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Dorothee Dähler and Kaj Lehmann

Work / Graphic Design

Zurich-based Dorothee Dähler is a research-focused designer who strives for “little to no hierarchy”

“During my A-levels, I saw all these posters that were designed by people, whom I found out are called graphic designers and I immediately wanted to become one myself. And that was it,” Dorothee Dähler, a designer based in Zurich tells us. A research-based designer educated at HSLU Lucerne and later Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem, Dorothee runs her own practice and regularly collaborates with another favourite of ours, Kaj Lehmann.

A formative experience for Dorothee in terms of her career happened when Tania Prill from PrillVieceliCremers came to visit her bachelors. “She gave an amazing talk about books and how to choose materials. It became my dream to do an internship at her studio,” Dorothee recalls. After completing her studies, she was hired as an intern by Tania. “I was amazed that my ideas were taken seriously and applied to design,” she continues. “This gave me the courage and inspiration to become self-employed.”

When it comes to her approach, Dorothee doesn’t strive for a consistent visual language, but rather a distinctive “attitude”. “I am hoping to build a thread through my work with a distinct attitude rather than a visual language,” she explains. “Pattern of concepts sounds more like something I have or strive for. As through a concept, an attitude shines through.”

One project which particularly piqued our attention was a collaboration with Kaj; an identity for an exhibition in Zurich showing the work of 40 artists who had applied for a grant to live and work in the city. “When Kaj and I got asked to do the identity for the arts grants exhibition, we were told that it would be great to include all the artist names on the poster,” Dorothee tells us of their starting point. “The curators also spoke a lot about the ways in which equal opportunity can be given to all the selected artists.”

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Dorothee Dähler and Kaj Lehmann

So Dorothee and Kaj came up with a theory: “There are 40 artists exhibiting in one place at the same time, but not because they were put together by a curator – they were chosen by a jury – because they applied for a grant and live in Zurich. Hence this is not a common group-show, where one work of one artist was chosen because it connects to another. This is actually 40 shows within one group-show.” In turn, she explains: “We thought it would be interesting to do 40 different posters that had one common ground. So we started to write down the information about the show and split the names of the artists over 40 posters.”

The result is an identity centred around the word “und” (“and”), where the artists’ names are all listed on the poster but removed accordingly so that each artist has their own poster with just their name on it. Acting almost as a relief, what’s left is a series of “und”s and white space where the other names had previously appeared. It’s a clever and pleasingly simple idea as the very inclusion of the word “and” implies “that there is something else even if it is not visible,” Dorothee explains.

To structure the names, the duo opted for alphabetical order to remove any bias or notion of placing one artist before another. More specifically, they were ordered by their first names, not last. “We didn’t want to have a list that was essentially shaped by the fathers of the artists, but by their given names,” Dorothee adds on this. “Taking all these decisions made it super easy to then design the poster, it actually practically designed itself.”

Graphically bold with its black and white colourway and typographically-led design – they chose Jan Nováks Youth Typeface, because of its geometrical shape and, for the body copy, Dinamo’s unreleased Diatype, that works perfectly in small sizes – the project also investigates topics of great interest to Dorothee. “I am very interested in the utopian idea of reaching equality and therefore design often with little to no hierarchy. I think that’s also a reason why so much of my design is strictly typographical,” she explains. Clearly ideas we could all do with a little more of, we’re looking forward to seeing how Dorothee continues to apply them across her portfolio of visual identities, editorial design and scenography.

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Dorothee Dähler and Kaj Lehmann

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Dorothee Dähler and Kaj Lehmann

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Dorothee Dähler and Kaj Lehmann

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Dorothee Dähler

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Dorothee Dähler

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Dorothee Dähler

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Dorothee Dähler