Thursday, 6:26am
19 May 2011

Ramble on

Greece’s Design Walk returns with a lecture by Onlab in Athens

Last year’s Design Walk in Athens raised some thorny issues for Greek designers, writes John Ridpath: from coping with financial crisis and poor education, to asking whether there is actually is such a thing as ‘Greek design’ (see ‘Athenian walkways’ and ‘Signs of a city’). I spoke with Michael Ochs of pi6 about how things have changed over the past year (see last year’s interview, part of the Athens snapshots series). ‘pi6 is struggling its way through the Greek jungle and we are doing well’, he said. ‘But as you can imagine, things are not easy here. The economy is ruined, no one is investing and you can be happy if you have work.’

But the Greeks aren’t giving up just yet. The next Design Walk will go ahead as planned in 2012, and this Saturday the organisers are hosting a lecture by Swiss graphic design agency Onlab, founded in 2001 and currently based in Berlin. Onlab will be presenting ‘a landscape containing all their projects’ as a starting point, but from then on the audience will be deciding on the narrative direction that the lecture takes. I spoke to Onlab’s Nicolas Bourquin about the lecture, their work and Greece.

Top and below: Old & New: Design Manual for Revitalizing Existing Buildings, edited by Frank Peter Jäger. Creative direction and art direction: Onlab (Nicolas Bourquin and Thibaud Tissot). October 2010.


JR What is your understanding/interpretation of the lecture's title, ‘Content is king’?

ONLAB ‘Content is king’ comes from an article describing our working process in Eye 74 (see ‘On message’). This title perfectly embraces our attitude towards design: there is no design without content … For a few years Thibaud [Tissot, art director] and I have been teaching as visiting professors in several universities and art schools around Europe. The fact that there is no design without content is often neglected by students (and professors as well). The formal solutions and superficial approaches seem to be emphasised instead of the message. We try to operate around a single philosophy: that design is a narrative that can change how people approach the world.


Above: Onlab’s Nicolas Bourquin (creative director and founder) and Thibaud Tissot (art director). Photo: Michel Bonvin.

Below: SoundCloud logo. Art direction and design: Onlab (Nicolas Bourquin and Thibaud Tissot). April 2008.


JR The lecture will be a ‘landscape’ containing all of your projects. Do you have any thoughts on how best to visit or map this landscape?

Onlab We have the great opportunity to present our work for the first time in Greece (thank you for that to the kind initiators). In the past few years we had several occasions to present our work (chronologically or topically) depending of the focus of the conferences. This time we will build our presentation based on the title of the event, ‘Design Walk’. We will give the audience the possibility to decide on the narrative of our lecture. We will start with one project and at the end of the first section the audience will be given a choice of narrative branches that they may follow … At the end of every project, there will be two options. We will distribute postcards to the audience with a front and back side to be able to vote (yes or no). The visit will be a path along our portfolio, through our history. The visit will not be chronological but diagonal. Subjective and singular.


Above: This Is Not A Poster. Design: onlab, Thibaud Tissot. October 2009.

Below: Data Flow 2 – Visualizing Information in Graphic Design, edited by: Robert Klanten, Sven Ehmann, onlab (Nicolas Bourquin, Thibaud Tissot). Design: onlab Berlin (Thibaud Tissot, Johanna Klein). March 2010.


JR Last year’s Design Walk raised the question: ‘Is there such a thing as “Greek design”?’ What do you think?

ONLAB We know Greek food, the Greek islands, Greek films but honestly, we have no idea about ‘Greek Design’. That why we are particularly excited to meet the designers there and discover the city of Athens through the design perspective.

Below: Intersections Web 2.0 from Domus Magazine issue 923. Design: Onlab. March 2009.




21 May 2011, 19:30
Content is King: Design Walk presents Onlab
E.D.W., Profitou Daniil 18 Kerameikos
Athens, Greece

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’s available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop. For a taste of no. 79, see Eye before you buy on Issuu. Eye 79, Spring 2011, is out now.