Lena Weber is a graphic-system designer between Weimar and Berlin focusing on the development of experimental design tools and typographic systems. During her studies at the Bauhaus-University Weimar she positioned herself as a multidisciplinary designer, exploring the intersection of creative coding, typography, and visual research.
She recently published a web-based design tool, called Mono-Tool. The tool invites designers to play with Lena’s shapes, gradients, and compositions with a random twist. Mono-Tool proposes specific limitations, which force the designer to adopt a new workflow.
Lena, first of all, congratulations on your fantastic work, and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I would like to start the interview by showing some of your previous work that might have played a role in the birth of the Mono-Tool. Can you name a couple of works and explain why they might have laid the groundwork for Mono-Tool?
First of all, thank you for your interest in this project and for having me for this interview!
During my studies – mainly taking typography courses – I developed a huge interest in designing systems that focus on the generation of shapes.
In 2018 I made a set of square modules that could be pieced together to make abstract shapes. I exported them as a font file called »Poster Mono«. From there I expanded my archive with many different sketches/designs, reaching from readable to pattern-like. There really are only two rules: One set needs to be cohesive and I always start with the same square, so that all my sets could theoretically fit together.
Input-wise that whole archive is the inspiration behind Mono-Tool. Interface-wise I was always looking for the right “medium” to use these components to their full potential as a tool. I still export my sets as a .ttf/.otf file, to type them using the keyboard as an interface, but there are some limitations: Rotating and stretching leads to vectorizing the text field, losing flexibility, etc.
I started to write Processing sketches to make random combinations to combat that problem, with Mono-Tool I wanted to make an Interface that is both interactive and also random.
I am especially interested in the organic shapes you designed for the Mono-Tool, which you call “Spike Shapes”. They interest me that much because even though the modules are rectangles, they don’t appear to be rectangles when combined, because of the specific way how you drew the organic shapes. Can you explain the system behind the shapes and why the modules combine so well with each other?
Yes! The Spike shapes (I hate naming stuff can you tell haha) are the only set online at the moment. When designing a set I think a lot more about the “in-between” of components than the visual itself. To me, how the components interact with each other is way more important than how they look on their own. When starting a set of components I decide on a simple grid and rules, which may sound dry but I tend to think the freedom is in using the system/set rather than designing it. The Spike Set is a set of random points on a grid and the corners, connected by a smooth curve.
Lena, you mentioned that the creation of modular systems and tools is the most satisfying way of expressing your ideas while simultaneously sharing them with others. Can you elaborate on why you find creating systems and sharing tools so satisfying?
I think tools make these systems not only usable but explainable. This is a huge advantage when one creates abstract systems during their studies that are not necessarily intended for a specific use case, but for self-expression, fun, and in the end to create jobs. The term tool is a bit of a double-edged sword, it is a lot more digestible than an umbrella term like system but I also believe Mono-Tool is a system that is designed in a way it produces my work no matter who uses it. In the end Mono-Tool was made as an experiment to create complicated yet aesthetically pleasing visuals with just a few random clicks, to prove how powerful a system can be.
Definitely. A system, when applied through a tool, is very powerful. Instead of writing a design manual which can always be interpreted wrongly by whoever is applying the visual identity, you can design/code a tool which has the rules embedded and makes misinterpretation impossible.
In which ways do you think Flexible Visual Systems and Creative Coding can create interesting synergies?
Once you have a system there is the possibility to explore its boundaries. In Creative Coding you can automate, generate, randomize and iterate, these make for great exploration tactics I think. Systems and programming share so many qualities because they are basically the same, when you code a script that controls a graphical system you really just systematically define how you imagine the system being used. System-ception!
A system creates its own aesthetic because it’s only susceptible to its own rules, creative coding is a very direct way to implement it.
Creative Coding opens the possibility of creating visuals that are tied to variables.
I normally follow these steps.
- Know what variables you want to explore (In what way the system is flexible)
- Define the scope of flexibility
- Experiment and script a representation of that scope
In your master thesis, you write about the ambiguity of coded design. Where do you see the ambiguity and why does it matter to you?
A more philosophical approach to design is very inspiring to me, thinking about broad open questions is always a great catalyst to come up with ideas or a fresh perspective.
The “Ambiguity of coded imagery” that I wrote about relies on viewing it as two balanced interpretations. One the one hand coded images are designed means of communication and on the other hand a data visualization. The balance of the two is important.
I think this view can be transferred to flexible visual systems too. For me personally I enjoy using a systematic workflow and groundwork, but the output doesn’t always have to look purely systematic. I look for the balance of structural simplicity and visual complexity.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Creating custom systems for clients and providing them with tools/applications that use these systems. I see myself working at the intersection of typographic/graphical systems, coding and research.
At the moment I’m about to release an independent type foundry that focuses on modular type design, I can see myself running it for a while!
I’m sure that we are going to see system based graphics reinvented over and over in the next 10 years: I’m excited for the ride! Oh and I also really want to get a cat!