Atelier Gassner – Visual Essays

Visual Essays
Visuelle Geschichten

Editors: Andrea Gassner, Reinhard Gassner / Atelier Gassner
Publisher: Sonderzahl
Year: 2017
Length: 288 pages
Language: German, English
ISBN:  978-3-85449-468-3
Price: 44,- Euro

This book is more than just a corporate publishing project. On a total of 288 pages it not only shows the exciting results of work carried out over the last 20 years but also presents in a highly impressive way the paths and processes that led to these results. The book describes the work of the Atelier, which has achieved recognition beyond the region, along with the design approaches taken and the consistent orientation on the contents and the communication aims. The 15 projects presented illustrate spatial and graphic design that focuses on applied communication – book design and scenography, signage and facade graphics.

The book itself is a testimony to the creative work. The cover recalls a concrete façade graphic design on the theme of skin and surface and surprises our perception in that it shows what first becomes visible through the relationship between two different surfaces. The challenge of presenting the medium book in a book is successfully met by, on the one hand, placing the illustrations on the pages almost as facsimiles so that, for the viewer, a further interference between reality and representation develops. On the other hand the “filmic” sequence of the wrap and the dramaturgy of the book’s design are shown at a single glance in miniature illustrations. The descriptions provide information about the various design approaches taken by the team, about interesting sources, and about different ways of engaging with the creative process. Alberto Alessi, Walter Bohatsch, Köbi Gantenbein, Otto Kapfinger and Roland Jörg wrote the accompanying texts.

Architect Alberto Alessi writes in his essay: “The work of Atelier Gassner is a demonstration of this deeper spatial perception. The goal of their work is to convey a value and not just formal results.”

Since the 1990s the massive presence and ubiquitous use of digital media has completely changed the way we communicate. The new virtual communication spaces take us by surprise; they are always in motion and have to be permanently renegotiated. Logos and brands are exposed to constantly increasing competition from a previously inconceivable flood of images and the fact that almost everything and everyone throughout the world can be found. If, even for children, generating and manipulating images is taken for granted, then this means that the significance of the illustration has been re-coded. Much the same is happening at the moment with film. The authority of the creation of images has been largely broken and the technical and spatial limitations to production have been removed. Pictures and videos are the new “words”, as components of meaning they are constantly shared and distributed by smart phone. Creativity and communication takes place in the here and now, without explicit cultural references: I mail, photograph and film and I share it, therefore I am. The notion of decontextualization of the users had hardly been formed, before algorithm-powered media began to supply pseudo contexts by means of profiling. Here, however, the issue is personalized information that is focused on users’ individual consumption preferences and the profitable sale of their profiles. In the field of communication these apparently unlimited possibilities must be increasingly countered by selection, orientation and quality.

With a certain degree of skepticism towards what at the time were still unfamiliar “new media” I accepted an invitation to take part in developing the inter-media course at Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences in Dornbirn. Between 1996 and 2000, from 1998 as design head, I shared the responsibility for the range of courses and experienced the digital revolution at close hand. Step-by-step we discovered changes and elements for applied design such as sound, moving images and interaction and applied these to the teaching program. Dogmatic attitudes with regard to Apple/Macintosh or Microsoft/Windows accompanied us from the very start. The co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, was inspired by the work of the German Bauhaus (explicitly by Herbert Bayer), and by the Ulm School and Dieter Rams. Rams searched for clarity of form as early as the 1950s. Up to the present day you can perceive precisely this same aim in Apple devices and their user interfaces. At the same time the users separated into two groups: those who are design-oriented and those who focus on economic and pragmatic uses. For instance: when I think about the unnecessary hurdles to compatibility between the two hardware and software giants in the area of exchanging emails, it becomes very clear that here a battle is being waged between competitors to the disadvantage of users. In general familiar design values such as color accuracy or the clean reproduction of lettering and print seem to get lost through the pixilated and greatly varying quality of reproduction on a monitor. Text programs impose their “aesthetic” on us and sensory prostheses – substitutes offered by digital media for various forms of sensual perception – present alternatives that in fact are not viable options.

The tactile feedback of the results of printing cannot be so simply replaced by the digital media. All the imaginable canned sounds for analogue action or 3D effects on flat screens provided by schematic shadows and light-dark contrasts are only an inadequate substitute for reality and being integrated in a real, temporal space. We cannot avoid or escape this development and at the same time we experience how the digital world tries to link with the factual world and in this way to complete the circle. The range of media and tools available to us as designers is growing wider and more interesting. It remains to be seen how we can deal with the increasing flood of data. Ultimately, the concern is to enable data to become information. Designers can contribute to this by showing interest in their clients’ concerns as regards contents and communication and by getting seriously involved in the exchange between sender and receiver.

In this book we present a number of examples of our work since the 1990s, and show not only the results but also the paths that led to them. In this context I wish to thank all our clients for the trust they have shown in our work and their openness towards our special way of working, which is based on a process-related development of the design. From the very start we were accompanied by talented and committed staff. As early as mid-1976, six months after I had started setting up a studio, I took on my first employee, Roland Schuster. Intensive collaboration in a team was and always is connected with delight in creative processes for and with our clients. Thanks are due to staff members for their valuable contributions and initiatives. In particular I wish to thank my wife Ruth. Through her entrepreneurial confidence, her willingness to work efficiently in both administration and design and also through her personal interest in ensuring the well-being of our clients and staff she remains an important support for our studio to the present day. Our children, Stefan and Andrea, also decided upon a career in applied design. In the early phase of his own independent career, immediately after completing his studies of graphic design and information design, Stefan Gasser worked as a freelancer in our studio. He explained to us how to critically question client briefings, linked with new design approaches and impulses in the area of content-oriented design. After her training in Switzerland and the Netherlands Andrea Gassner joined us as a staff member and is today the creative centre point and a senior partner in Atelier Gassner. I wish to thank all of those who supported us in making this book – in the area of book design Andrea Gassner and Katharina Fründ, for the professional monitoring Marcel Bachmann, for the inestimable conceptual and strategic advice Alberto Alessi, Walter Bohatsch, Ernst Gärnter and Roland Jörg, as well as Dieter Bandhauer, Verlag sonderzahl, Vienna.

Reinhard Gassner, Schlins 2016