move us foreward - stimulating designers to move in a direction not yet taken, provoking them to analyze visual works in a different framework. It is without this type of critical visual analysis that this aesthetic will turn into nothing by meaningless style.
Edrea Lita
03.29.07 at 04:27

That's old.

Haven't you seen the New New New Typography?

David Smith
03.29.07 at 04:36

[...] which they now use as a milk cow to pursue the personal "creative agenda" without the slightest regard for the public.

I would argue that pursuing a 'creative agenda' which actively critiques the current state of design provides an invaluable public service.
Ahrum Hong
03.29.07 at 04:42

I must agree with you whole heartedly Ahrum Hong.

I find the work very contemporary and beautiful. It communicates in many different levels. Contrary to others tired beliefs of so called "proper approach to communication" I find the work very engaging. I just wish more people had the backbone to challenge our notion of "good" design. Great work Vier5!
03.29.07 at 04:44

Could someone please explain what this work communicates to them? I'm not grasping much here.
03.29.07 at 04:50

vive vier5!
03.29.07 at 04:53

I have no qualms with the work, per se, though some of it isn't to my taste. Put simply: if you're going to open your mouth in public and put forth a grand plan as the raison d'être for your visual style, then it had better live up to the hype. And that grand plan better not be a mouthful of smoke.
Chris Rugen
03.29.07 at 04:59

Beautiful. It's refreshing to see commentary on modern, "digital-age" design (read: every web 2.0 logo you've ever seen).

To those who say it's ugly: are you disturbed because these thorny images "pricked" your eyes? If so, they have succeeded: the impression was made. They're in your head.
03.29.07 at 05:06

>Ahrum Hong
There's nothing wrong in pursuing a personal creative agenda and in doing so, kicking up a little dust in the tiny realm of graphic design — as long as you deliver.
The trouble is : Vier5 obviously doesn't care about fulfilling the mission they are primarily paid for — i.e. giving the public information about the exhibitions staged at the CAC, and making people want to go and see these exhibitions. Grand schemes about the current state of graphic design (in France or elsewhere) should come second in their priorities, not first.
Plus : being transgressive and thought-provoking is the task performed by the contemporary works exhibited — there's no use in making the CAC communication transgressive and thought-provoking as well (and certainly not in such a shallow way).
Stéphane Darricau
03.29.07 at 05:31

What I think is that Vier5 has bothered to create its own type (duh). Though I don't know if it's all that contemporary. And I wouldn't use the word "modern" for all the reasons others have stated above.

I want to peg it for trying to be hip, as in "of hipsters".

And I want to ask "why" because the idea that our times require their own letterforms doesn't explain the formal conclusion.

Andrew Twigg
03.29.07 at 05:45


The CAC is, ultimately, still the client, and they have the final say in what gets printed or not. That they are adventurous enough to commission such progressive and provocative (in my opinion) work says a lot to me about their design literacy and provides me with some context about the values of their institution (i.e. that they are more interested in pushing the boundaries of contemporary design than something that would be more 'general public-friendly' makes me expect similar attitudes to their art exhibitions).
Ahrum Hong
03.29.07 at 05:53

says a lot to me about their design literacy and provides me with some context about the values of their institution

Yes, it tells us that their design literacy is limited to what they think is cool.
Frank Lin
03.29.07 at 06:04

I'm impressed that an article on Vier5 has generated this much discussion on Design Observer. This is the sort of writing I'd love to see more of on DO, looking critically at contemporary design studios producing work that is different from the norm.

"handmade — but by a hand that has spent a lot of time on the computer"-- i think that is a great assessment of their work, and that interpretation highlights for me what is contemporary about them. You see the technology, and you see the personality. What makes work contemporary? For me, it's work that reflects the technology that created it. Vier5 do this in a self-conscious manner, which makes their work notable.

