28 June 2012
Zen and the art of typographic reduction
ContinuouslyEdited by Walter Bohatsch<br>Bohatsch Visual Communication / <br>Verlag Anton Pustet, Euros 39<br>Reviewed by Robin Richmond
Continuously is a record of the Viennese design company Bohatsch Visual Communication, with text written by Mark Gilbert and Walter Bohatsch himself. Part biography, part autobiography, it documents project work between 1997 and 2006.
What is evident is that the studio has been designing strongly structured communication pieces since its inception, with most work underpinned by a deep desire to touch the cultural essence of communication as commercial design and art, presented in a style that Anthony Froshaug would have perhaps credited as ‘mannerist, but not unreasonable’.
From a stylistic point of view the book is as handsome as Bohatsch’s previous forays into publishing design. His studio clearly understands information and has the ability to structure a page with a series of tight grids, slipping casually from two to three and then four, five and six columns depending on the content. The text (written in German or English, and translated as appropriate) is presented in English, German and Japanese. The design is reminiscent of British and American architecture books; the pages are spacious and hold great complexity, with main texts following the authors’ discourse on visual communication.
There is more than a whiff of mid-century Modern at play here, but beyond the choice of vernacular other more pressing questions are at play. Bohatsch is not bothered by clients’ commercial whims and market trends: he aims to get to the heart of the matter. What is visual communication? How do people interpret texts and visual images? What is meaning? How can the studio capture an element of personality in their client’s operations and translate it into their work? What kind of collaboration is necessary between designer and client to achieve the best results?
The visual results are easy on the eye. The explanation is less digestible, but this may have something to do with the translation of high ideals in High German into an English format.
Continuously takes the reader into the intellectual discipline of the Studio, its methodologies and the iterative transformations of design. The changing content and the nature of the text produces a high-brow work strangely similar to a Tom Peters book. The question on each page is which part of the content do you follow: the long narrative, the annotated notes, the project analysis or the company histories?
Curiously, Bohatsch’s work has become tighter over time. Prior to founding Bohatsch Visual Communication, his work was explorative in an obvious and playful way, somewhere between the style of Willi Kunz and a post-Pentagram April Greiman. Project output is now a little cooler, if anything reduced to the bare essentials. In this sense the book is an explorative journey. Continuously is always tight and on the grid, meticulously placed on the page and yet different as each page unfolds. This is a discourse based on practice, craft-based experiment and the progression of format. The academic flavour and philosophical leanings of this Zen and the Art of Typographic Reduction will not be to everyone’s tastes. But one suspects that this suits Walter Bohatsch just fine.