2 July 2021
Novo Typo goes off the grid
At Berlin’s A—Z gallery, Dutch designer Mark van Wageningen tests the limits of self-sufficiency with his new project Offgrid.
By Jan Middendorp
In Eye 94, four years ago, we described the unorthodox typographic research methods of Amsterdam designer Mark van Wageningen, aka Novo Typo, writes Jan Middendorp.
Having moved through individualist graphic and type design, then through pixel-based colour fonts, Van Wageningen had arrived at multi-layered typefaces – both digital and as wood type. These type sets consist of deconstructed fonts which formed complete characters only when stratifying different versions — thus stimulating users to replace black text faces to something less useful, more impressionist.
Examples of Mark van Wageningen’s Ziza type family, made from overlapping, deconstructed fonts in yellow, red and blue, shown in Jan Middendorp’s Eye 94 article ‘Colour is the new black’.
Top. Mark van Wageningen’s new book Offgrid.
Between then and now, Van Wageningen’s adventurous work with a modest circle of fans caught the attention of a larger international public through his sophisticated yet playful 2019 book about the varicoloured future of typography. The original edition was published in German by Verlag Hermann Schmidt as Color and Type, while the English-language version was published by Princeton Architectural Press as Type and Color.
Cover of Offgrid, which is both instructive and experimental.
Spread from Offgrid.
Then came the pandemic and its lockdown measures, and Van Wageningen decided to react to the new situation – and bend the trajectory of his career once more. He developed a new practice named ‘Offgrid’, focusing on the typographic process as a self-supporting mode of production.
‘Can you do your job,’ he asks, ‘completely independently of other parties if an international distribution system of services and goods comes to a standstill? A typographic design studio like Novo Typo is founded on three pillars – letters, paper and ink. The project examines and shows how you can produce these elements yourself.’
The first step in Offgrid was the exploration of the options to self-produce design elements that are usually contributed by the industry: paper, ink, hand-made type and even workshop soap (made from wood pulp). He explores recipes with natural ingredients to make colours and paper.
Spread from Offgrid.
His next step was to make an Offgrid book, A DIY Manual for Creating a Self-Sufficient Design Studio. The book – both instructive and experimental – has the identity of a serious schoolbook. But having been produced as a demonstration of itself, a Manual, it also radiates the identity of an art book.
Novo Tipo collaborated with Amsterdam specialists to produced paper and printing colours using pure natural elements. The book has just been published by Berlin publishing company The Green Box, run by designer Anja Lutz – also the initiator of the energetic initiative A-Z, an exhibition space showing projects ‘in which graphic design goes beyond its boundaries’. (See ‘Unity and justice and …’ in Eye 99.) During July, A—Z will be hosting an Offgrid exhibition and demonstration, a presentation of the book and live workshop for small groups by Mark van Wageningen.
Spreads from Offgrid. Having been produced as a demonstration of itself, the Manual has the identity of both schoolbook and art book.
The new Novo Typo book will be presented from 6pm on Thu 8 July 2021 at the A—Z space, A—Z, Torstr. 93, Berlin-Mitte, followed by an exhibition that runs until Thu 26 August 2021. Throughout July Mark van Wageningen will be present at the exhibition; he will also offer a series of workshops where the participants will learn to make paper, ink (and soap!) and use them for printing. Workshop capacity is limited to five people per session, with a duration of three to four hours. Suggested donation: €25.
Spread from Offgrid.
Jan Middendorp, designer, writer and author of Dutch Type, Berlin
Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.