03.29.07 at 06:13

i am not a fan.

i can respect their theory that there needs to be new typefaces to go with the modern age, but that does not mean they have to throw principles like kerning out the window.

plus, it is difficult and awkward to read. i thought the entire point of letterforms was to quickly and effortlessly understand and READ the message...
03.29.07 at 06:24

I'll second Manuel's comment. This is a fantastic article; besides putting vier5 on my radar, Dmitri's thoughtful critique was a pleasure to read. This is some of the most interesting contemporary work I've seen in a while.
Ahrum Hong
03.29.07 at 06:33

If part of the definition of Modern is to create something not seen before, I think vier5 has gotten pretty close to Modern.

But I'm always confused by the use of the word "contemporary," and here is no exception. For instance, if contemporary means of the time, would we (perhaps prematurely) base it on the most common usage of typography shown during an era and not by the most eccentric? I don't think Ed Fella is contemporary, he is perhaps best described as "Ed Fella," in a region neither historic or contemporary. Where does the personal voice, which I would definitely say Vier5 has, have an influence on contemporary?

And if we are speaking of design of the times, their typography certainly has some similarites to the work of Wim Crouwel and a few other designers from that era, as well as early bit-based typography. I question its "contemporariness" (if there is such a word) with that in mind. While I particularly like "handmade — but by a hand that has spent a lot of time on the computer" as their definition of what they consider to be a characteristic of contemporary design, we perhaps need to resolve that this is a contemporary practice or physical exercise, but not necessarily contemporary in terms of aesthetics.

I particularly like the cover of Compact and Finite They Pass. Wow. The subtle changes in the letterforms (unless that is simply a rendering issue) begin to create a more progressive vision of contemporary type design. To see their typography push and explore systems beyond the traditional typographic systems is certainly a step in the right direction to exploring the possibilities of design during our time.
Derrick Schultz
03.29.07 at 09:34

03.29.07 at 10:17


Modern most definitely does NOT mean "creating something not seen before." What it does mean... well different things to different people when it comes to art and even more so when it comes to design. Which is why I generally stay away from that term.

I use the word 'contemporary' to describe design which reflects or engages in the moment we live in, both generally and design-historically. The "most common" has nothing to do with it; the most common paintings are found in mall galleries and on beach boardwalks - would you call those sailboats and prairie houses "contemporary"?
Ahrum Hong
03.29.07 at 11:16

would you call those sailboats and prairie houses "contemporary"?

Depends on the style and medium it was executed in :)

Contemporary art/design is only as relevant as the context of the view. I may look at a piece of art that is contemporary now but over time the term will not be relevant.

Changes in commonality and in cultural expectation will inherently shift contemporary labels. Interestingly, modern is defined as "Pertaining to the current time and style".
03.30.07 at 02:10

In refernce to what everyone seems to want to say. The word 'modern' does not mean 'modernism' that is a separate concept. All that is modern need not look modernist. In this context there is little or no difference between contemporary or the correct use of the word modern.
03.30.07 at 04:58

Modernity is a paradox. It desires the new but it requires history to fulfill its desire. The best essay I know of on this paradoxical condition is Paul de Man's "Literary History and Literary Modernity" in a collection of his essays, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism. De Man recognizes that modernity needs to forget the past so it can claim the new, but in so doing, its erasure disconnects itself from the necessary selfawareness that it is "new."

Vier5's thoughts on typography echo those of Jeff Keedy from a 1993 Eye Magazine essay:

"You cannot do new typography with old typefaces. ... It is always possible to do good typography with old typefaces. But why are so many typographers insistent on trying to do the impossible—new typography with old faces?"—Jeff Keedy, "The rules of typography according to [crackpots] experts"
As a side note, one can advance much further in one's education by striving to make connections between ideas, not by always trying to find the exception. I wish to thank Dimitri for his rumination on modernity.
David Cabianca
03.30.07 at 10:43

O! to see between the
dot dot dot
and extrude the type from between her veiled screens. The same to be read between the sands of time and his knobby branches.
03.30.07 at 12:13

i dont know about the vier5 guys, however i get emails with new typefaces comming out all the time, i just wish i could afford them.
randy H
03.30.07 at 01:02

It is my feeling that in a big world like the one we live in, communication happens in an endless number of ways, and on a number of different and interesting levels. Sadly, I think many of us "visual communicators" fall back on a notion that for a piece of graphic design/visual communication to be "successful" or worthy even, it must adhere to a strict diet of golden rules. Is this not a narrow understanding of what communication is, of how communication occurs, or of the joy in the process of communication?

