julius wiedemann. design curator.
interview. nivardo valenzuela
illustration. darren kane
photography. sean whitmore
Vaffanculo Magazine (VM): You grew up in Brazil. Do you go back often? What do you miss the most?
Julius Wiedemann (JW): It is hard to say [since] I have been abroad for almost 15 years. I really enjoy different things in different places, and try to feel at home everywhere I go. It is not so easy, with the amount of traveling, but I got comfortable with it. I am going to be based more in Germany over the next two years as we are building the department for digital publications [at Taschen]. My kids live in the UK and I am there a lot as well. I miss the food and the weather, my family as well. But I am lucky to have friends all over the world. And it is really gratifying.
VM: Brazil has undergone major changes in the last few years. What have been some of the changes you have noticed?
JW: Brazil has gotten much more professional and this is a great thing. It is a big and complex country, difficult to define in a few words, and we have got a lot of work to do if we want to make it a more [equitable] country. But it is on the way. Economic growth is one of the answers, and it is happening. With that, there are a number of companies being able to do stuff they would never imagine a few years ago. Because the country has to work hard to catch up, it has become a reference in the adoption of social networking tools and whatever Internet offers to improve people's ability to communicate better.
VM: What do you think of 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games logos?
JW: The logo for the World Cup is horrible, kind of waste. It is a shame because it could have been great for sure, especially in this moment when we have been doing great branding. The Olympic Games logo is great, it is contemporary, it is 3D, it has a universal visual language and lends itself to great applications. It's going to be a success. In general, logos for such big events tend to be quite cheesy, with very few exceptions. The 2016 logo for the Olympic Games is one of them.
VM: It's interesting that you chose to mix both marketing and graphic design into your studies, which admittedly are not completely incompatible disciplines. What led you to delve into both?
JW: As a designer, I always wanted to know more about the reasons why we do it, so I went into marketing. I think that the biggest advantage for me is to be able to see both sides of the coin. I have finished neither of the [degrees]. But they gave me kind of different perspectives on the same subject. I just wanted questions [answered]. Thankfully, I realized early enough that my strength was not in doing design. Rather, it was in having a say on it, suggesting changes, writing about it, judging it, thinking about what quality was all about, what was missing. Looking at the global design scene helped me form a view on it.
VM: You worked in Japan for a few years. What drew you to Japan? How was that experience? How is your Japanese now?
JW: My Japanese is really basic, almost nothing. But I learned a lot about visual languages and how to understand other cultures through my experience there. I was there for 3.5 years, a good time to absorb a lot. The reason I went there was personal, as my wife had a scholarship to study there. But I soon found my way and was working as designer and art editor, and later on as an editor. It was in Japan that I started to make a transition from designing to writing about design.
VM: Japanese aesthetics seem somewhere between the "Zen", cleanliness, minimalism on the one hand, and the chaotic, busy, cartoon-like on the other. Both coexist quite well, without drama, as can be seen in Japanese Graphics Now!, even within the same context, such as packaging design.
JW: They have this incredible ability to navigate though all these worlds, from the super clean and Zen to the mega-chaotic and busy. It is quite unique, and nearly impossible to reproduce the way they do it. And that is what brings a lot of value to their design culture.
VM: You have also edited other series such as Illustration Now! and Advertising Now! Currently, what are creative professionals developing that catches your attention?
JW: I think that illustration is currently one of the most fascinating fields in creative work these days. It is really diverse in age, style, country of origin, and the quality has increased many folds over the last 10 years. In design, mobile [apps] are really the exciting part these days, since the web became much simpler and database-oriented. In print, it is quite interesting that both professionals and clients are fighting back against digital, making great and intelligent use of all print process resources.
VM: In an earlier interview, you mentioned that over time your work changed from directly working with design to talking about design. How did this change come about?
JW: From the first time I was invited to write about design, I sensed that I could do more, and that it was also needed. So I took the challenge and it never stopped.
VM: Do you still get to be graphic designer and art director?
JW: No, not really. But I am good at asking people to change stuff. However, I'd rather give designers a lot of freedom and let them invent stuff. That is what good leaders should do regarding design. It is the best trade-off you can do with a designer, even against low rates.
VM: After looking at some of the titles you've edited, I find that your approach reminds me of the work of a curator, assembling an exhibition. It is, however, captured and documented, fixed in time in the form of a book. How do you see your role as editor?
