Partnership / Arjowiggins Tooled Up

“I go from analogue, to digital, then back to analogue” – Irma Boom on creating unique books


Mirka Severa

To mark the launch of the digital version of Arjowiggins’ Paper Book we have partnered with the creative papers manufacturer for a series of features on designers and the tools that are essential to their practice. From the technical to the unexpected, classic to cutting-edge, their toolkits include everything from French curves and rolling-rulers to 3D printers.

Over the this series we’ve been sharing insight into the work of photographer and image-maker Carl Kleiner, renowned graphic designer George Hardie and Prague-based collective Studio Mütanta. The project is a celebration of the tools behind diverse approaches to design and photography.

For this fourth and final feature, we spoke to Dutch book designer Irma Boom.

Irma Boom has been described as the “Queen of Books.” Her work features in the MoMA’s permanent collection and the University of Amsterdam holds her archive, she has been the recipient of the Gutenberg Prize and the Vermeer Award.

Irma’s books are intensely crafted and her interrogation of form, texture and tactility are apparent in each project she completes. Throughout her career she has created over 300 books with the likes of Ferrari, Vitra, OMA and Chanel. Continually challenging what is appropriate or possible, her books have been printed on coffee paper, had bespoke scents and one had the edge of the pages distressed with a circular saw. “A book is a 3D object,” she says. “You have to consider the thickness, the weight, the cover, everything. To have a book in your hands is important.”

Although digital techniques are the norm in publishing, Irma’s approach depends on her rigorous investigation into all aspects of bookmaking. “For me the creative process starts at my desk. If I make a book I make a model of the book. I go from analogue, to digital, then back to analogue,” she says. “I make the book on the computer, but I design it at my desk. As a bookmaker I think that is only right.”


Mirka Severa: Irma Boom

Trust and Freedom

“It doesn’t matter with whom I work, they have to trust me. The commissioner needs to appreciate that you need time and space. Whatever needs to happen will happen. No calling, pestering, all that shit. It’s trust and freedom that makes a project work. Then you can come up with a unique concept. Trust and freedom belong together. They are connected. With these two elements I feel I am respected. I know that I will be able to develop an idea and create something. If trust and freedom are not apparent early on, I won’t do a project. It also means that the designer and the commissioner are operating on an equal level. It is a collaborative effort to make a book.”


Mirka Severa: Irma Boom


Mirka Severa: Irma Boom


“Inspiration is working every day” – Charles Baudelaire

“I made this little red book called The Architecture of the Book. It’s a book that grows. The last page has Baudelaire’s quote. For me, to develop ideas and to be creative is not a job from nine to five. I do it everyday, 24/7. If I see people sitting and thinking I say: “Make. Create.” In doing something everyday you develop and that gives you inspiration. I wish the quote were mine. In doing something and working everyday the creative process goes so much faster. I could have a tattoo of this, it’s so important to me.”


Mirka Severa: Irma Boom


Mirka Severa: Irma Boom



“When I start I make a model of the book itself. Then I bind my own models. The clips are essential. When I make a book of loose pages, the clip is the most important thing. The book is then bound and I can start to think how the book might work. It is the binder, the first step towards permanence. The urge to join things together is essential. It freezes the information and it shows that you have made up your mind. You have decided.”


Mirka Severa: Irma Boom

Post-it Notes

“I have them everywhere. My whole computer is covered in them. It’s one large Post-it. They have my thoughts, things I shouldn’t forget – my whole brain is on them. I have them in every colour and size and they surround me. I tried to make the colours mean something, but I always run out. At the moment new thoughts are on bright orange notes. I keep folders of them – they are a memory of certain time.”


Mirka Severa: Irma Boom


Mirka Severa: Irma Boom


“I am always experimenting a lot with papers, I am not creating PDFs but books. The interaction with the material is obvious. People who only work digitally create something different to what I do. There’s no mistaking what I do and they do. The printer allows me to work with the content on a variety of media. I test the content and media. The moment you have a print, it changes things. It is a crucial moment in the process.”


Mirka Severa: Irma Boom

The Paper Book is the complete collection of creative papers, developed and manufactured by Arjowiggins, and distributed by Antalis. A single, comprehensive volume, containing every kind of paper for every communication requirement, it is the ultimate offline tool for creatives and graphic designers alike. Arjowiggins have also developed their website to provide a web-based version of the Paper Book. For more information or to use this online tool for yourselves, click here