To me, the few Vier5 pieces Dmitri has included here are striking and beautiful. They are new in the sense that the work unabashedly embraces the act of creating, and making. Not that this is necessarily new within the context of design, but it does stand in contrast to most design work we see, on a typical day.

It is unfortunate that so many of us immediately dismiss statements, such as those made Vier5. Perhaps statements like these are arrogant. However, to use this as reason to further dismiss their work is lazy, and comes from a place that is potentially equally arrogant. It is also a form of withdrawal from more interesting topics, other than how offended one is by such things. Whether I agree or disagree with what they say, I see it as a glimpse inside their thinking. It tells me right away that there is an intellectual starting point, or an ideology that informs and propels the work. It says that these people are engaged with a world beyond that of just the work itself, or their client's "deliverables". That's nice for a change, isn't it!?
Daniel Shane
03.30.07 at 01:02

change is scary.
the wooden hand
03.30.07 at 01:30

It just seems kind unreadable, readability being --for me-- one of the characteristics that separates from random squiggles. But as "headline" type it's interesting. And I like the thought that went into it. I'm sure it's meant to provoke a response as much as anything else.
03.30.07 at 02:35

We're seeing evidence of the hand return to design, only this time the evidence isn't so much about the hand drawn or painted, but about the unsteadiness of a hand tracking a mouse or rendering typography. It makes me long for the 90s.
03.30.07 at 03:37

...a boxer outside the ring is just a person punching people..."

i'm all for newness, but personally, this is lacking context. how do these typeforms relate to what they are communicating....certainly not all of the posters/magazines have the message of "screw the old"....seems shock art..which does not float my fancy. but maybe i'm missing something.
03.30.07 at 03:48

Peter Behrens
Lazlo Moholy Nagy
El Lizzitzky
Herbert Bayer
Wim Crouwel
the Emigre dou
the van Bloklands
Pierre di Sciullo
Jeffery Keedy
Edward Fella
Carson (in the 90s)
and I'm sure I've forgotten a few.....

It's not their work (which is ok, but not so hot) but the sales rap that is annoying. Lucky them to have smart people like Mr. Siegel willing to overlook their naiveté, to do the explaining/introducing, or to even raise the interesting questions. My vote is: no, the work's not modern, but absolutely contemporary. But their argument, without acknowledging any sort of context or past, pretending that they invented this, pretending they've invented something new? That is pure, solid gold and timeless horse manure.
03.30.07 at 04:19

Vier5 portfolio reminds me of green type on black screens and some of my early artwork in Paintbrush in Windows 3.11. So much for progress.
Ricky Irvine
03.30.07 at 04:21

But their argument, without acknowledging any sort of context or past, pretending that they invented this, pretending they've invented something new? That is pure, solid gold and timeless horse manure.

Yeah, I would agree if they refused to acknowledge the names on your list as legitimate historical antecedents. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt, though, because, besides the short hyperbolic quotes in the article, I've never read anything else these guys have written/said. What they are doing is new, but only as a progression of an idea put forth and advanced by Crouwel, Keedy, Mr and Mrs Emigre, et al. The reference to such recent design history makes it more, not less, interesting. It's very nice to see this leg of design history being expanded and recombined into something refreshing, rather than letting it stagnate and die.
Ahrum Hong
03.30.07 at 05:45

After a series of events in the past few days, including reading this post, I have decided that from now on I will make work that questions the norm, does not strive for accepted notions of beauty but only a means to educate me and, possibly, the viewer.

I just hope my clients don't fire me now.

