AIGA SmallTalk: Lars Müller


What a treat to have fellow swiss, Lars Müller, speak at one of the wonderful AIGA Small Talks here in NYC. Lars Müller is a well respected figure in the graphic design, architecture and photography publishing world. You might know or own the infamous Helvetica: Homage to a Typeface Book, which is definitely one of my favorites.

Michael Bierut introduced Lars Müller, pointing out how impressed he is by the fact that even though Müller is mostly his own client, he doesn’t become self-indulgent but manages to stay focused and maintain a very straight-forward, objective design sense. Bierut admires how Müller’s layouts always look precise, engaging and guide the reader right to the content.

In his presentation Lars Müller went through his impressive roster of architecture, design and photography books he’s published. He started off his presentation with the question: Why the hell do all designers want to design books? Müller tells us about his realization and fascination about a book being a graphic design medium which is meant to last. His first publishing experiment was Die gute Form, by the schweizer werkbund, a post bauhaus movement. It was his first book publishing experience and his first experience for this full responsibility for a product. “When you are your own client you really have to do this odd self-dialogue with yourself. You always have to try to anticipate the expectations of your audience.”

What became clear from his talk was that Müller always builds up a close relationship to the subject, author or the artist of the book. And that relationship is what has kept him independent so far. He explains that he does books with friends or that authors become friends. “This is the privilege of a one-man business”.

Müller points out how gathering the actual content of a book is such a huge process and part of the design of a book. And he admits that every book he publishes has a little biographical annotation or relationship to something that plays a role in his life.

Müller explained how he sees the designer as a ‘political being’. “Designers tend to escape into the niche of beauty. We give a value to what we do but somehow the political awareness disapears.” Müller started thinking about the possibilities and capacities he had to bring ‘a message across’ with his work. It’s this thinking that led him to create The Face of Human Rights.

He points out how everything we do in our life is somewhat connected to human rights. The visual idea of this book was to express normality, as the best expression of human rights is normality, every day life, freedom, normal behavior.

Another comment that I thought was interesting was his thought on ‘a rhythm of reading’: “When you look through a visual book you get into rhythm and you start to breath in a certain rhythm, and reading shouldn’t stop that rhythm. That’s why in some of his books the copy is short enough to guide you on this path of ‘visual reading’.

Müller points out how editing images for a book is design work. “Never expect an editor to hand the images over to you. Involve yourself in editing process. Celebrate images you like!”

One of the guests asked what the Human Rights book means for Lars Müller Publishers going forward as it seems to have been a turning point in his career. His answer: “I made one step out of the niche but still stay there! I now simply have an expanded playground. Its not a reaction against something I’ve done before, I just expanded my territory. I still believe the aesthetic culture is a very strong engine in driving and teaching our society functions and how we relate to other societies.”

7 Comments leave a comment below

  1. Thanks so much for writing this up, I was wondering how it turned out!
    We were supposed to go and we opted for a lecture at HUGE INC. instead, which was NOT worth the trip to DUMBO( … :(

  2. ever since i was little i personally gravitated towards books with unique cover art, then those that didn’t. i didn’t buy them JUST because they looked cool…but as a graphic design nerd it told me that the writer and publisher thought a bit more about what the book should say to people visually.

  3. Co-Sign that Hazel I have a personal problem of going into a book store and buying books I will never read but want to own because I’m intrigued by the book cover. Is there any video of Lars Muller presentation? Would love to see it.

  4. Looked like a great talk, thanks for putting up the snippets. His idea about design and the connection to human rights is very interesting.

  5. Is it online somewhere?

  6. What seems like a variation of that talk, named ‘If this was not the End, what is the Future of Print?’ is available on the Canadian Center for Architecture’s Video Podcast.〈=eng