|/ dust – essay from 8vo: on the outside. lars müller publishers 2005.
this text describes the founding and early years of 8vo studio and
octavo journal of typography in mid-80s london.
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One of the inherent problems of discussing graphic design history is how easily the work lends itself so perfectly to reproduction. After all, that is its original raison d’être. There is a deception of sorts at work here. The work in retrospect often becomes discussed only in terms of the retinal — the visual residue of the work. The operational, contextual, time-specific circumstances, the active, motivated and communicative aspects of a work all flow into and are subsumed by the image of the reproduction of the work. We are left with the husk, gathering dust. There is a danger that the discussion of that husk becomes merely about style — a one-dimensional approach to a two-dimensional form. Is the real value of the work here, in its appearance, or in its use, when it was alive as a piece of active communication? A sense of context helps our understanding of the images, perhaps puts a little life back into the husks, and helps us to see things in perspective.
I studied graphic design at Bath Academy of Art and at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel, Switzerland, where Armin Hoffman and Wolfgang Weingart were both teaching. The two colleges complemented one another — the rigour and formal focus of Basel after the relative freedom of Bath created an interesting chemistry of spontaneity and discipline which I draw upon still. After working and studying in Switzerland for a year and a half,1 I returned to England in 1983 with a desire to work in the manner of the continental European design that