Minimalist Graphic Design
Experimental Jetset

To celebrate the hand in of my final year LCC graphic and media design thesis, below is the interview with myself and Experimental Jetset about the subject of minimalist design.

Experimental Jetset are a design studio from Amsterdam, who focus on printed matter and typography, describing their methodology as “turning language into objects”. Known throughout the world of design, they are certainly a highly influential studio, so it was much appreciated Jetset could spare the time to help with my thesis.

The interview is a great read with some interesting perspectives into minimalist design, alongside Jetset’s unique approach on their typographic design style.

How would you define minimalist graphic design in a few words or sentence?

Quite while ago, we read an interview with a contemporary artist – we think it might have been Jonathan Monk, but we aren’t exactly sure. Anyway – in that interview the artist defined conceptual art as “making nothing out of something”, and minimal art as “making something out of nothing”. (But now that we think about it, he might have also said it the other way around…) So that might be a good definition for minimalist graphic design as well – making something out of nothing. (But then again, it could also be the other way around: making nothing out of something…). Either way – although we do feel that our own work exists somewhere in-between these two poles (making something out of nothing, and making nothing out of something – in other words, in-between ‘materialisation’ and ‘dematerialisation’), we wouldn’t necessarily describe our own work as ‘minimalist design’ – at least, not in the way in which a lot of people seem to use that term.

We don’t really feel connected to the sort of minimalism that is associated with slick design, or ‘functionalist’ chic, or that sort of safe, elegant aesthetics. We are much more interested in the sort of minimalism that can be found in movements such as Zero, or Arte Povera, or Punk. Something a bit stripped-down, a bit brutal(ist), a bit unheimlich. In that sense, we find more inspiration in Dieter Roth than in Dieter Rams. Dieter-wise.

We also aren’t really adherents of the notion of the ‘Crystal Goblet’ – that whole idea that design should be ‘invisible’, to let the ‘content speak for itself’. We simply don’t differentiate between form and content in such a way. For us, the design is always an essential part of the content. And in our case, this means that we see our own design language as a disruptive language, rather than affirmative one. A good example is the graphic identity we developed in 2012, for the Whitney Museum of Modern Art. That whole motif of the ‘Responsible W’ – the line-drawing that always wraps itself around the image, in awkward, angular ways: it is a disruptive gesture, rather than an invisible one. It’s literally a crack in the surface: http://www.experimentaljetset.nl/images/2013/busshelter-poster.jpg

At what point do you believe a piece of graphic design starts to become minimalist? How simple or complex is your own approach to a poster design to determine what the core elements are to include within the design? Typography in your work is often used creatively as the most dominant element (acting as the image), would you define typography as the key minimalist graphic design fundamental?

Reading these questions, we try to find the right words to answer them – but it seems impossible. The more we think about it, the more we are convinced that our work has very little in common with this whole ‘Form Follows Function’ notion of minimalism.

Our whole graphic language is based on the idea that we want to keep the reader constantly aware that he/she is looking at a human-made object: ink printed on paper. By using more or less ‘disruptive’ (as in: Brechtian) graphic methods (tearing, folding, perforating, overprinting, a certain use of type, a certain use of empty space, etc.), we try to emphasise the fact that we are living in a constructed world – a world that is made by humans, and thus also can be changed by humans.

We see our own language as a (more or less) Marxist one  – it’s a language that very much refers to the principle that we are shaped by our material environment – and that, in return, we have to shape that material environment ourselves.

We understand that some of our methods (methods that we see ourselves as ‘disruptive’), seem quite similar to some of the methods used by certain minimalist designers – for example, the use of empty space, a certain use of type, etc. But the principles behind it are very different – they are almost opposites.

For example – when we use empty space, it is because we want to expose/reveal the material base (the paper), in such a way that the reader will be constantly reminded that he/she is ‘just’ looking at a piece a paper. We don’t want to keep the reader locked into some sort of illusion – the reader should be constantly aware of his/her own material situation. This is the opposite of the sort of minimalism where empty space is being used to keep the reader locked in some sort of illusion of spacious chic, or loungy luxury.

What we are trying to do is the exact opposite.

We hope that is clear!

Danny, Erwin, Marieke,
Experimental Jetset.