Thank you Dmitri for a thought-provoking post.
Moiz Syed
03.30.07 at 05:49

To Ahrum: ok, it's Friday, you're right, maybe they are misquoted, maybe it's right to be more generous. But still - when I saw the first image all I could think of was Pierre di Sciullo (and he's French! and not that far back in time!). So do they or do they not address the continuum they are in? And doesn't that sort of work against their proclamation of some sort of new present, if that new present has been with us for almost a century? Is saying: "hey, there's been this work, we are attracted to it, we want to do our version of it" not as original or enticing sounding (and what client cares that their designers are informed, right?). If this is design about design, client be damned (as some of the posters above seem to think) then shouldn't the work somehow convey its DNA? Are they really informed and contextual, and Dmitri just missed it? Or, to quote Lorraine Wild, is "every day a new day on the blogs"? Or is "gutsy" just a code word for "self-serving?"
I think the thing that makes me suspicious is that this context that has allegedly changed has not really changed (the way it did in the late 80s to mid 90s): or, the way it has changed this time has nothing to do with production and everything to do with distribution. It doesn't seem like typography is the medium to use right now to describe those changes, which is why we are not in a "hot" type moment at this moment. Which does not make their work worthless, but makes the arguement - ok, theirs or Dmitri's - seem awfully thin.
03.30.07 at 06:39

Ok, tarpitizen, not bad points. Rereading Dmitri's article, he certainly does make it sound as if Vier5 believe themselves to be some sort of neo Futurists revolutionaries, which everyone here knows is clearly not the case. Again, though, too little information from the designers for me to really judge (and I also don't want to believe they are really that short-sighted).

Your second paragraph brings up some interesting points, though I can't say I agree with your conclusions. You say that typography is not the medium to describe the moment we live in, but the fact remains that type is still with us and it's not going away. This "handmade-digital" aesthetic that Dmitri talks about has been with us for a while, at least since the late 90s (see PaperRad for example) and I see it as a frustrated response to the wiki-aesthetic. If that's too "cool" a reference, then look at the recent resurgence in handmade crafted items and magazines like Make. It's taken typography a while to catch up, but here these guys are and, their possibly ego-maniacal faults aside, I think it's fantastic they are trying.
Ahrum Hong
03.30.07 at 07:35

To the founding writers of this site,

If commenters want to be negative and sometimes ugly, let it be. Don't swoop down to pat the writer on the back and say "thanks for the post, I love this work, blah, blah, blah." It's boring and doesn't add to the discussion.
03.31.07 at 12:32

I must say, this is boring work and a boring post. But, the comments are great! Loud-mouths and type nerds and eager fans—I love it. To the writers of D.O., next time, don't bother us with grad school leftovers and just throw up an image and let us talk amongst ourselves.
03.31.07 at 12:38

Ugly is ugly. No matter how you phrase it.

Joe Moran
03.31.07 at 12:59

Celebrate mediocrity.
Von Glitschka
03.31.07 at 12:59

This is contemporary typography for a contemporary art gallery. Typography is fundamentaly about mimicing handwriting right? and thus what could be more contemporary than digital handwriting?

I think it is great design that is most certainly informed, and totally in context. It is legible, eyecatching, communicative and sylish to me.

What would the haters like to see? Another bastardised version of Helvetica?
03.31.07 at 07:49

It's fresh as hell. Please don't underestimate the honesty and energy that goes to making this kind of work.
03.31.07 at 08:15

I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned the Fuse font experiments from Neville Brody and co. They were doing things like this over ten years ago and with considerably more success.
John C
03.31.07 at 10:00

Let the kids play. I'm not saying they are kids, amateurs or untalented, but there is always going to be opposition to every piece of work. And in this day in age the requisite hyperlink to proof of such.

Why is it that we are not talking about every flagging designer that has either come from the school of Josef Muller-Brockman or built a voodoo shrine to him in their office or school locker?

We could find a hell of a lot more examples of derivative from him and others, while those of you call Vier5's work uninspired, illegible and unoriginal.

On Legibility

Legibility could be a concern if you are looking to display large amounts of information. Yet, we also have to remember that letters are symbols first and only through the assembly of many of them can we derive readable information of meaning.

From the examples on their website(of which many are still quite small seeing they are orginally posters), much of the vital information seems to be readable. Pleasant? To each his own. The body text i can't make much of as the sample is nowhere near the actual size of the piece. So, i can't comment.

