A TALK WITH PROF. CLAUDIUS LAZZERONI

08 November 2006
Daniel Karczinski and Peter Martin
Daniel Karczinski and Peter Martin

In their hunt for a glimpse of the corporate design of the future, Daniel Karczinski and Peter Martin talked to Professor Claudius Lazzeroni.

METK: If someone asked you for the ultimate formula for good CD, what would you say?

CL: I'm not particularly interested in formulae. I find research much more exciting, that's why I'm at the university. There I'm not primarily concerned with results, but about getting the stone rolling. I find it exciting to initiate processes and to develop ideas out of how things progress. In terms of the question, I would say that such a formula does not exist, because each brand has to be considered as unique.

METK: If there is no formula, how do you then prepare your people for reality?

CL: First I impress upon them the need to take a wider perspective in their perceptions. Many are only able to perceive the media, and they have difficulty experiencing and analysing sensory impressions. I try to heighten their awareness of the risks and contradictions in this reality and I teach them to think. It is this process of reflection which enables the transformation to media to take place at all.

METK: Does it matter which medium you are talking about?

CL: Initially it doesn't matter at all. But the aim is to enable people to experience the brand. That can also take place in a spatial context. The experience is the most important thing, and the medium is actually only the means to an end. Of course, each medium does that in the best way it can.

METK: Your company is involved with media in a spatial context?

CL: Yes, exactly. Together with Triad.Berlin, I started stall interface ag, and in this I have combined my years of working towards a grammar of media with the possibilities of spatial settings. The projects of Triad.Berlin demonstrate an exceptional potential for translating complex contents into worlds that can be experienced through the senses. I am interested in the exciting, but unpretentious integration of media, and creating the necessary dramatic narrative for it. Only in this way can in future the brand identities be maintained in communication.

METK: Who are your clients? What do they want to achieve?

CL: They want to bring the experience of their brand closer to their customers and potential customers. And they want to make this experience as intensive as possible.

METK: How can this experiential quality be brought about?

CL: In my view a brand is experienced when it makes an impression on your senses. Like when all the senses perceive a brand, not just the sense of sight. This is a big subject for me. Seeing is just one faculty, and too much weight is attached to it.

METK: What if a former student comes to you and asks for a few tips on how to make a brand 'experiencable'. What do you say to him?

CL: I throw him out and tell him never to come back to the university.

METK: But there are lots of people out there, opening up novum and looking for answers to just that question

CL: Oh, well that's different. But there are nevertheless no magic formulae. None of the standard solutions given in response to that question actually work. First you have to understand the brand, if you are going to transport its message through the senses. You have to know something about how we perceive things, if we are going to appeal to those senses. For me, experience means managing to make something happen in the stomach and up there [points to his head]. You have to keep that aim very firmly in mind in the individual forms of communication. If you aren't consistent, you diminish the experience.

METK: You originated the expression 'dramaturgy of the intermediate space'. What does this mean?

CL: The logo, business paper, business cards and the annual report all have their part to play, but so, too, does space. For me, the intermediate space is the space between the one who wants to communicate something, and the one who receives that message. This can be bridged through the use of media, then it's additionally virtual.
It 's a matter of exploring the laws of these intermediate spaces and then using them as a sensible communication element. This is not new - but through the increasing application of media, it has a special focus.

METK: Moving on to another topic, how do clever designers nowadays cope with the mountains of information they have to process?

CL: They go into the woods and collect mushrooms. Or perhaps they get annoyed about it and conclude that much could be simplified by trying to concentrate on the particular qualities of each medium. But things have to be separated much more rigorously. It's no use welcoming people onto a website with a continuous Flash trailer, and then not even including the telephone number of the company. Another example would be a reception hall, with just a bunch of flowers on a table - visitors wander about helplessly looking for where to go. No use at all. I think it would be very helpful if people agreed more clearly on individual media, which then logically convey certain information, thus channelling the information flow and making the right information available to me at the right moment.

