Die Gestalten Verlag is a publishing company that has a meaning “creating things” in German. Since it has started since 1997, it can be said that this is a young company but many artists have released books from DGV. “Ubersee” magazine is one of the latest publications and this is a special magazine that features only designs without any advertisements and reviews. It is the digital time now but books from Gestalten shines more brightly than others. Interview with Robert Klanten, the president of DGV.

DSOS1: The User’s Manual by Designershock; Die Gestalten Verlag, 2001

Why don’t we start with a little bit about your history, and what lead to the inception of Die Gestalten Verlag. You trained as an Industrial Designer. How do we get from there to founder of the preeminent design publishing house? What were the beginnings of DGV?

Andreas Peyerl, Markus Hollmann-Loges and I studied classical Industrial Design in Essen. Andreas and Markus took off to Berlin around 90 while I spezialized on Design theory and marketing. By around 1988 we were asked to organize and curate a prototype design show as a part of the world’s biggest consumer fair in Frankfurt. The Fair gave us a carte blanche to create our own environment and select whatever we liked under a self defined theme on app. 5.000sqft in the middle of the central hall. The themes were eg.: “Designs Fiction”, “Move”, “Ugly” etc and we ran infamous motto parties events on the weekend. We also printed catalogues for the occasions which were the first books we did.

Index-A by Charles Wilkin; Die Gestalten Verlag, 2003

Around these events we got to know a lot of graphic designers, projection artists, programmers, go-go dancers, DJs, musicians who were involved in the upcoming underground and Techno scene. Soon it seemed much more appealing creating party flyers and record covers on both sides of the former Berlin wall than scraping foam models at BMW. In 92 we stopped doing the Fair and 94 the first book Localizer 1.0 was put together, a compilation on all these designers, labels, clubs, artists and projects around that time. Since then Andreas and Markus run the design studio while I am doing the publishing co. , the “verlag”. As we did not have any money we asked fanzines to include order forms for the book in their publications. More than 1.000 order forms accumulated worth DM 50.000. We presented them to the bank they borrowed us the money, we printed 5.000cps, sold them out in 3 month, paid bills and sent out millions of free copies to everyone involved and were close to broke again. With the upcoming DTP revolution there was a growing interest and demand in visual culture. I got acquainted with the idea of becoming a publisher, raised some money, did some homework and around 1997 DGV seriously took off with the release of 4 titles.

Ubersee 3; Die Gestalten Verlag, 2003

What role do you feel the Internet has played in the design world and its evolution? How has it affected the evolution of Die Gestalten Verlag?

The Internet is important as a research tool, but I feel the effect of making communication and organization much easier is even more important. Certainly the requirements of Internet has helped the upcoming of vector design, but I feel that positive effects on communication where at least as important as its aesthetic influences.

Buro Destruct2 by Buro Destruct; Die Gestalten Verlag 2003

Never before has the line been so blurred between designer and artist, in the digital realm we see many designers working laboriously on personal and collaborative projects of a non-commercial nature. What are your thoughts on the evolution of these blurring distinctions? How do you feel it has impacted DGV? What role do you see Die Gestalten Verlag playing in it? What is your position on the question of designer as artist? What if any distinctions between the two concepts do you see in the current environment?

I may come up with two theories models:

a) The distinction between Art and Design seems to be lying more in the marketing paths (curator and client) than with the content of the work. Both ways offer different possibilities and limitations. A lot of designers imagine to change sides and become “artists” once they are through the groundwork of hassling with clients and … then get really rich and snobby.

b) Art is Art and Design is Design and there are very little terrains which overlap. Art must be free and radical, Design is about solving (other peoples) problems. Design is about organizing space while Art is about the structure ideas, the unexpected and uncharted.

You may decide which theory you’d like to apply based on the situation and your personal favour. Both theories work. Art is about ego, Design is about interaction and one would not function without the other. Art can be enigmatic, Design must not. We are fascinated by both freedom and discipline, but we are suspicious about DIY artists or/and designers who are into it for the wrong reasons. Graphic Design became successful as it provided a platform for a lot of talents to develop their own ideas and present them to a wider public WITHOUT external sometimes irrational limitations coming from curators or clients. We are trying to prepare and constantly redefine and enlarge the platform.

Demanifest by Stephen Johnston and Michael Spoljaric; Die Gestalten Verlag, 2003

You’ve obviously spent a lot of time breaking new ground at DGV, in the creation, layout, and format of your books; certainly foraging into new territory. Who if any, were the people you looked to as reference points, as progenitors for your work?

Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Luis Bunuel, Marlene Dietrich, John Peel, John Lydon, Charlie Parker, Ken Adam, Stanislaw Lem, Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick, Len Lye, Billy Wilder, Siouxsie Sioux, Saul Bass, Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Matthew Barney, Martin Scorsese, Bernard Hermann, dozens of writers, hundreds of musicians.

72-dpi; Die Gestalten Verlag, 2003

Many if not all of the designers you work with are not only working in the print medium but also digital, video and others. What difficulties did these other mediums present in portrayal for you on the page, and how did you overcome them?

In 3Deluxe, DSOS1, 72-dpi Anime, Device, Writing and other books a DVD or CDR is included which presents digital material. dsos1 is the best example I guess how a book on a series of digital projects might work. Print certainly has limitations, but also offer the possibilities not to just recapitulate digital work on paper, but reinterpreting the content.

What a Happy Life & Death! by Furi Furi Company; Die Gestalten Verlag, 2002

At a time when so many publishing companies are looking at ways to take things which are printed and make them digital, your company is regularly doing the exact opposite. You have successfully made paper extremely relevant to a digital culture. To be tapped to do a book by DGV is to have reached a high degree of success in design. What are your thoughts on this dichotomy? Do you see a dichotomy there or do you see something else? What are your thoughts on the future of paper versus the digital, the electronic? Where is DGV going with respect to these issues?

Books are physical, they weigh, smell and even burn. The human tendency towards material is much older than books. You touch and possess, for some people there is an almost metaphysical relation between material and the material carrying the information. Materialisation focuses on turning often fleeting design elements (e.g web structures) into tangible objects to impart them with a lasting, physical substance. The tactile element, an adequate transformation that doesn’t stoop to short-lived sensationalism, plays a vital part in this: the idea of “form follows function” is joined by the equally important “function follows form”. Printed work can claim an enormous fetish character – people primarily concerned with virtual or abstract design use books to reclaim and materialise their own lifestyles. Music fans, too, feel this passionate urge to possess their cherished sounds in the original packaging or possibly a special edition – homemade copies would not suffice. By and by the possibilities offered within the digital realm will blend with materialized content. At this point nobody buys a book because of an additional DVD or CDR. The content is still vitual the silver disk could contain almost any crap. It will take some time until the more abstract digital content will become accepted. It is about changing paradigms.

Writing by Markus Mai and Arthur Remke; Die Gestalten Verlag, 2003

As you look into the future, do you see the different medias continuing to merge? What do you think this will mean for design? What will it mean for DGV?

It means to keep watching what is happening around us, to test and to fail at times. Imagine a travel book. You could easily imagine might contain analogue information (photos, charts), hyperlink to the web (for any information that might change regularly like telephone numbers, list of hotels, tide charts etc) and a DVD (with some clips on the location, hikes, music etc). Future book concepts will use the advantages of different media.

Die Gestalten Verlag
Address: Mariannenstr. 9/10, 10999 Berlin, Germany
Tel: +49-30-729-13-2000

Text: Jonathan Carr from Negative Space Media

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