Learn to Work with and Think in Systems

We need a system change in design. We learned the wrong methodologies, hired for the wrong tasks, and used for the wrong purposes. If we start seeing the world in systems, we enable us to change the systems that condition us.

Flexible Visual Systems (FVS) is the term that marks the paradigm shift in communication design, from static to flexible. We are witnessing this shift in all design disciplines and it will change how design is learned, made, and experienced.

My name is Martin and I am developing learning material, like online courses, interviews, and articles that will give you the tools to think and work with flexible systems. From hands-on methods to improve your creative process to a systemic view of our role in design, communication, and society in general.

My courses and course-related articles are available through Patreon. You have to sign up or log in HERE to access them. If you want to know what exactly you will get by signing up, go to my PATREON page. Thank you!

In this course, we are going to look at the history of systems in graphic design. Looking back is helpful to understand why we are where we are at the moment. What needs to change and what should be conserved? The History Course, having a strong focus on Visual Identities, Typography, and Type Design is a perfect foundation course for any practical course.

Lesson 1: Introduction
Looking back is helpful to understand why we are where we are at the moment, but also to make sure there is something worth rescuing from the past to the present. Let’s start by defining what a Visual Identity is.

Lesson 2: Designing Languages
What we are witnessing is not just a trend, but a shift in how organizations, institutions, and corporations are communicating. The Visual Identity is changing its mechanisms.

Lesson 3: Logo ≠ Visual Identity
Many still consider the logo to be the centerpiece of a Visual Identity, if not the entire Visual Identity. But slowly our way of thinking is changing.

Lesson 4: Why Identities became more flexible?
There has been a fast-growing interest in FVI’s in the last decades, with lots of design studios starting to abandon the idea of the logo as the centerpiece of a VI, instead dedicating their practices to the development of visual systems for FVI’s. 

Lesson 5: Are FVI’s a new thing?
Even though the application of a Flexible Visual System might have been harder in the pre-Internet, or even pre-screen era, you can find many examples of Flexible Visual Systems in the history of design- and non-design-related disciplines.

Lesson 6: The Design Manual
Design manuals have been created ever since a design needed to be applied by someone other than the original designer. The manual gives strict instructions about the proportions of a design. Often geometric constructions such as grids are used in order to be as precise as possible.

Lesson 7: The Design Template
While a design manual is merely a guide to reconstructing a specific design and contains the possibility of interpretation, a template does not allow any deviation from the master design. 

Lesson 8: The Construction Kit
Limiting the number of elements a design is composed of isn’t just an economical decision. It also simplifies the overall appearance and makes its recognition easier.

Lesson 9: The Program
In 1964, Gerstner wrote a book called Designing Programmes. While the previous types I mentioned deal with tangible objects, Gerstner’s ideas are intangible at first. Rather than drawing concrete shapes, Gerstner designs programs that generate forms.

This course will make your creative process more efficient and effective without taking any of the creative freedom you need. It helps you to focus, go deeper in your exploration, make the design process transparent, identify key elements, and distinguish between the ones that work and the ones that make the result weaker.

Lesson 1: Systematic Creativity, an Oxymoron?
Systematic creativity makes your work more efficient and effective, without taking away any of your creative freedom. On the contrary, it will boost your creativity.

Lesson 2: System Theory
If System Theory leads to System Thinking, System Design should lead to System Doing. 

Lesson 3: Limitation
Have you ever limited yourself to one color scheme, one set of pens, one software, a small number of shapes, or one typeface? If you have, you probably have developed, consciously or unconsciously, a system.

Lesson 4: Iterations
Systems can become very complex, and possibilities are endless, so how do I not get lost?

Lesson 5: Fritz Zwicky
Even the search for the variables you want to use can be systematic. Instead of picking them randomly, you can work with a morphological box to become aware of all the possibilities, before you pick one consciously.

Lesson 6: Karl Gerstner
You can’t add more parameters to the box because it only has three axes. The only way to add more parameters is to convert the cube into a plane, or a table, and use the rows for the parameters and columns for the values of the parameters.

Lesson 7: A box for FVS
The morphological box of Gerstner I showed in the last lesson is from the book “Designing Programs”. Its purpose was, besides explaining how the morphological box method by Zwicky works, to show the options a designer has when designing wordmarks. But knowing how design has moved on since the sixties, towards less logo-based and more systems-based visual identities, I was wondering what a morphological box for flexible systems for visual identities might look like.

In this course, you will learn how to design flexible systems for visual identities based on form. The 3-Step method “Components, Assets, Application” is the main approach in the book Flexible Visual Systems. Being able to design custom assets does not just help you design distinctive visual identities, it also speeds up your application process and opens it up to co-workers.

Lesson 1: Introduction
In this course, you will learn how to design flexible systems for visual identities based on form. The 3-Step method “Components, Assets, Application” is the main approach used in the book Flexible Visual Systems

Lesson 2: What do I mean by …?
Before I show you how helpful this three-step approach to designing flexible visual systems is, let me explain some of the terms I am constantly using.

Lesson 3: Components
In this lesson, you will design your own custom component which you will use later to design your assets. Using your own components makes your visual identity distinctive.

Lesson 4: Asset Symbols
Assets are an efficient way to enable teamwork. But also if you are working alone you will see that you will be much faster by applying pre-build assets. 

Lesson 4.1: Asset Line
The next asset we are going to build is a line because a line is nothing else than the one-directional repetition of a component.

Lesson 4.2: Asset Frame
Using the line assets from the last lesson and deleting components I am creating frames.