METK: If different messages are sent via the different media, then the user is getting different content about the brand from different quarters.

CL: No, he's getting the right message. I know then in which media I get just the thing I am looking for and it's up-to-date and relatively fast. You don't start by putting high-resolution pictures on the web, just to show the annual report online. No, this is the place for up-to-date figures, the emotional side comes through the letter box, or via the THX system or at the AGM. That's the thinking. But advances in technology are changing all this. In five years, after the establishment of wideband media, whole sections of this interview will sound ridiculous. Only the way of thinking and the approach remain as the goal.

METK: Then you ought to be teaching students today what each individual medium is best at.

CL: Exactly. At college they first have to take everything apart. I try to develop a foundation course which starts with the definition of a pixel. Aspects like sound, form and typography have to be redefined in the media context of space and time. What does moving typography mean when it comes to reading? It doesn't have the same spacing as lettering that is fixed. The objective is a different one, the legibility is different, and so, too, is the perception function. Suddenly the eye stays still in order to read.
In other words a sensitivity is developed for what design parameters fit which aspects. In this way you develop a set of guidelines. The way I see it, the designers of the future are all dramatists. They are producers who no longer think in static terms, but in terms of dynamics.

METK: What does that have to do with the message behind the brand? What is the screenplay based on?

CL: I don't think anything will change there. It is still based on the brand message. What's important is a thorough understanding of the company philosophy. This should always be part of the basic kit.
In recent years, however, this has not always been the case. Start-up companies would come into the agency with the sole intention of floating on the stock exchange inside two months. Before there was even an understanding of what the business was all about. The economic downturn has put the dampers on that kind of thing. I hope that in future designers will have more to do with decision-makers who know what they want and who identify stronger with their companies. This outline may not map out the screenplay, but the material out of which I can write it. And it tells me whether it should be an opera or a short film.

METK: CD and change is also such a theme. How can a CD which is built up from the start in the right identity, hold out against changes in the moral climate. You just have to think about the emblem of the oil giant Shell that has been redesigned 15 times.

CL: Every time I see the old Shell logo, I wonder why they relaunched it. Why shouldn't a brand keep its old logo? An 'old' logo also shows that there is continuity even in ever-changing times. Why brands always try to give themselves a fresh new look, I'm not sure.

METK: CD isn't just about a logo or logotype, it's also about the whole world around that.

CL: You spoke earlier about the brand. If the brand is the logo, then I am ambivalent there. With all the other dramaturgical elements you can update the statements and adapt them to suit the times. But that's no reason to adapt the logo. But that is really a difficult question. I personally think it's quite exciting when a brand represents continuity and I am more tempted to change other broader aspects.

METK: There have been some very 'militant' corporate designers, such as Ottl Aicher. Identity was then guaranteed when you applied CD with the typometer in the hand. Do you think that's alright?

CL: Ottl Aicher grew up in his time, when the emphasis was very different. I think that paying attention to proportion and precision is something we miss very much nowadays. Without being a cultural pessimist, I think this laissez-faire, where anyone can do what they like, is a bad thing. It takes away options. On the one hand it's no fun any more to be different, because everyone is different, and everything is bigger, brasher and 'better'. On the other hand we lose our inquisitiveness, our curiosity. Students today often don t want to find out anything for themselves; they want recipes. I try to tell them that if they were more inquiring, they would perhaps have more success. It's now that they are studying, that they have the chance to form their own language, and they are getting lots of support in doing this. This natural exploration and finding out is lost because we live in a society which sets tremendous store by results. Why bother to be inquisitive, when the whole thing will just be thrown back in our faces? This increasing sameness with less and less true craft skill makes me yearn for somebody like Ottl Aicher. But today inspiring students to inquire for themselves wouldn't work so well with the authoritative ways of an Ottl Aicher, you have to be much more cunning.

METK: But can such rigorous and rigidly planned corporate designs like those of Ottl Aicher still exist in the present day?