The point of this all are those dream sequences in your everyday life when you being to see cows jumping fences in clouds, letterforms derived from cracks in the street and religious figures appearing on every form of food imaginable.

It all in the mind's eye.

If this is acceptable to their clients and themselves, then let them ride this gravy train.

The public disapproval to their "arrogant" statement is a little overblown. It's as if everyone commenting on this doesn't adhere themselves to silly rules or their own arrogant practices of which they are using as ammo to make their case here today.

I smell hypocrisy.
03.31.07 at 01:22

To JW "I'm all for development and newness, but I prefer my newness with less ugly."

beautiful is HAS BEEN DUDE
03.31.07 at 01:55

Nice Josh. In the quotes I cited, Vier5 were brave enough to reveal what motivates them instead of falling back on the usual self-deprecating mumblings. Reading this thread it's easy to see why so many designers are reluctant to share sincere thoughts about and amibtions for their work. I found it refreshing that at they actually had a strong perspective instead of the usual gush of muddled references.

People's claims that their work isn't actually "new" is precisely what I meant by historicism. There is a kind of relativistic paralysis that can come from a small amount of historical perspective. It's quite dull.

I also want to be clear that the particular interpretation of the word "modern" and the analysis of that term is mine not Vier5's. They shouldn't be held accountable for what critics like me write in response to their work.
03.31.07 at 02:10

There is a kind of relativistic paralysis that can come from a small amount of historical perspective. It's quite dull.

Dmitri, can you expand on this? Maybe with an example or two? Not sure what this can mean....
03.31.07 at 04:50

There is a kind of relativistic paralysis that can come from a small amount of historical perspective. It's quite dull.

Do you mean paralysis on the part of the critics or by the creators? Willfully ignoring relevant historical precedent is dangerous. Calling something 'new' and ignoring its historical context diminishes the achievements of those that came before and makes it easier for others to brush the work off as pure fluff.
03.31.07 at 05:07

Hmm, while I'm finding it hard to digest the letterforms themselves, I'm always a fan of brash artists. I do like the way the posters for the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt are working. Except for that logo.
04.01.07 at 03:01

From the article: The duo is adamant that our times require their own letterforms — the typefaces of yesterday will not suffice.

Ugh. This is exactly the kind of sentiment that is why I believe graphic design is one of the most boring, unproductive, and masturbatory professions on earth. Repeat that same statement to anyone outside of our profession and they will laugh at you. And they should.
04.01.07 at 06:53

Someone outside our profession said:

It's bold.
It's not exactly easy to read.
It's naive.
I guess there's a sort of balance to it.
I like the black and the green.
It must be that new age.
It's a hight in art that I haven't quite reached yet.
I don't really like it because that's the way it makes me feel.
I feel as though I'm outside of THE joke.
It will grasp the young and hip who haven't seen this before.
04.01.07 at 09:40

The paralyis I was speaking of goes for both critics and makers. Being aware of historical precedent is one thing but dismissing new work because it is relevant to that history is another. This condition plagues makers as well, who get so buried under precedent that their work becomes an empty series of references. The Modernists of the 1950s knew their history and so do Vier5. It is not anti-historical to strive for being of the moment.
04.01.07 at 10:39

Regarding "the new", I can't help thinking of Robert Hughes' statement in Things I Didn't Know that "Newness as such, in art, is never a value." Or does this not apply to design?
John C
04.01.07 at 12:46

This is exactly the kind of sentiment that is why I believe graphic design is one of the most boring, unproductive, and masturbatory professions on earth.

If everyone in our profession thought like this then it certainly would be.
04.01.07 at 01:46

From the article: The duo is adamant that our times require their own letterforms — the typefaces of yesterday will not suffice.

Ugh. This is exactly the kind of sentiment that is why I believe graphic design is one of the most boring, unproductive, and masturbatory professions on earth. Repeat that same statement to anyone outside of our profession and they will laugh at you. And they should

Hmm...I can think of at least a few professions that would probably agree with Vier5's statement: fashion design, industrial design, architects—though I recognize their closeness to our own field. Slightly further away from our field (or perhaps closer, depending on your interpretation) is writing. The novel has consistently been "reformatted" (for lack of a better word) based on what novelists believe is the most appropriate form for our times. Typography perhaps works on a more microscopic level than a novel would, so maybe the evolution of word and sentence structure is a better comparison?

