Digital design duo Luise Wilhelm and Timur Çelikel of völlig ohne discuss their work on the New Books in German website and logo redesign.
NBG: What are your backgrounds? What does your job involve and what do you enjoy about it?
TIMUR: I studied digital media and visual arts and communication in Bremen and Istanbul, and have several years’ experience with software development, user experience and interface design.
We founded völlig ohne in 2016 and since then we have worked on a range of playful website and print projects.
LUISE: I studied Graphic Design in Utrecht and Prague. Since 2013 I have worked as an independent Graphic Designer in Berlin with a primary focus on overall concepts.
Creating an identity for a cultural project is like creating a little universe of its own. I love working with project teams. The very initial phases often feel like an experiment. At first everything is wide open, and you can imagine all kinds of possibilities. I love freeing the mind and looking for an interesting yet special angle, trying to look everywhere and leave no stone unturned – even the weird ideas that might not seem to fit at first glance.
Then there’s the part where you have to limit yourself to just one special angle – the process of ‘killing your darlings’ – and building a tight corset out of it. When we’re working within the rules, I love exploring and following the path – and I love breaking the rules, too. I really enjoy it when in the end – if everything has gone well – all the different pieces just fall into place and form their own universe.
NBG: What were your impressions of New Books in German? What were the challenges in translating these impressions into a logo and website design?
LUISE: When I first got in contact with New Books in German, it reminded me more of a fashion magazine! We wanted to create an identity that signals the great deal of attention, expertise and care NBG brings to its subject. We wanted to make users feel they have a personal connection with NBG.
Visitors should enjoy spending a lot of time on the website – because it is easy to use, there’s lots to explore and you want to keep browsing through the books you are interested in – and of course because it is fun.
The most challenging aspect was incorporating the different target audiences and making sure they get immediate access to the different information they are interested in – without separating them or splitting the website.
NBG: What does the new website say about the New Books in German project? What sort of difference can the right website make for a cultural project like this one?
LUISE: A simple yet engaging website with a high level of technical specification makes all the difference. Like the entrance to your building or a business card, the website is a place where people can connect. Of course, the website should provide easy access to information but it should also make users feel welcomed and respected, and it should not get on visitors’ nerves! It should be a nice place to hang out and the character of the project should be reflected in every corner of the site.
NBG: How did you come up with the logo idea? What does it represent?
LUISE: We wanted to stay away from worn out symbols describing literature, so instead we used easy basic shapes that could be anything at first, but that readers and website users would automatically associate with the subject when they were put it into the right context.
The idea is that it should be fun to look at but stay simple at the same time. It should show what it is about, rather than tell.
We wanted it to have edges like books have. Someone who reads a lot would have a bookshelf, with some books perhaps not so neatly stacked. That’s why one of the spines is tilted. This element brings both quirkiness and humanity to the mix, which I love. The colours are fresh and light, to make sure NBG is kept away from dusty literary stereotypes.
We also liked that the arrangement of book spines could be interpreted as a flight of stairs, illustrating the positive impact being selected for inclusion in NBG could have. A winner’s podium – it brings a sense of winning a prize!
NBG: And finally! Have you read any of the books we have reviewed recently?
LUISE: One of my favourite books is Wiener Straße by Sven Regener. I was glad to find it on your website. I am always curious about how books that live through their use of language can be translated into another language, without losing their spirit. Seeing the book on the website and reading the English synopsis made me more sensitive about reading translated books myself and made me wonder how the original writer intended it to be seen. That’s why I think NBG is such a great project, it gives so much attention and care to this subject.
TIMUR: To be honest, the only one I found was Er ist wieder da, which was kinda entertaining. And I haven’t read it yet, but 1000 Serpentinen Angst is already in my bookshelf and was recommended by another website we worked on poco.lit.