The editors of Neuland, a recent compendium of up-and-coming German graphic designers, struggled with all the usual big, philosophical questions while putting their book together: What is German design? What is German? Who cares? If they were Ellen Lupton or Steven Heller, they might have spent pages upon pages ruminating on these issues. Instead, they did what any editors who are actually designers by trade might do — they asked their 51 subjects for all the answers. In mini-interviews accompanying each entry, some said German design was “a cuckoo clock,” while others described it as “strips of pork” or “a bit chilly.” Each subject was also asked to submit a picture of their studio surroundings, of their workspace, and of “something utterly German.”
Although the book has a lot of moving parts — a selection of which we’ve presented here — it’s more than just the sum of them. As you reach the end, you may not have a firm grasp on what, if anything, makes nationality so important in one of the world’s most globalized professions, but you do get to know Germany’s next generation of talent in small but poignant ways, right down to their enduring obsession with currywurst.
When Henry David Thoreau took to the woods in 1845 to begin his Walden experiment, it was more of an exercise in social deprivation than an outright attempt to recharge his creative batteries. But his flight from civilization does prove that he — and all the generations of writers and makers who have flocked to sylvan retreats for productivity’s sake — felt every bit as besieged by the distractions of modern life as we do nearly two centuries later. Paging through Arcadia (Gestalten, 2009), a catalog of contemporary architectural hideaways built among trees and mountains, all I could think about was how powerful a tool nature has always been in creative life: We need to be immersed in culture to inform the things we create, but we also desperately need escape to give our minds the space to process it.
Ah, the impotence of the urban dweller. Ever since the Best Made Company axe debuted this spring, you’d be hard-pressed to find a New Yorker who isn’t dying to snap open that wooden case and heave the Tennessee hickory–handled thing at… well, what, exactly? “At first I thought a lot of New Yorkers would buy them,” says Peter Buchanan-Smith, the New York–based graphic designer who founded the company along with his childhood pal Graeme Cameron. But it turns out the best audience for an axe — even one with a handle saturated in gorgeous shades of spray paint — is a person who actually might use an axe.
Francesca Gavin is a London-based writer, editor, and blogger, and, like you and me, she’s a major voyeur. For her book Creative Space: Urban Homes of Artists and Innovators, she traveled the world, slipping inside the studios, apartments, and houses of designers, artists, photographers, stylists, curators, writers, and filmmakers to document the chaotic interiors she found there.