The mosaic of graphic design

Brno, 2–5 October 2014


An interview with Žaneta Drgová, a graphic designer and a curator

What does design mean to you?

Design is my passion, something I love. It’s also my occupation because I’m a graphic designer. I devote myself to it fully. It also means a ‘cultivation’ of Czech society to me because I’ve worked abroad, and I think that they’re a little ahead of us aesthetically. It’s also my sort of ‘mission’, too.

You and Lukáš Kijonka head the Studio of Graphic Design 1 at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Brno University of Technology. What does it mean, exactly, to be the head of a studio, and what are you working on with your students at the moment?

I’m a lecturer and a freelance graphic designer, so I work for various clients. Being the heads of the Studio of Graphic Design is a personal project for Lukáš and me, one in which we work as a team and attend to students as much as we can. Just recently, we had a workshop with the artist known as Vladimír 518, which I personally liked very much. It was a lyrics workshop in which we wrote lyrics to a specific theme. At the end of the workshop, students ‘rapped’ their lyrics, and the day was completed with a concert. The starting point of our teaching is what Lukáš and I missed during our studies. We try to enable students to learn about other fields of art and thus broaden their horizons. We provide a link to anyone who can enrich and motivate them. Vladimir 518 enriched them in the field of working with lyrics and also showed them how important self-presentation is. That’s what we often stress to students because they must be able to ‘sell’ their good ideas. At the moment, we’re working on a new identity for Společnost přátel Moravské galerie (Friends of the Moravian Gallery) in the studio. So, as of the new year, you can look forward to their new graphic design.

As part of Meet Czech Design, you organized lectures and all of the events that were held in cafés. So, in particular, this was the interconnection of the graphic design world and the café world. Do you still have any thoughts about this concept?

In Brno, café life is very active, and such interconnection suggests itself. However, I’m now involved in a number of activities we’ve talked about. As part of heading the studio, we often organize lectures and workshops, and we try to hold them on publicly accessible premises, including cafés. We’re always coming up with ideas.

V rámci Meet Czech Design jste zajišťovala přednášky a veškeré události v kavárnách. Především šlo tedy o propojení grafického světa s tím kavárenským. Uvažujete nad tímto konceptem dále?

V Brně je kavárenský život hodně aktivní a toto propojení se nabízí. Momentálně se ale věnuji více aktivitám, o kterých jsme už mluvili. V rámci vedení ateliéru velice často organizujeme přednášky a workshopy a snažíme se je realizovat ve veřejně přístupných prostorách, kterými můžou být právě i kavárny. Zkrátka pořád něco vymýšlíme.

An interview with Radana Lencová, the creator of Comenia Script

The new script, known as Comenia Script, was created on the basis of your doctoral studies at the Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design in Prague. It’s a rather groundbreaking subject, so I can’t but ask, What has lead you to this idea? Did your choice of the topic result from your personal experience?

Certainly, and not just that! I started from the experiences of many other people, both children and adults, who confirmed to me that the current script we learn at school doesn’t work in practice as it should. The topic of a new school script was just one-third of my work entitled ‘Calligraphy Today – Handwriting Script’. I fully developed my design of a new Latin alphabet for handwriting and the entire didactic system connected with it a few years later, when I cooperated with specific schools.  

When we compare current ABC books with historical ones, we almost have a problem to read scripts that are one-hundred years old. Maybe we’ll live to see that, in the future, there might be a tablet with a special programme next to an ABC book… In your opinion, how will script develop in the future?

If we’re talking about handwriting scripts, I think – and I base my opinion on current graphic trends – that the future of script is in its simplification. There may be more playfulness and experimentation in it…

So what’s the current situation regarding the use of Comenia Script? How many schools currently use the didactic materials you designed?

Unfortunately, I can’t say exactly how many schools teach Comenia Script; schools don’t report it to me. My estimate would be a few hundred.

What are you working on at the moment? Is the script being developed any further, or has the concept been completed?

I can say that the concept of the script has been finished. I’m thinking about expanding the didactic materials of Comenia Script for other groups of users, such as adults and physically handicapped children.

I remember how we used to compare the style of our handwriting at elementary school. I was literally astonished by the neatness of the handwriting of some of my classmates. Is it fair to say that beautiful handwriting is art in a way?

