TwoPoints.Net presents its Bookshelf highlighting the importance of studying other disciplines

16 October 2019

TwoPoints.Net, a design studio based between Barcelona and Hamburg, is known for its refined output. Specialising in the creation of systems for visual identities, the international studio has linked Japanese and Catalan customs together for Uniqlo, designed a bold new typeface for ESPN’s magazine and made over 30 design books published by Gestalten, Victionary and Actar.

With a number of enviable skills under its belt, it’s no surprise that it took Martin Lorenz and Lupi Asensio – two partners from the studio’s Hamburg office – “ages” to select just five titles for this article. “There are books we love for its writing, its design, its ideas, its colour, its paper, its printing techniques, its bindings, its historical value, its illustrations, its typography and many for the memories we have while reading them.” For the two designers, reading not only creates an intimate moment with the book itself, but also with the ones who made it.

“We are in love with a lot of children’s books, simply because our kids loved them,” Martin tells us warmly. “Reading books with them was magical. We did not read the books presented in this article with our kids however, but we hope they will give you, the It’s Nice That reader, as much joy as they gave us.” And what more could we ask for? Here’s Martin and Lupi on five influential titles from their bookshelf.

Karl Gerstner: Formen der Farben
Chosen by Martin

Almost every graphic designer knows Designing Programmes by Karl Gerstner. The book, from 1964, had a huge impact on my (Martin’s) systematic approach to design. In an interview conducted by Ulrike Felsing, Gerstner declared logos unnecessary. Gerstner developed systems, or programmes as he called them, that would be recognisable by themselves.

Fewer people however, are familiar The Forms of Color: The Interaction of Visual Elements which he later published later in 1986. I love this book on many levels. It shows Gerstner’s practice driven research. He not only lists valuable sources and theories, he also explains them to a degree that is fully applicable to the reader. Sometimes even Gerstner himself applies and further develops them. To me, this has been a very valuable lesson. I understood that designers of the present need to understand the past to create something for the future. Gerstner also shows that it is legitimate to further develop systems created by others, as long as you are honest about it.

Something else that’s always impressed me is Gerstner’s inter-disciplinarity. He never limited his research to design alone, he also looked at math, art, architecture, urbanism, music and even poetry. Studying other disciplines not only makes your work richer, it makes your life richer. Broadening your horizon makes you see that there is so much to learn and isn’t learning one of the biggest joys of life? One particular sentence from The Forms of Color is burnt into my memory: “Form is the body of colour and colour the soul of form.” This sentence still resonates in every single design decision that I make.

Edwin Abbott Abbott: Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
Chosen by Lupi

This little novel is a must-have for every designer or architect. The moral of the story comes in many forms. The protagonist and narrator is a square in Flatland, a world where men are polygons (the more regular and the more number of sides, the higher the status in society) and women are mere lines. In a dream he travels to Lineland inhabited by dots. He tries to explain to the two-dimensional reality to them, but it goes goes down rather fruitlessly, and just before they kill him for his ideas, he wakes up.

Back in his world, he is visited by a sphere, who in turn, tries to make him understand three-dimensional reality, also without success. I won’t explain further in order to avoid spoilers. Written in 1884, long before Einstein discovered relativity, this novel by a primary school teacher already intuits it. He describes a society rigidly divided into classes, it’s all about difference and intolerance. As the title hints, it is a novel of many dimensions, but also of many perspectives. It’s something to learn from in a divided society like ours with not much empathy or understanding of others.

Jacques Bertin: Semiology of Graphics
Chosen by Martin

Semiology of Graphics: Diagrams, Networks, Maps by Jacques Bertin was a real eye-opener for me back when I wrote my doctoral thesis about flexible visual systems in communication design. Although Bertin was a cartographer and Semiology of Graphics is a book about the theory of information design, it shows how to build flexible visual systems with graphics like no other book I have read.

Originally published in 1967, the book is divided in two parts. Part one synthesises the principles of graphic communication where the logic of standard rules is applied to writing and topography. In part two, Bertin demonstrates how to use the variable shapes, orientation, colour, texture, volume and size in an array to visualise data. The applications presented are diagrams and maps. As mentioned earlier, Bertin’s approach focuses on information design and the visualisation of data, but to me, he simultaneously provides an important lesson about the balance between diversity and coherence of visual elements; a key problem when developing flexible systems for visual identities.

On one hand, a visual identity needs to be visually coherent in order to be recognisable. On the other hand, it needs diversity to adapt to the different contexts of application. Bertin’s systemic approach also connects with generative design. It defines variables and their behaviour – such as scale, rotation, brightness and so on – and assigns value to each of these elements. The book is able to teach and inspire graphic, information and generative design, and being from the 1960s is also something special.

Karel Čapek: War with the Newts 
Chosen by Lupi

War with the Newts isn’t that well known, it’s a satirical dystopic from 1936 written by the Czech author, Karel Čapek. Consisting of a collage of texts including journal extracts, newspapers clips, letters and scientific articles, the book details the discovery of a race of big newts in the Pacific Islands that are able to use tools. The Newts are enslaved, “studied” (or tortured more like) in the name of science, taught in technologies, and “civilized” by teaching them new languages.

It’s an obvious critique on colonialism making us reflect how men behave like predators; abusing nature for the own (capitalist) sake. Unfortunately, the book has gained a fresh urgency due to the climate emergency we are in now. We chose to show two different editions of it. In the German one by Diogenes, the typographic treatment is especially nice for the different kinds of texts. In the Spanish version by Libros del Zorro Rojo, the texts are illustrated by Hans Ticha, a Czech pop artist living in Berlin.

The story of how Ticha came to illustrate the book is also very interesting. Having read the book as a teenager, he became fascinated with it and decided to illustrate it on a whim. Nearly 20 years later, he presented the work to his publisher and finally, in 1987, the book was published with his artwork.

Hansjörg Mayer: Publications by and Works by Edition Hansjörg Mayer
Chosen by Martin

I remember buying this book at a second hand bookstore in The Hague when I was studying at the KABK. I had no idea who Hansjörg Mayer was or what concrete poetry was, but the book struck me as something very special. Not just the works presented in the book, but also how the texts are set. The book does not use punctuation, but bigger or smaller spaces in between words. This detail still makes me want to challenge the way we set, and ultimately, read text.

Many years later, I found out what a treasure I had bought for only seven Guilders. Hansjörg Mayer, a poet, typesetter, designer, curator, editor and printer, published this book when he was only 25. It compiles works from the concrete and experimental poetry movement by Mayer himself as well as Seigfried Maser, Mathias Goeritz, Haroldo de Campos, John Willet, Klaus Burkhardt, Emmett Williams, George Brecht, Richard Hamilton, Robert Filliou, Hans Brög, Franz Mon, Andre Thomkins, Sigfrid Cremer, Frieder Nake, Wolfgang Schmidt, Herman de Vries, Diter Rot (Dieter Roth), Reinhard Döhl, and Peter Schmidt.

Originally, the compilation was not supposed to be a book, but a catalogue for an exhibition on Hansjörg Mayer’s work that took place in 1968 at The Hague’s Haags Gemeentemuseum. In an interview with Eleanor Vonne Brown and Gustavo Grandal Montego, Mayer said of the work: “In 1968 I didn’t like the idea of an exhibition catalogue… It’s complementary material, not documenting the show but giving additional information.” I still hold this book very dear. It has this raw energy that not many books have.

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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