I mean, what they say makes sense on a theoretical level, yes? Whether or not you believe they have successfully matched the making aspect of it to the thinking aspect is what's up for debate here.
Derrick Schultz
04.01.07 at 07:06

"Celebrate mediocrity".


Amen Brother!!!!!!!
Nothing Grounbreaking or Revolutionary about the Jibberish and Gobbledegook.

Ole Saying, "You Don't Stand For Something, You'll Fall For Anything".

"Even in 1960, I think lots of people thought Josef Muller-Brockman was indulgent and "hard to read."

William Drenttel

Willem Sandberg was the unchallenged Master of unreadable Type Acrobatics that Challenged Cerebral and Visceral temperaments.

Peter Behrens
Lazlo Moholy Nagy
El Lizzitzky
Herbert Bayer
Wim Crouwel
the Emigre dou
the van Bloklands
Pierre di Sciullo
Jeffery Keedy
Edward Fella
Carson (in the 90s)


Other than the Names Highlighted in Bold above Willem Sandberg, Ben Shahn, Ardengo Soffici, Fillippo Tommaso Marinetti, Armando Mazza, Fortuneto Depero, Theo van Doesberg, Richard P. Lohse, Carlo Vivarelli, Max Huber, work was Superior to any of the names not highlighted in Bold.

Wanna see Typographic Acrobatics in all its Glory. Check out the new Monograph on World Master, Swiss Designer Max Huber. At you local bookstores.

That was indeed Die Neue Typographie.


The Hostile Takeover of Corporate Identity
04.02.07 at 01:55

i love you and i hate you, designob.
i love to hate these posts!
04.02.07 at 04:29

Ten, twenty, or thirty years from now, will we all be making typography and work that looks like this stuff? Or, will we be looking back at as a quaint artifact that is "so 2007?" It sounds like the creators, with their pretentious philosophy, hope for the former result. But, I rather suspect it'll be the latter. We'll be putting this work in the dustbin of design history, along with typefaces like Paperclip and Smoke.
Rob Henning
04.02.07 at 09:57

I'm no expert nor even an amatuer, and I haven't even finished reading one entire book on the subject, but just thumbing speedily through history, doesn't really new type and typography happen when there is a major shift in religious and cultural thinking.

Ogham, Runes, Roman, etc involved scratches in wood and stone. Then that movable type thing happened. Now think harder with your hammer. What could really be new and indicative of our age besides movable scratches on a screen?
04.02.07 at 11:29

Yes, even France has hipsters.
04.02.07 at 11:45

and if i were a typographist, i would look to something with more depth and symmetry than present typography balance and raster. But i am not, nor am I a mathematician.
04.02.07 at 11:52

Heh, I'd love to hear what Vignelli would say about this, even though I probably know what he'd say, anyway. It would just be fun to see him get fired up.
04.02.07 at 12:36

After reading this, I was reminded of some of Philippe Apeloig's work.
04.02.07 at 12:42

As a designer that works in the world that most of you talk about it, let's call it the world where communication is judged by how nicely your type is set and how accessible your colour palette is, it is truly impressive that Vier5 are willing to come out and state that they have personally made a decision to shape there own work their way.

I think that it is such a ridicious thing to look at there website and believe you have beat them at their own game because they used Garamond. C'mon, grow up. Here is a design company that have taken a good leap forward by believing that there is nothing wrong with embedding themselves in their work. That statement alone will bring out the fire and torches and the screams of Graphic Designers aren't artists, we work for a client.

You can post on this thread that you think they're a blight on the design landscape but to them you just look bitter.

