Interview with Roberta Bergmann – “Die Grundlagen des Gestaltens”

Interview with Roberta Bergmann – “Die Grundlagen des Gestaltens”

We also wanted to find out which of the methods, covered in the book, she uses in her own creative work, how they help her and why amateurs should not hesitate to use this book as a practical handbook. Read on and find out what she said.

Die Grundlagen des Gestaltens

Red Dot 21 (1): Most recently, you have amongst other things illustrated the children’s book with the amusing title, “Als der Affe die Banane warf und 25 Tiere traf” (When the monkey threw the banana and hit 25 animals). With your book, “Die Grundlagen des Gestaltens”, you are now tackling a factual topic. How do you reconcile the two? What made you create a book aimed at giving readers a better understanding of design?

Mrs. Roberta Bergmann: I studied graphic design with an emphasis on illustration and book design. After my degree, I worked as a freelance illustrator and book designer in Braunschweig, in northern Germany. Initially, I published my own, free book projects in very small print runs under my “Tatendrang-Design” label, but then began to offer these and other free book concepts to publishers at book fairs. I was able to find work as a book designer while I was still a student, so gradually gained a foothold in the publishing industry.

The idea for the picture book “Als der Affe die Banane warf und 25 Tiere traf” came up some eight years ago. In 2015 it was finally published by the kunstanstifter verlag. About nine year ago, I started lecturing. For six years, I taught at an art college and for two of those years I worked as a full-time professor on the principles of design. This is when I had the idea to write a good handbook, a reference book and compendium, because that was something I had been missing. As design principles are drawn from many different individual disciplines, there are many discipline-specific books that describe these separate areas, but there was no single comprehensive book that covered all aspects of design. There was a further gap in the market, in my opinion, for a book with practical exercises. It simply it didn’t exist. And that’s precisely where I saw a need both from the point of view of learners (schoolchildren, students, people on vocational courses) and of teachers (art teachers, university lecturers, teachers of vocational courses). My book is, above all, a collection of 50 practical exercises on the topic of design.

Red Dot 21 (2): “Die Grundlagen des Gestaltens” is targeted at schoolchildren, students and teachers as well as amateurs. Why do you think amateurs who have no prior knowledge of the subject should also buy your book?

Mrs. Roberta Bergmann: All those who are (still) amateurs, but are interested in design, will be able to gain an initial overview of the topic with the help of my book. It does however presuppose a basic interest in the subject. If readers are interested and have started to become captivated by the subject, they can use the book in order to try their own hand at design. Over the course of 50 exercises, readers can test and find out whether design is for them and what specifically is of interest to them. They might, for instance, produce a portfolio (a collection of creative work) in order to become professionals (and e.g. apply to a school of design). The exercises in my book are ordered by difficulty level so that amateurs can start with the easy ones and can slowly increase the level of difficulty and complexity. It is almost like a small independent study guide.

Red Dot 21 (3): An increasing number of private individuals enjoy designing digital content. Does your book touch on this topic?

Mrs. Roberta Bergmann: I really hope that all who read my book – and that includes amateurs who enjoy creating digital content – develop a feel for “good design” and are made aware of the topic to some small degree. I do not differentiate between analogue and digital content when I say this. In the chapter “Sehen lernen” (Learning to see) I mention “the particularities of a designer’s perception”, in other words the formation and development of visual competency, if you like. This is achieved primarily through proper training. However, my book offers a first impression: the over 700 illustrations that are included in the book provide readers with numerous examples. That’s a not inconsiderable number for gaining an initial overview and it allows people to understand what design can encompass and what can be created. The design of digital content is not a primary focus of my book. In my opinion, people learn to understand design principles very well if they, in a first step, work in an analogue manner. The design of digital content can be more or less deduced from analogue work in a second stage. Of course there are certain rules that only apply to digital contents and media and vice versa, but it was not my intention to itemise them and explain the differences in my book. That would have led too far. The book is rather an introduction to the subject. It covers the breadth and less the depth of the topic.

Red Dot 21 (4): Where do you find the ideas for your books?

Mrs. Roberta Bergmann: The ideas for my books are self-generated. I tend to write them because I would like to read or look at such books. In an ideal scenario, my ideas converge with the aims of the publishing houses (and the intended target groups). Naturally, there’s no point in producing a book for which there are no readers or no markets. I have learnt that over the course of ten years of professional experience.
I also talk to publishers a lot to find out what they would like to have on their lists, what topics there are for which one could jointly develop a book. I gather information on trends at book fairs or think about what could become a trend at such events.

The prerequisite is always that the book project allows me to start working on a subject on which I have something to say or for which I can draw things. Otherwise, I can’t do it and wouldn’t be the right person for it. It would also be a pity to “waste” the time, as the process of writing a book is quite a long one. I have a lot more ideas for books than I have time to implement them. I therefore have to prioritise. Personally, I find that disappointing. I would love to be able to work on many different books, faster and in parallel, and would also like them to be from different genres.