Beautiful handwriting is certainly art, but, rather than talking about neat handwriting, I’d like to talk about calligraphy. In calligraphy, people have much more space for self-expression compared with the neat-handwriting drills from which you can’t deviate. It’s important to know that the typical neat handwriting, or penmanship, is no longer taught at schools; it was cancelled in 1932. Unfortunately, the ‘neat handwriting’ of the students of 1st to 3rd grades of elementary schools gradually, and sometimes very early, changes to illegible handwriting. I don’t think I know anyone (apart from teachers) who writes exactly according to the writing specimen through to adulthood.
Of course, fonts, styles of script, and graphic design form a large chapter of design. What does design mean to you personally?

I don’t know why, but, when I hear the word ‘design’, I immediately think of a chair. Sometimes we look at things more than we use them. I currently relate any design to the life around me, thus examining it – furniture, toys, children’s books, shoes, clothing, etc. I enjoy design that’s 100% functional!

An interview with Ľubomír Longauer, a painter and a graphic designer from Slovakia

In your lecture entitled ‘Applied Graphics in Slovakia after 1918’, you talked about a number of significant graphic designers. You mentioned Messrs Galanda, Fulla, and Rossmann. One could feel your enthusiasm for the works of Ľudovít Fulla. What makes this author exceptional in your opinion? Can you tell our readers more about him?
In my opinion, Ľudovít Fulla (1902–1980) is probably the most important Slovak artist of the twentieth century. I’d like to stress that that’s my opinion because the evaluation of the quality of artists is an individual matter. I don’t know to what extent he’s known in the Czech Republic; in his field, he probably is. He was mainly a painter. However, his illustrations of Slovak folk stories, which have been published in many editions and in different languages, were also well known. I’ve been promoting his applied graphics works for 15 years. In particular, his few purely typographic works from the late 1920s, early 1930s are remarkable.
For you Czechs, it’ll be interesting to learn that he studied in Prague, at the Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design; so he didn’t study painting. His main professors were Arnošt Hofbauer and František Kysela. When he was a lecturer in Bratislava, at the School of Applied Arts, he hit the first heights of his artistic career. The majority of the professors of the school were Czech. They, along with Bratislava’s Czechs who were tuned to modern art and with young Slovak enthusiasts, created a moderate but influential foundation for the pioneers of modernism in Slovak art, namely Fulla and Galand. In his memoires, Fulla referred to the director of the school, Josef Vydra, as a philanthropist.
Why is the last book of the ‘Applied Graphics in Slovakia after 1918’ series called 'Taking off the Folk Costume'?
The name comes across as an advertising slogan, and it seems like it’s working. Following the 1918 revolution, Slovaks started to transform from an ethnic minority into a nation. This was also reflected in their culture and art. Slovak culture of art was lacking tradition, and, since villages were the foundation of society, folklore dominated it at the beginning. A certain, although inconsistent, opposition to this direction of culture arose in the 1920s. The core of this culture was first in Bratislava, with the School of Applied Arts being its centre. In 1935, lecturers at the school published a manifesto entitled ‘In the Direction of the Twentieth Century’ (Cestou XX. století), the author of which was the school’s director, Josef Vydra. He gave reasons for the school’s orientation towards ‘new form’ – i.e. modernism. He expressed regret over the extinction of archaic Slovakia; according to the manifesto, it belongs to a museum. He urged Slovakia to enter the twentieth century, but ‘without a folk costume’. This inspired the name of the book.
The subheading of the book is ‘The Circle of the School of Applied Arts’ (Okruh Školy umeleckých remesiel). It also contains profiles of five artists, of which four were teachers at the school; three were Czechs so, from this point of view, the book could be interesting for the Czech public.
You also talked about planning to write eight volumes of your historical work. ‘Taking off the Folk Costume’ is the second volume. What phase are the other books in at the moment? What can we look forward to in the future?
It’s a long-term plan; I don’t know how long I’ll live. It’s possible I won’t be able to finish it. The third volume, which will be dedicated to the students of the School of Applied Arts and to the applied arts works of a group of modernists from Košice, is approaching the final phase. The last two volumes will be dedicated to the 1960s. That’s where I’m going to finish; well, if I can manage. I’ve been doing my research for 15 years, and, at the beginning, I was surprised about the all kinds of stuff that I found. The most significant artists are profiled, including descriptions of their lifelong work in the field of applied graphics.  
And the last question might sound trivial, but it interconnects all of the guests at Meet Czech Design. What does design mean to you personally?
Work. Thanks to design, I still work very intensively, even as a pensioner.

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The mosaic of graphic design

Brno, 2–5 October 2014