Why can't we discuss the need for visual communication to move forward, wether you think this is forward or not, and have a discussion about engagement. Every single one of you has posted here because this worked stirred something in you. Vier5 want nothing more than that. You can hate it, you can love it, but the very least recognize that it is strong communication.
04.02.07 at 04:38

Issues of ugliness aside, Vier5's type designs are relevant for their arbitrariness. And that's a lot.
Arch Garland
04.02.07 at 05:42

i really do enjoy their work. a lot of studios in france do such great work cause they experiment so much and find their comfort zone in design. i forgot the name of the french designer who uses default typefaces. he uses times new roman in his theater posters. nothing else compares to his work. it's just amazing and fresh. it seems that clients in europe are more open and give a lot of artistic freedom to designers where as here in america it's pretty hard to educate clients and convince them that a certain font/image is better than the other. anyway, i dont really get all the negativity here. you might not like it cause it might not appeal to you, but you can't hate it because it's different from what you are used to seeing in print and how or comm arts. In my opinion most of the work that appears in these publications is plain boring and doesnt interest me. but just because i don't like it doesn't mean that it's not good. somebody else might find it really inspiring. compare the print european annual with the print american/regional annual and you'll see what i mean.
04.02.07 at 09:46

I'm embarrassed FOR them.
Alex G
04.02.07 at 10:09

Why do we call type that looks like it came from the first atari game modern (new, whatever...). It seems we are spending a lot of time looking over our shoulders and claiming to see the future.
04.02.07 at 11:06

im still confused and will no doubt make a fool of myself here. wasnt tschichold writing from point of view of having an holistic view. he talks of getting closer to an essence. and having just reread the post i see Dmitri mentions as well. but thing i dont get is this all just to self referential. which is fine, but just makes it hard to take seriously.
04.03.07 at 03:36

It's quite funny to see so many people get so upset because of a little alternative typography. I've never before seen anything creating such a debate on DesignObserver. Personally I kind of like it (exept from that logo). Actually it's probably some of the few designs I've seen lately that is forward looking, and not just copying old design.
04.03.07 at 10:01

Are there still people telling us what 'our times require?' How terribly twentieth-century.

If indeed our times require anything at all, what about letting us all make up our own minds about what 'suffices' - and not having pontificators telling us what to think?
James Souttar
04.03.07 at 11:14

I get the sense that the creators of these typefaces are those damn Mooninites. I could see their ship decked-out in this kind of crap and can't help but to hear their voices when I read quotes like:

"you cannot work with modern pictures and at the same time use the typefaces of the last 50 years. The time for these typefaces is gone."

That, or they could be Kraftwerkinese.
Jake Kenyon
04.03.07 at 02:25

That, or they could be Kraftwerkinese.

Which rather insults a great band with a great design aesthetic, I think. Kraftwerk are perfectly happy using typefaces like Futura or more recent fonts such as OCR A and Quartz. You know, the old-fashioned crap we're not supposed to need any more.
John C
04.03.07 at 04:07

There's nothing wrong with this work. Its not my particular taste, but that doesn't mean it's not valid. Every once in a while someone comes a long, like Vito Acconci, who cans his own shit and sells it for the price of gold. Yes, it's sensational. Yes, it's taboo. Yes, it's arguably a one trick pony. Yes, other people have since done work with shit (no pun intended).

If you saw one of these posters out of the context of DO, walking down the street or something, arguably you might think its compelling. This post just seems like a lot of jealousy and ego flying around on both sides.
David Hartman
04.03.07 at 04:11

The difficulty some are having in recognizing unconventional work as valuable, or as more than just ugly nonsense, reflects this community's collective youth as profession, or as a field of knowledge.

Maybe its partly because the majority of the work we peddle is ephemeral in nature that there is an assumption amongst us that it is inherently produced as an act of appropriation, rather than through worthy and dedicated investigation.

