What it Means to Write About Art. Interviews with art critics is, in the words of publisher David Zwirner Books, “the most comprehensive portrait of art criticism ever assembled, as told by the leading writers of our time.” In a conversation with author Jarrett Earnest, designer Mark Thomson discusses the challenges of designing a book of interviews.
Tiny details can have a huge impact: a text with line spaces between the two voices is very different from one without. Initials or names before each entry, as if it were a play? Too many signs! Staggering the layout of a multi-vocal interview, as if it were taking place in an imaginary room? Yes, but I’m not sure it worked that well.
When I started out, I usually used types that had a sans serif and a serif in the same family [see e.g. FF Scala for Taschen, Fedra for Collins]; it was an attempt to keep the voices in the same space. These days I think that was a bit simplistic; perhaps it gave more uniformity to the conversation than was actually there. The people behind the voices are different: their conversation is sharing a page; it doesn’t have to share a type skeleton too. So after a while I started using different types for different voices.
For this book, the London-based designer combined Lexicon (TEFF) and Gerstner-Programm. Bram de Does’ roman (“incredibly good at containing serious thought”) is used as the typographic voice of the critics, while Karl Gerstner’s rationalized reworking of Akzidenz-Grotesk was cast for Earnest’s questions. Originally conceived for phototypesetting, Gerstner-Programm was digitized by Stephan Müller and re-released by Forgotten Shapes in 2017.
I am interested in the fact that Gerstner Programm is a product of the 1960s, even though it looks back all the time. In that sense it is appropriate for many if not all of the critics, and for the book as a whole. Plus the fact that Gerstner Programm was “lost” and then recovered is in some ways like the reflections of the critics on their early days.
One thing is certain: a semibold grotesque and a sixteenth-century-inflected text type together on the same page could get out of hand, and that’s where the liveliness of the conversation comes in. I gave them the same x-height, not the same point size—this means they can live together despite their differences.
Make sure to read the read the full interview with Thomson (part I, partII). Visit Forgotten Shapes to learn more about the history of Gerstner-Programm (disclaimer: I provided the English translation of Marcel Raabe’s text).