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Q&A Erik Spiekermann

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It seemed interesting to us to make you discover the profiles of our guests. Discover Erik Spiekermann's interview.
Biography Erik Spiekermann’s graphic identity and design work has been a distinctive part of the visual landscape since the 1970s. As founder of MetaDesign and Edenspiekermann, he gave a defining look to Berlin’s public transport system, Deutsche Bahn, The Economist and companies such as Audi, Volkswagen and Bosch, among others. His work has been recognized with Europe’s most prestigious prizes and honours, including the Royal Designer for Industry title from the British Royal Society of Arts. FontShop, the first mail-order distributor for computer fonts, can be traced to his creative initiative, as can numerous typeface designs, such as ITC Officina and FF Meta – both of which are now considered classics. To this day, he remains a central figure in the German and international design scene. After retiring from active business, he now runs an experimental letterpress workshop in Berlin under the motto »Hacking Gutenberg«. He spends his time between Berlin, London and San Francisco.

Interview

What is your favourite way to start a day?

Erik Spiekermann Drink tea, then check mails and the schedule for the day. There is no typical day. I don’t run a design studio anymore, so my time doesn’t depend on other people’s schedule

What is your work environment?

Erik Spiekermann I have a desk at home in Berlin, a kitchen table at my son’s house in London and a desk at my wife’s house in San Francisco. Plus various tables and spaces at our typographic workshop.

Do you listen music while working?

Erik Spiekermann I sometimes have the radio on when I’m on my own.

Do you read news?

Erik Spiekermann Lots of news, online and printed.

Do you practice any sports?

Erik Spiekermann I ride bikes – to work, to shop, to go to places, for fun. I ride all the time. Different bikes for different circumstances.

“That work can be fun and that it’s important to work with others. I wouldn’t have achieved anything if I hadn’t surrounded myself with good people. ”
– Erik Spiekermann

Erik at the P89a experimental letterpress workshop in Berlin

What drives you to create new typefaces?

Erik Spiekermann A project, a problem to solve. When Johannes Erler wrote the book about me, I designed the first weight of Real just for that book. It then got made into a large family with the help of Ralph Du Carrois. But that was my only fun project, everything else always had a purpose behind it.

How much a software and its fixed rules can determine a type project?

Erik Spiekermann I leave most of the technical things to colleagues these days and they seem to thrive on those constraints.

What is your ratio of self-initiated typefaces vs. typeface for clients?

Erik Spiekermann I just said that. My first typefaces in the 1970s were re-drawings of metal typefaces from Berthold. So that was self-initiated but made for that client. If I do something, I do it with passion or I don’t do it.

Redrawing type classics or inventing new forms?

Erik Spiekermann I have mostly done text faces which have to stick to classic models – an a is an a. I look at problems and how to solve them with type. Could be a technical issue like legibility at small sizes on bad paper, like FF Meta which was first designed for the German Pots Office in 1985. Could be a new challenge like office correspondence that doesn’t need monospace type anymore but still wants to evoke that style – that’s how ITC Officina came about.

Is it possible to draw a typeface for a language we do not know?

Erik Spiekermann No. The Non-Latin versions of my faces were all done by native speakers.

What do you think of this trend of free fonts?

Erik Spiekermann There are no really free fonts. Google pay designers and makes fonts available for free, but Google makes money by these fonts being used in websites that Google uses for its searches. As the quality of Google fonts has become better, websites have started to look better, but brands will need to distinguish themselves from that generic look. I’m divided on this: at least we see more than Arial, Times and Georgia, but fonts being available for free has made a lot of young designers expect everything to be free.

Globalisation?

Erik Spiekermann We have blandness through globalisation and we have strong currents against it. Local is better, but global is inevitable.

“If I do something, I do it with passion or I don’t do it.”
– Erik Spiekermann

BVG, Berlin

What made you choose design?

Erik Spiekermann I drifted into it by doing small jobs while still in school. I could draw, write and I had a small printing press when I was 15.

Have you ever got a mentor?

Erik Spiekermann I went to an evening class for layout and mark-up, run by Gunter Gerhard Lange, Berthold' artistic director. He encouraged me, we became friends, I drew my first typefaces for Berthold when I was 30 and eventually he wanted me to be his successor in the 80s. Which I had to refuse because nobody could have filled his shoes. I also worked for a lot of printers and typesetters in Berlin and in London and picked up most of what I know by watching and doing.

Do you sketch–draw on paper?

Erik Spiekermann Yes, always. I am very slow at the digital.

Do you have words of wisdom for someone who wants to become a designer?

Erik Spiekermann Yes: be awake, curious. Don’t take shit from anybody. But learn, learn, learn.

“I have mostly done text faces which have to stick to classic models – an a is an a. I look at problems and how to solve them with type.”
– Erik Spiekermann

What is the message you want to convey during your talk in Paris?

Erik Spiekermann That work can be fun and that it’s important to work with others. I wouldn’t have achieved anything if I hadn’t surrounded myself with good people.

What other speaker should not be missed?

Erik Spiekermann I like to listen to people I haven’t met before, so I can learn something new.

Thank you very much, Erik!

– Interview by Yi Shen

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April 19, 2023
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