Synoptic Office’s Bookshelf reveals the what, how, and why of its design practice

Through this week’s Bookshelf, Synoptic Office shares where its thoughtful interest in design originates.

22 April 2020


Earlier this year we wrote about Synoptic Office’s new Chinese Type Archive, a platform to support designers. And for this month’s Bookshelf, the New York-based studio have chosen five titles to help inspire us further. “Choosing five titles from our library was not easy,” co-founders Caspar Lam and YuJune Park tells us, settling on five books “that reveal particular lines of thought.” With their office structured in a way that allows the designers to cycle ideas through both commercial and research work, in turn, comprehending each idea “more thoroughly,” the chosen titles reflect this methodology, revealing “the what, how, and why [they] wonder about when practicing design.”

Books are part of a larger archive of visual material for Caspar and YuJune, and without this literary resource, the studio wouldn’t “be able to function as designers.” Currently undergoing an experimental study titled the Library of Babel, Synoptic Office is investigating the dynamic connection between design practice and archive resources. “You quickly realise that libraries and archives become a manifestation and a repository for past, present, and future ideas," Caspar says of the project, "and this is really true for us, as well,” explains YuJune. So without further ado, let's delve further into this bold studio's chosen titles.

Hans Gremmen and WyberZeefdruk: Serendipity

The sheer density of ink found on these unintended posters defy the imagination. Discovered in the workshop of Paul Wyber and edited by Hans Gremmen, this collection of silkscreen prints were accidentally made by reusing the same sheet of paper again and again to test the first pull of a silkscreened pattern.

Even though much of the work our studio makes lives on the screen, we still find ourselves wrestling with materiality: what is it; what does it mean. Sometimes, the only way we understand a material is to bend it until it breaks. Other times, like in Serendipity, we discover it through happy accidents.

Graphic Thought Facility: Bits World

The clear vinyl cover of Bits World is almost off-putting, but it is an unmistakable, endearing GTF move. Their work in this tiny tome is overshadowed by the process of documentation, an ad hoc wheeling contraption, and a casual dismissal of the tired dichotomies of the digital and the analog.

When we talk about visual form in the studio, we keep going back to how much we believe that the aesthetic qualities in design are tied to the changing tools of mass production. Change the tool, and you change the form.

Uta Eisenreich: A Not B

There is so much non-sense in this book. Besides being tickled every time we flip through its pages, A Not B reveals the limits of our perception and the boundary between the rational and the fantastic. The book clearly references those storied psychology experiments of the 60s, which makes the photographs all the more delightful.

There is so much non-sense and nonsense in design, but it doesn’t mean that some of those things are not true. Since we are in the profession of understanding and making the visual culture around us, we would be negligent if we didn’t understand the joys but also the dangers of how we see.

Philip Fisher: Wonder, The Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences

The idea that we should ever wonder about things seems to be passé. At least, this word has never been mentioned in any design discourse we have encountered. For both of us, graphic design was not our first line of study, but we somehow fell into it because we discovered that it would be a useful tool for understanding the world around us. We suspect this is true for others, as well.

We never understood why we could be so easily enthralled by ink on paper, or why we would have the visceral urge to make something until discovering that the old philosophical concept of wonder could have something to do with it. Fisher’s book offers some clues to understanding why being a designer makes sense after all.

Karel Martens: Printed Matter \ Drukwerk

We would be remiss to not include this in our selection of books. Karel was one of the first mentors we encountered while we were at school together. His work embodies many of the qualities we admire: an unyielding curiosity of the printed surface, the bits and bobs that make ink appear on paper, and a lifetime of unrelenting practice. The entire book is designed to evoke one long surface. Maybe…just maybe, we might one day be able to make work that is a mere shadow of what he has made.

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About the Author

Harry Bennett

Hailing from the West Midlands, and having originally joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020, Harry is a freelance writer and designer – running his own independent practice, as well as being one-half of the Studio Ground Floor.

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