Austria-based designer Simon Merz has always had an urge to create, telling us “I grew up in subcultures just before digitalisation hit.” It was the discovery of his love for “album packaging, skateboard graphics and small DIY publications” that acted as a gateway into the creative field as well as the reason for Simon’s strong “connection to physical printed objects” which forms the foundation of his practice today.
Not necessarily confined to a style, instead, Simon’s practice is deeply rooted in investigation and concept, primarily considering the book in a more abstract way. He mediates on “the book as an object but also an alternative and democratic medium that a lot of artists use to showcase their work.” He undergoes this investigatory mindset in harmony with an avid, obsessive attention to typographic detail, which Simon considers to be the backbone of his work, but it’s something that can also cause him a great deal of stress. “I’ve learned that always living up to a high personal standard can be really tiring and counterproductive,” Simon explains, commenting on this in relation to the entire design field saying that “it’s easy to get to 90 per cent but it’s really hard to get to a 100 per cent.”
“I’m constantly exploring new ways of working with [typography’s] form and meaning,” Simon tells us, an interest shaped largely by his love for concrete poetry and adoration for Brian Roettinger, particularly his work for No Age. “To this day, I still go back and reference his work all the time in mine,” he says. Inspiration for Simon doesn’t stop at Roettinger’s work, in fact, he draws inspiration primarily outside of the design discipline in order to keep a capricious and exciting creative output. “Whatever makes me feel something can be inspiring – a friend, a partner, a conversation, a book,” he elaborates. “I’m a skateboarder, I’m into art, music and whatever comes with that. For me, all these things go together so I naturally bring all my interests into all my interests.”
These external inspirations are key to Simon’s practice as the very nature of it is immensely personal, almost a visual extension of himself. While discussing the meaningfulness of his work he notes that “everything is kind of meaningful and at the same time isn’t. I don’t know if my work is really that ‘meaningful’ for others, but it sure is for me.”
A recent success for Simon was his book Meta, since producing it as part of his master’s thesis, it has been awarded the Bavarian Culture Prize 2019. “It deals with the topic of ‘artists’ books’ and publishing as artistic practice,” he tells us, “everybody has a different understanding of what an artists’ book and publishing as an artistic practice actually is and what it should be.” Wanting to add to the discussion with more than just writing, he referentially tackled the concept with a publication, one that embraces and discusses the element of “self-reflexivity” that Simon determined was “the key elements of an artists’ book.”
“I came up with the idea of a blank book,” Simon tells us, where the edges of the pages are perforated, forcing the reader “to go beyond the haptic and material characteristic of a physical book” and to “destroy” the book in order to access the content it contains. The typographic styling of the latter is also intensely considered.
As Simon describes it, Meta is “a book about itself.” Although not immediately easy to understand, the result of Simon’s research and design is an incredibly quiet and intricate commentary that provides an insightful and necessary addition not only to the conversation of artists’ books but also to the place of speculative and conceptual design within the creative field.
Whilst developing Meta, Simon faced the issue of how to publish it, naturally concluding that he was to start his own publishing house – WTP–PP. Beginning with Meta and then pulling together his recent zines to publish, Simon intended to “practice what I preach” in making a platform for publishing where he doesn’t face any compromise in the production of the books. “For most people that are going into the arts, it’s about creating and especially creating for themselves,” Simon tells us, adding that “in graphic design, that urge can easily get watered down by working for clients or a nine to five.” Finding the process continually rewarding, WTP–PP also gives Simon the chance “to showcase a clearer and unfiltered version” of his ideas, as well as to have a self-initiated design project that can remain flexible and undefined. For Simon, “WTP–PP can take many forms, but I think it’s mainly just a constant and public exploration of my interests.”
Having a speculative and investigatory practice, we asked Simon what lies ahead for the discipline, to which he jovially responds: “I don’t think I can really answer that question, mainly because I’ve never taken the time to investigate it…” Simon continues to design and publish books through WTP–PP and we are excited to see what more is to come.
About the Author
After graduating from Winchester School of Art, studying graphic arts, Harry worked as a graphic designer before joining It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020. He nows works as a freelance writer and designer, and is one half of Studio Ground Floor.