CL: Perhaps they are more up-to-date than ever before. Just think of the trend nowadays for stripping away everything but the essentials. But really I don't believe that there is 'a time' for something or not. It's the courage to stand still. It's not the next software update that will bring the solution, but the internalisation of a new way of seeing, or a new perspective on things.

METK: When I was a student I asked Kurt Weidemann what the signs of the future should be able to do. His have to be capable of animation, and the cost must be economical. A few years ago he was the one to do the relaunch of the DB logo. He increased the functionality of the logo through the right application of light, and, keeping to the same area, made it visible from 120 metres instead of just 80 m. Also, he saved the railways 250,000 euros per year in paint costs for putting the logo on trains. Quite a convincing argument, don't you think?

CL: Basically he recaptured the essence of the logo.

METK: But do you like it?

CL: You can't ask that with this logo. You have to ask me about a logo which doesn's sit quite so deep inside me, something that hasn't been a part of me since childhood. All I can say is that I like it better than the old one. What's interesting is that I don't know why I like something. SONY's logo, for example, I really like. But I can't say if it has anything to do with my first SONY Walkman that I bought in the 1980s, or if it's to do with the picture marque, or the amusing story about the way the brand name came about.

METK: But let's get away from the old and the familiar. With Eurex we moved away from 'don't touch the logo'. There it was said that a logo is a programme which must develop itself and extend over every medium. Here it was about sensory experience - 'touch the logo'. The eclat which this logo caused speaks of a liquid identity.

CL: I like that because I am no defender of 'don't touch the logo'. I find a brand exciting when it holds firm, when it appears in a variety of materials and shapes, and yet still remains the brand. With Coca Cola you just need to show a snippet of the wording and still we all know what it is - which of course has a tremendous influence on the recognisability of the brand. Actually it's just a zooming in and zooming out, or placing in another context. Things really get exciting when a brand is so strong that it works in just about everything. This is a kind of test, actually. If you have a complicated construct, which can't transfer to another context, you see just how limited it is.

METK: Let's go one step further. Ruedi Bauer designed the new CD for the Centre Pompidou. For him the CD became a kind of space on which to play, a texture. He believes there are no fixed identities. So he translated the name Centre Pompidou into all the languages of the world and put a texture on top of it.

CL: I liked the old symbol better. It's firmer. Also the Centre Pompidou is an institution which thrives on the amazing variety of things it presents. I think its very worthwhile to give this variety a firm framework, a place in which it can all take place, and to communicate that place. The Centre shows this colour and variety through what it does. For me the new CD is an attempt to communicate the colour and variety of a brand.

METK: The question is who is the main protagonist.

CL: Exactly. In this case the Centre Pompidou brand is more colourful than that which brings it colour, i.e. the exhibitions. I would think something like this is more suited to an international company that for the last fifty years has been making black wood screws in twenty different sizes. With an institution like the Centre Pompidou, I would find it appropriate to give space to the communication of its activities, by holding back on the presentation of the institution.

METK: We have realised that only in a very few cases can a client describe themselves in five sentences. Here, with our client Viadee, we worked out the core messages and added a communication idea. We conveyed the identity to the employees in workshops, the aim being that they could then transport this like a visiting card, and explain the core messages. This then turns them into CI messengers. This process is what we mean with 'tell the logo'.

CL: Using stories to get people to be brand messengers is a good idea. But towards the outside it's important that this message can also stand on its own feet, which is why the story should be expanded. It would be bad if the logo made no sense without the story. If it creates a link on its own, then you've achieved it. For me, this is then a good opportunity to promote understanding internally, without having to wave a CD guide all the time.

METK: What will music mean for a brand in the future? Is it an element that can take things further?

CL: Most certainly. You can see it with Deutsche Telekom. You just have to hear the sound logo and you know what it's all about. However, this whole area is as yet completely underdeveloped. It will become much more important in the future.



About this article
Article was first published in novum World of Graphic Design 08/02 and is reprinted with permission. Visit the forum and have your say to this topic.