David Cabianca recently wrote about differences between two design professions: graphic design and architecture. Some of the issues that we are struggling with here can perhaps be given useful context when placed in contrast to how architects deal with similar issues:

"As someone who was first educated in architecture, I consider the practice of making to be a dialogue with those who have preceded me. I see history as a source of precedent and repository for meaning.... Architects use historical precedent to advance their own thoughts and explorations... When a graphic designer sees a piece of design and says, "Oh, that looks so '70s," the effect is to dismiss an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with history." (Cabianca)
Daniel Shane
04.03.07 at 06:10

Seriously, don't take things so seriously. This is what makes Veir5 create work. Who cares if it meets your personal standards for type or definitions of modern or design. You don't have to use their philosophy, process or form. At least they are making things and challenging design as observed. People are so pissed go make yer own stuff and post it.
04.04.07 at 01:13

Make your own stuff and post it.
In conjunction with saturation:
in two parts with harmony

the reasons why

i dont own an apple
and the reason why I do

temporal tantrism
04.04.07 at 02:13

I don't understand why their focus is on letterforms as being passé. They seem to have forgotten about layout (which consists of type), as their website is a call-back to the late 90s. They've traded one evil for another. Sure, designing a poster, book, website, whatever with a typeface that's 50+ years old can seem counter-intuitive. But juxtaposing "modern" typefaces with classic layouts is just as confusing. If they really want to convince us, they should rant when they get both right.
matt wade
04.04.07 at 09:38

see i dont have a problem with it at all. im more of the line of thinking its all welcome and valid. the bit i find tricky are the claims of significance and importance. just been reading something recently which think is quite useful. smeijers- counter punch.
04.05.07 at 06:21

According to Paula Sher's excellent NYT diagram, this conversation is about to reach a point of general ennui (if it hasn't already).
John C
04.05.07 at 06:25

Seriously, don't take things so seriously....People are so pissed go make yer own stuff and post it.

Well, this is the comments area... Vier5 talks a lot of big talk and puffs themselves up by attacking 98% of design and designers. Why is it that when they receive equally strong criticism for their bold attention-getting and broad-brush critiquing, people start saying "Don't have an opinion! It's mean!"? No, it's a debate.
Chris Rugen
04.05.07 at 09:40

Hey Douchey, you're not JL Goddard, and you're not fomenting some revolutionary students in '68, yet still that shrill frenchy tone lives on -- that only the new, as instigated by well-funded university types, will somehow push culture forward. Breathless was OK, the situationists littered lit theory and poly-sci forever, and so, you're ugly typographic forms -- THAT STILL LOOK LIKE THEY WERE DRAWN ON A COMPUTER IN THE LATE '90s -- will have similar import. Is that what you are trying to say? Thanks for the leg up.
Crass American
04.06.07 at 12:55

Crass American: Are you for real? You misspelled Godard and poli-sci! "Well-funded university types"? That's an oxy-moron that shows you must have little experience with higher education or money.
The Bastillian
04.06.07 at 09:49

There seems to be a lot of comments that tend to try and contain or constrain what it means to work with type.
The people at Vier5 seem to want to work within their own idealistic notions. It might seem like an attack, but it really shows enthusiasm. Despite what I may think of the work, I feel very excited to see the energy. Dont worry, it wont harm the 'canon' :)

Also, it really speaks for Vier5 that so many people here have been affected by the work to post their comments. It would be far worse for them if nobody paid any attention.

a canadian
04.19.07 at 11:04

05.01.07 at 03:49

Um... 911 was an inside job... stop masturbating about type :?
05.04.07 at 08:51

That, or they could be Kraftwerkinese.

Which rather insults a great band with a great design aesthetic, I think. Kraftwerk are perfectly happy using typefaces like Futura or more recent fonts such as OCR A and Quartz. You know, the old-fashioned crap we're not supposed to need any more.

Kraftwerk are the age of Grandparents.
Eric Wrenn
06.05.07 at 10:31

yeah, it looks like old atari figures. the "new" type design of the 80s?! ;o)
01.23.08 at 01:43

Their work doesn't look much different from the "new" designs of
the 1990s to me and, if I didn't know otherwise, that's what I would
have thought they were.
Greg Sterling
07.19.08 at 06:03

Isn't the future goal of designers to create more effective legibility? How is this accomplishing that?
03.20.09 at 11:19

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Dmitri Siegel is currently the Executive Director of Marketing for Urban Outfitters where he oversees creative, marketing and e-commerce for the brand in North America. Dmitri has published and lectured widely on the topics of design, technology and digital culture.
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