Red Dot 21 (5): What do you believe to be the most important prerequisites for someone who wants to pursue a creative profession.

Mrs. Roberta Bergmann: I find that a difficult question to answer as “creative jobs” can cover so many different things and there are such a variety of occupational profiles for professional designers. The scope of work is undergoing constant change.

In addition, the job of a designer comprises many different competencies. Designers require a mix of social and individual skills plus a knowledge of methodology acquired during training or from experience. So the prerequisites are, for instance, an interest in social issues, being able to work with others in a considerate way, the desire to exchange ideas, a certain openness and natural curiosity, being prepared to keep learning, the wish to communicate and the ability to use certain skills, methods and tools to do so in a professional manner. However, in my opinion, one of the most, if not the most, prerequisite for any job that one wants to do well, is a good dose of passion for what one is doing.

Book description

Red Dot 21 (6): In your book, you introduce methods that help to make everyday design work more efficient. Please could you briefly name and describe a method using a practical application exercise from your own daily work.

Mrs. Roberta Bergmann: There is, for example, the BANJO method by author Roger Black. BANJO stands for Bang A Nasty Job Off. This is about not putting off a task that seems the most unpleasant, but instead dealing with it right away in order to then have a clear head. The reality generally tends to look quite different. Instead of dealing with such a task pragmatically, one tends to leave it aside. Many people, myself included, tend to skip such tasks or procrastinate instead of getting the job done as quickly as possible in order to tick it off. In most cases, these jobs actually take less time to carry out than the time spent brooding on them beforehand and not doing them. When the job is finally done, one wonders why one spent so much time getting worked up about it before getting on with it.

To come back to your question: I try to place unpleasant tasks like these at the start of my day’s work in order get them over and done with. I find a To Do list helpful that I put together the day before with an approximate time plan and also the order in which I would like to work the next day. Ideally, that’s how I plan my entire working week. Particularly if you are self-employed, you need a structure to work to, I believe, since there is no boss who puts tasks on your desk and tell you how he would like the end-result to be and when the job has to be finished.

Red Dot 21 (7): Which methods helps you, personally, the most when you are sitting in front of a „blank piece of paper“ and have absolutely no idea how to start?

Mrs. Roberta Bergmann: I know the “horror vacui” effect, the fear of the blank sheet of paper, only too well from my own experience. Making a start is not always easy, even if you are virtually bursting with ideas. A beginning sets the agenda and the fear is that it might be the wrong one or that I might fall at the first hurdle and that everything I put down on paper is worthless. Of course, that is rubbish and I should know better from experience. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is how I feel. I simply have respect for new tasks and challenges. On the other hand, that is also a positive, because it makes me approach the subject with a heightened awareness and forces me to take a very deliberate decision, one that I may revise and change in the process. By knowing the process, I can reduce the time that the sheet of paper stays blank. Another trick is to tell oneself: “I am just going to do something – anything – just to start. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t turn out. Then, I’ll just bin it.” That does away with the initial fear, because at least one has started.

Red Dot 21 (8): Which of the three topics presented in the book – “Composition, Drawing and Photography” – fascinates you the most and why?

Mrs. Roberta Bergmann: There are areas of design that suit me better than others. I think that applies to most of us. Only few of us are generalists and can do everything equally well and enjoy all things equally. The challenge lies in not being afraid of diversity and in trying everything once. Specialisation follows when one has internalised the basics. I can’t therefore say what fascinates me most, but only what suits me best. That is undoubtedly also what I focused on during my degree and now enjoy applying on a daily basis in my professional life: illustration, layout, composition, photography and methodology.

Red Dot 21 (9): Which tools are indispensable for your design work?

Mrs. Roberta Bergmann: No question: I can’t do without the computer. It’s the most important tool for me. Even if I work analogue some of the time (illustrations are frequently based on a mixture of analogue drawings and digital colouring and further treatment), it’s impossible to work without a computer and software. In the past, it was definitely feasible to manage without the internet, but today I wouldn’t like to be without an internet connection. It speeds up all manner of processes, whether its research or communication and data transfer to the customer. Apart from that, I always have something with me in every situation to take notes and to sketch (whether that’s pen and paper or my smartphone).

Red Dot 21 (10): There are many creative minds in design. Can you name your role models (a maximum of three) and try to describe what you value in their work.

Mrs. Roberta Bergmann: That is really difficult for me. Firstly, because there are so many good people and the design sector is so vast. Secondly, because I don’t really have classical role models as such. I’m not into personality cults.

If you would force me to name a few creative designers that I admire for what they do and how they do it, I would think of Patricia Urquiola and Stefan Sagmeister. I admire both for their exceptional ideas and designs, and am impressed by their consistent and passionate work and the authenticity of what they create. Although or perhaps precisely because they are such non-conformists and have such a trailblazing effect, they are by rights highly successful.


Posted on 07.06.2017

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