Lesson 4.3: Asset Shape
Shapes with characteristic edges are very useful assets too. I use them as masks and place illustrations, photos, or text inside of them.  And they are soooooooo easy to make. 

Lesson 4.4: Asset Letters
Using the components you designed, you can design a distinctive modular font. 

Lesson 4.5: Asset Pattern
It is obvious, but patterns are a fantastic asset too. You can find them in any culture, they can be adapted to any format and application and are easy to build with just one component and a couple of colors.

Lesson 5: How to Apply Your Assets?
In each lesson, I already made suggestions on how you could use your assets. You might think that there are infinite ways how to apply them, but you know what? There are actually only four ways to apply your components and assets.

Lesson 6: Put the Learned into Action
You made it! This is already the end of the course! Congratulations! Before I say goodbye and see you soon, I will sum up what we have done and how you could make use of it

The CAA Method Explained
I am explaining in this footnote the dynamics of the design processes of form-based visual systems.

Stacked Components
In the CAA course, I am not discussing the possibility of stacking components. Here are a couple of case studies of visual identities using stacked components.

Lena Weber
In my book Flexible Visual Systems as well as the course The CAA Method I am working with basic geometric shapes to make keep the identities as generic as possible, so you would substitute them for other shapes. Lena shows you how to work with organic shapes.

Interview with Supermarket
At the beginning of the year, William McLean contacted me, and what he showed me blew my mind. Supermarket, the design studio he co-directs with Kernow Craig and Jeremy Walker, has built a design tool, based on the chapter about form-based systems in my book Flexible Visual Systems. It is so good, I had to interview them.

Designing Flexible Type Systems is my favorite thing to do. In this course, I am giving you a general introduction to type design, and then show you how I develop flexible type systems for visual identities. This is going to be fun!

Lesson 1: Amuse Gueule
This is the fourth course I developed for!!! To celebrate this milestone I am releasing the first lesson of this course for free for everyone! It is an Amuse Gueule that hopefully motivates you to keep on studying systems in type design. 

Lesson 2: Form Follows Function
I hope you enjoyed the first lesson and are ready to dive into a deeper understanding of typography, type design, and lettering. When I say “deeper” I refer to everything you need to know about systematic type design in general and modular letter design.

Lesson 3: Form Follows Function II
Let us look in this lesson at a more detailed distinction between different types of fonts, and the new DIN classification. It is really helpful to learn something about the architecture of letters and their readability.

Lesson 4: Form Follows Tool
In this lesson I will explain the theory of Gerrit Noordzij, which is easy to understand, and therefore a very powerful tool for teachers and students alike.

Lesson 5: Form Follows Grid, Part 1
In the last lesson, you learned about how Form Follows Tools and the theory of Gerrit Noordzij. One of the most important lessons in type design. Learning to use or make a writing tool is a very interesting subject I might explore in another Footnote Article or FVS Course. But we have a task we must focus on Modular Type Design. 

Lesson 6: Form Follows Grid, Part 2
In this lesson, I would like to have a look at grids. What are they good for? What is the right kind of grid? Are there more than just grids made of squares and rectangles?

Lesson 7: Form Follows Grid, Part 3
In part three of the Form Follows Grid lessons of the Modular Type course, I will summarize the modular approach to type design from my book Flexible Visual Systems. Paying attention to the details of the components is a beautiful way of making complex lettering with relatively simple letter structures. This approach lets you use your component creation skills from the CAA (Components, Assets, Application) course.

Lesson 8: The Grid of Tp ESPN Next
In the last lesson, I showed you grids that are built by the repetition of triangles or squares of the same size. In this lesson, I will show you a grid that works with modules of different sizes to obtain column and row gaps. I will also show you how diagonals need optical corrections in a rectangle grid to appear of similar weight. 

Lesson 9: Components First
In the last lesson, I showed you a grid with column and row gaps, how the design of the font emerged out of the grid, and how the grid helped to establish consistency. In this lesson, I will show you that you do not need a grid to achieve consistency.

Interview with the Elisava Master students
Since 2006 I have taught at the prestigious Barcelona design school ELISAVA, and even co-directed a Postgraduate Degree. At the Master of Visual Design, led by Marc Panero, I have taught since 2020 a fun workshop on Systemic Type Design. Although we just have 5 days, the results are always beyond everyone’s expectations.

Interview with Mitch from Dia
DIA is a Brooklyn-based creative studio specializing in kinetic identity systems, graphic design, and typography. The core team are Mitch Paone, Meg Donohoe, and Deanna Sperrazza. With clients ranging from Nike and Samsung to the U.N., DIA’s work has reached international fame through its unique mixture of traditional and kinetic typography.

Interview with Felix from Feixen
Felix Pfäffli, who founded Studio Feixen in 2009. Felix teaches at the Fachklasse Grafik Luzern and is the youngest member in the history of AGI. Besides winning prizes worldwide, he has also given lectures and organized exhibitions and workshops. In his own words, he is responsible for the “necessary chaos” in Studio Feixen’s designs.

What’s Next?

Thanks to my lovely Patrons, I am able to work tirelessly on new courses. If you want to get a glimpse of the courses I am planning to make in the future, have a look at the FVS Curriculum below. All new releases will be communicated through my weekly Patreon newsletter. Sign up, enjoy all the exclusive content, and help me keep on developing new material! Thank you! Martin 🙂

The FVS Curriculum
Light Grey = Courses I am working on
Yellow = Footnotes to Courses
Light Pink = Additional Learning Material