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Ark Covers from Issue One and Issue Three. Courtesy of Emery Lane Norton.

Work / Graphic Design

Emery Lane Norton on his interdisciplinary graphic design approach

“I remember one of my teachers back in Canada telling me that I would need to move to Europe if I wanted to become a graphic designer,” Emery Lane Norton, who now works with the Finnish Architectural Review, says. “This was after having a heated but friendly debate about margin widths (a bit funny in retrospect).” Emery first moved to Helsinki, Finland to pursue a postgraduate degree in graphic design. At the time, it was publications like Dot Dot Dot and F.R. David that shaped Emery’s conceptual and aesthetic decisions — and that continue to inform his ways of thinking.

Emery first joined Finnish Architectural Review, a bi-monthly magazine that goes by the name of Ark (from the Finnish title Arkkitehti), in January 2019 to bring about a new visual direction. But, it turns out, Emery had already been working with Ark editor-in-chief, guest-editing his magazine S’lim Zine. “Considering how fluid that experience was, both editing and designing the publication, I imagine both of the roles informed each other,” the designer says. “I have a pretty clear picture of what I’m trying to achieve. For example, I like to let conceptual threads and internal logic guide many of my formal decisions.”

Alongside his design work, Emery also spends his time writing; for example, he produced one of the texts for the Lives of Others exhibition catalogue at Factory Gallery in Seoul, Korea. “I hope to continue building upon these three areas – graphic design, editing, and writing. Each in their own way but also when they overlap,” Emery says. “For instance, I’m now editing and designing a new serial publication for Design Museum Helsinki that pairs archival interviews with Finnish designers and commissioned texts from international writers.” It is Emery’s interdisciplinary approach that allows him to conceptualise and create innovative work and unconventional publications.

When asked about his favourite projects, Emery references Ark which recently commissioned Helsinki Type Studio to draw up five proprietary fonts. The layout, Emery says, needed to be template-based since himself and another designer would be taking turns with every other issue. “This process has been interesting but less than ideal. It’s quite nice to adjust and edit the templates over time. However, it seems we are always at the mercy of two very different design sensibilities.”

Yet, the overall layout allows for two languages – Finnish and English – to occupy equal amounts of space on the pages of Ark. “It sounds simple, but rarely has that happened in the 112-year history of the magazine,” Emery says. “I hope this can reach out to more English readers. Many of the pages now distribute the languages in a strict 50/50 division with Finnish on the top and English on the bottom. The captions follow the same top and bottom logic to help with navigating text heavy pages. The layout serves the content in a functionalist way. For instance, the margins are small, the images are big and the type is clean.”  

Returning back to the sixth issue of S’lim Zine, a riso-printed publication in two single-colour editions, Emery states that he likewise faced similar creative constraints. But these restrictions often come with new artistic opportunities. “The dimension, page count and saddle stitch binding all followed from the previous five issues,” he says. “Since I wanted to cram as much content in as possible, the layouts are dense with almost no breathing room. Not without some explorations in typography though. Writers will say that the essay format is a space for testing out certain ideas. I think the same could be said for the zine format. And that was certainly the goal of the layout, to make something that reads like an essay.”

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Ark. Courtesy of Emery Lane Norton.

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Ark. Courtesy of Emery Lane Norton.

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S’lim Zine. Courtesy of Emery Lane Norton.

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S’lim Zine. Courtesy of Emery Lane Norton.

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S’lim Zine. Courtesy of Emery Lane Norton.

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S’lim Zine. Courtesy of Emery Lane Norton.

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S’lim Zine. Courtesy of Emery Lane Norton.

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S’lim Zine. Courtesy of Emery Lane Norton.

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S’lim Zine. Courtesy of Emery Lane Norton.