JW: It is all about curating, and having the interest to see a lot of stuff from all over the world to form an opinion. You have to work tirelessly and have to listen a lot to a lot of people to learn as much as you can to be able to curate well. It is also a delicate position. The interesting thing in our books is that we do not charge for people to be featured, apart from the two partnerships with competitions, the D&AD (Design and Art Direction) and the Pentawards. But they are great renowned institutions, and that is why we work with them. We always want to make sure that the content out there reflects the best that is in the world.
VM: In a blog post for The Huffington Post, you mentioned that the book, as the best delivery system of knowledge and information, is dead. The publishing industry, however, still lives. A physical book is about touch, texture, about the presentation, and as you commented, emotional attachment. Taschen, for example, has been successful at producing such attractive books. How do you captivate the attention of the reader when presenting digital material? Can it be done digitally as it is with a physical book? Is the digital book about interaction?
JW: Because we are in a transitional phase, we still compare both things. In few years these two worlds will not be comparable anymore. They will be just different. That's the thing. Interactivity has to do with it, but also mobility. Print will always have its value and will become more expensive. Digital will be more practical, more direct and impulsive buying. We still need more devices to be able to see all that taking the market to the next level. But it is happening.
VM: What are some of your current, favorite digital publications? What are some sites that serve as points of reference?
JW: I like the OUR CHOICE app from Al Gore a lot; it is really well done and has a good balance between reading and the "special effects." There is always the temptation with technology that developers and publishers want to use all the possibilities available. And people do not work like that. It is about the user.
VM: You have a book of tips for online success. To what extent has technology directed (or shaped) website design over the years? What are some current design (or stylistic) trends?
JW: I think that technology mostly shapes the limitations rather than the possibilities. My friends in agencies usually say that with money, almost anything is possible on the Internet. But money isn't there in the same scale to everyone. I would say that the trends today are simplicity and multi-platform design. And it is a real challenge. You have to create a logo that can be recognized in a size of 16x16 pixels, like the icons of Facebook and Twitter. At the same time, you have to be flexible in colour, think about TV, print, mash-up, copy-paste culture. It is no small challenge.
VM: What role does social media (eg Facebook, Twitter) play in today's digital publishing?
JW: It is all still in its infancy. But the industry should use it more to build brands around subjects of interest, and also titles and authors. We have still to see the real consequences of having a [society] highly connected and inter-linked. Social Networks do not have a commercial nature, and that is why it is difficult for companies to effectively use it. Building a fan base is what people are focusing on right now.
VM: Do you follow Mad Men? I find it interesting and relevant that the series documents the culture of an advertising-creative agency in the 1960s, underlined by the foreshadowing of eminent social-cultural changes. It seems that the series will end in the present day. How have the marketing and advertising industries adapted to our growing digital-orientated cultural behavior?
JW: The industry is still adapting, and there is still a lot of money (most of the ad money by the way) on TV, magazines and newspaper. It is changing towards digital. But most importantly we need to understand that it is becoming more diverse, and consequently more complex to manage. It is not that all these old media are suddenly dying. Media is accumulating. But the question is not just if agencies are adapting. Companies are even less prepared. They do not know how to think digital most of the time, and their managers are conservative towards a digital lifestyle. Ultimately everybody has to adapt.
VM: Product Design in the Sustainable Era highlights innovations in areas like home appliances and apparel. How did your collaboration with Dalcacio Reis on this project start? To what extent is digital publishing sustainable?
JW: Dalcacio Reis had just finished a Masters degree on the subject and came with a great proposal. It is always a great way to approach us. Regarding digital publishing, we have yet to see if it is sustainable. The whole calculation still doesn't exist, trying to compare paper, ink, chemicals, transport and others with the devices production, communication infra-structure etc. But it is all turning to digital not because it is more sustainable. Rather, it is a behavioral change towards digital, a more mobile lifestyle, where people want to connect things, and be able to carry more stuff on devices. There is where the change is.
VM: As a reader, I would like to see a digital retrospective book that contains website designs which you can navigate without being connected online. What are some of the upcoming digital Taschen titles?
JW: We are at the moment looking at our whole catalogue and figuring out what we are going to do… in a couple of months we will have a better perspective on it. It is definitely going to be really interesting.
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