Dirk Laucke and Johanna Siebein specialise in creative strategies, dynamic identities, book and web design. Their design studio (based in Amsterdam and Berlin) combines a strategic approach with high-quality design within the scope of different media.
Did anything particularly resonate when you were growing up have a lasting effect on you choosing a creative profession?
DIRK: I was thrilled by Bob Dylan. Just as he can be seen on the cover of ‘The Freewheeling’, he represents my childish idea of an artist perfectly. He even had a girlfriend. I wanted to be exactly like him. Later I discovered the great Bob Dylan Posters by Milton Glaser. I own this poster now. It hangs in my living room and is one of the few things that are important to me.
JOHANNA: Funnily enough my story also starts with music but from the opposite angle. I spent a lot of time playing the cello in different orchestras. In my case this was rather fun and a social thing/aspect than being driven by perfection. And thus I found my way / valve to escape this atmosphere around of being overambitious through (also) making the posters or even scenery for the concerts. This wasn’t professional yet but dedicated.
Do you live far from your place of work?
D: No. Only five minutes by bike. I have always made sure that all the places where I have to be regularly are so close together. The children’s school, the apartment, the office. Everything must be within a radius of max. 2 kilometers. I rarely have contact with others during the day. That distracts me and steals my time. But I like people. But I see them rather in the evening. Preferably in a bar.
J: My commute takes a bit longer as Berlin is of course much bigger than Amsterdam. Sometimes it is like 15 minutes of just cycling and absolutely not thinking of anything, kind of an automatic meditative action. Or it is inspiring and when the penny has dropped by incident I take the long way round.
We have been lucky enough to host both Wim Crouwel and Ben Bos. Dirk, what was it like to work at Total Design as a young professional designer, an agency with such a pedigree and design legacy? Can you reminisce about any standout moments and how it impacted on your aesthetic?
D: Unfortunately both, Wim Crouwel and Ben Bos had left already Total Design at the time I worked there. But there were other smart people. There was one sentence, which has quite influenced me. The former team leader and current director Hans Brandt said to me: ‘Dirk, you do not have prejudices on what is beautiful and what is ugly.’ I still use that quote to admonish myself.
Johanna you worked as an intern with Dirk. Can you both describe that initial work experience and how and why it has developed into such an exciting partnership?
D: Here I may briefly respond. On the first day I saw: Johanna is awesome
J: After my Erasmus year in Enschede at the AKI I thought that I had made good experiences abroad and had some fantastic opportunities but I was missing – in this special field of graphic design and typography – a role model that I could really admire. I have learned a lot from Dirk and I still do. From day one he had confidence in my ability even though I remember some situations where I absolutely was on the wrong track.
How important are non-industry/work related influences on how you think and produce work?
D: Recently I saw an interview with the Swiss actor Christoph Waltz. The bad guy in Tarantino’s film The Inglorious Bastards. Waltz said: I never talk about my characters. It is my truly believe that people want to see themselves when they go to the cinema. If I tell them what they should see, there is no reason anymore to visit the cinema. I think for design it applies exactly the same. Explaining too much is not good. A good design needs a good mystery. Otherwise there is no reason to look at it.
J:Traveling, experiencing the habits and work-arounds of other groups/people is really interesting to me. Some things seem to be dysfunctional, irritating, the other way around. We think that design that only evolves from beauty (think of the hype about bespoke typefaces) is pure hybris. It needs to tell a good story and to wake up our numb habits through breaking rules or doing it just the other way around.
Has the others input made you question the route you had taken?
D: We know our quality standards very well and know what level we expect from each other. If we are not satisfied with the work of the other, we rely on these standards and say: ‘I know you could do this better.’ Luckily that is very rare.
You have quite a diverse client list, any clients that have come to you with a stand out project that has made working with them inspiring?
D: All our clients are inspiring. Otherwise we don’t work for them. Sorry for that stupid answer but believe me if we work for poor clients, we would be invisible within a few years because our work would no longer be relevant then. Our studio has achieved a high level in the field of graphic design. People know this, and we no longer need to prove it. Our next goal is to broaden our expertise in the field of strategy, brand positioning and those things. This becomes more and more important, even for our clients in the field of art and culture.