Co-founded by Dimitri Bruni and Manuel Krebs, NORM is a Zurich-based graphics team which has defined and now executes an iconoclastic, but intellectually rigorous approach to typography and imagery both for experimental work and commercial projects such as the typography for Cologne Airport.
For any Swiss graphic designer, the question of how they define their relationship to Switzerland’s powerful mid-20th century typographic tradition is inescapable. Dimitri Bruni and Manuel Krebs, the co-founders of norm, the Zurich-based graphic design team, address this issue by questioning the legacy of that tradition throughout their work.
Bruni and Krebs, born in 1970 in Biel and Bern respectively, met as graphic design students in Biel during the early 1990s. In 1999, they founded norm and have since defined their own graphic language in print and on screen by determinedly ignoring the established conventions to create their own highly complex parallel system.
Despite their deliberately iconoclastic approach, norm’s work is characterised by an highly skilled use of typography and print as well as a playful approach to technology. These qualities are apparent on norm’s website – norm.to – as well as in commercial work such as the typography for Cologne Airport and in their self-published projects such as the books, Introduction and Things.
See more of norm’s work at norm.to
Q. What were your early design influences?
A. The first time I noticed, graphic design as a discipline, was when I saw the posters of the KU discotheque in Ibiza, in the early 1980s. I liked them a lot.
Q. What drew you to graphic design?
A. We just wanted to go to art school – without really knowing what graphic design was.
Q. Do you feel that your education (design or otherwise) influenced the way you work now?
A. Certainly. Although it was rather a reverse-influence. We soon rejected what was taught to us by our graphic design teachers.
Q. Where did you meet and how did you start working together?
A. In art school.
Q. What were your earliest design commissions?
A. The first commission we did together, as norm, was a competition for a corporate identity for a museum – that we didn’t win.
Q. How do you relate to Switzerland’s strong typographic tradition?
A. We are very much influenced by that. We actually follow most of the claims made in the 1960s by people like Josef Müller-Brockmann (the Swiss graphic designer and typographer).
Q. You are known for your self-published work. How do projects such as Introduction and Things relate to your commercial work?
A. We often use elements, forms or maybe approaches, that we develop in our personal projects for commercial commissions. You might compare it somehow to a lab that does experiments, tries out things and from time to time develops things that can be used in the ‘real’ world – like Teflon or a zip.
Q. You have invented the ‘sign generator’, a digital tool for developing what amounts to an alternative graphic language. Do you see this language as a practical proposition?
A. To us the sign-generator is rather a scientific tool that we use to create a ‘basic’ sign that would exist throughout all cultures and writings. Besides we generated four or five typefaces from the sign-generator, but this was really a side issue.
Q. How would you characterise the perfect relationship between designer and client?
A. We are very open towards our client, ideally a client knows what he wants to reach, why he needs a designer. As with all things it’s important to respect each other.
Q. What would your ideal job be?
A. We just designed the new typeface for the Cologne Airport, that was quite ideal. Books, posters are stuff we like, but we would also like to conceive a new telephone directory.
Dimitri – A new typeface for the highways in Switzerland.
Manuel – Titles for Hollywood action films.
Q. What is your favourite piece of your own work?
A. To us our self-published work is probably most important.
Q. What is your favourite piece of graphic design in general?
Dimitri:The woolmark (the symbol of the International Wool Secretariat) and the old Swiss
Manuel:John Heartfield’s communist party poster W?hle Liste 5.
Q. What are your plans for the next few years?
A. To do some real fine typefaces.