A Q&A with Erik Spiekermann

Typography legend, Erik Spiekermann answers a few questions from the Applied studio

Erik Spiekermann is the founder of global branding agency, Edenspiekermann, the designer of 14 font families, the creator of Berlin's metro map, a professor, and a long time friend of Applied's partners. Applied and Edenspiekermann's history goes back all the way to 2008 when the two companies first became affiliated. Erik was nice enough to indulge the type fans in our London studio and answered a few of our questions.

Q: Do you believe creativity to be a gift or something that is learned, or other?

A: The word is overrated anyway, but you can learn a lot that helps you be creative.

Q: It is commonly believed that creativity is taught out of students as they go through school through traditional grading of wrong or right. What would you advocate to be an appropriate design education?

A: Grading is rubbish. I’ve never looked at anybody’s grade. I always look at the person, not what they have done but what they will be able to do in the right environment and with the right projects.

Q: What qualities do you look for in young designers today, and do you think these qualities have changed since you first started in design?

A: Nothing has changed. Arseholes are still arseholes and I wouldn’t want to work with any. Skills are different today, but a good attitude, curiosity and talent have nothing to do with skills.

Q: In your opinion, is the value of design and its impact over or underrated?

A: It’s being hyped in some media to the point of embarrassment, but hasn’t arrived at clients yet.

Q: What do you perceive to be the biggest shift in the design industry in the last 10 years?

A: Rules and regulations don’t last more than a few days. Design manuals are living things, not printed tomes on shelves. All the tools are available, but there is too much to learn. So get back to thinking aloud and drawing. So everything has shifted around us and we’re suddenly back to our basic skills: finding ideas and visualising them.

Q: What do you think will be the most dramatic change in the next 5-10 years?

A: How can I possibly know? All anybody knows about the future is that it’s ahead of us.

Q: If design is about form and substance, why do designers so often feel apologetic to base a decision on how it would look?

A: I have no idea. I don’t feel apologetic ever.

Q: If you had to identify the key professional milestones or experiences that lead you to where you are today, what would they be and why?

A: Too many to mention. Read the book about me.

Q: If there was a font to describe your personality, what would it be?’

A: The original Meta.

Spiekermann created this sans FontFont between 1991 and 2010, it includes 28 weights.
©”Meta-Schriftprobe” Tobias B. Köhler on de.wikipedia

Q: When undertaking a wayfinding project where you are overhauling an already implemented system, like a transport network, how much do you have to compromise your ideas?

A: A lot.

Q: Have you ever been successful in completely restructuring a system?

A: Yes.

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about why you founded Edenspiekermann?

A: Because I left MetaDesign and needed work. When (big) clients came along, they wanted a proper business setup, not just some freelancer in his kitchen.

Q: When designing typefaces that are not client-commissioned, where does the inspiration come from and what are your starting points?

A: I don’t design typefaces unless for a project or client.

Q: I read that you funded your studies by running a printing press in your basement. What did you print?

A: Whatever people wanted: stationery, flyers, business cards.

Q: What design project are you most proud of and why?

A: I am most proud of the BVG Berlin Transit in 1990 because it helped re-unite the two halves of Berlin, it still works and it made the transit experience not only easier but also more pleasant.

I am most proud of the BVG Berlin Transit in 1990 because it helped re-unite the two halves of Berlin

Official Berlin metro map, or should we say, diagram.

Q: Why don’t the Germans have a sense of humour? (Question submitted by Tim, partner of Applied.)

A: I do not understand that question. But if we had a sense of humour, you wouldn’t know because you have to understand the language in order to appreciate its humour. So learn fucking German and get back to me.

Q: Which is your favourite city in the world and why?

A: Berlin, because I live here.