FRÆK is the magazine for the students of the MSD Münster School Of Design. Lisa-Marie Jäger chatted with me about ethics & graphics for the first issue.
In times of Corona - countless conspiracy theories revolving around Bill Gates and his intentions in the crisis, insane heads of government who advise injecting disinfectants and urgent debates and demonstrations on the equality of BIPoC - we ask ourselves what contribution we are making as designers can. Raban Ruddigkeit is a designer who uses his profession to regularly make socio-political statements. Of course, also due to the corona, we conducted an email interview with him to find out how he got there and whether he had an answer to our question.
FRÆK: One of your first conscious political arrangements was on the occasion of the liberation of the imprisoned Chilean President Luis Corvalán in 1977. You were only 9 years old at the time. What was your motivation, what were your thoughts and how did you implement them?
RR: It was a school homework assignment. We were supposed to make a collage out of newspapers, posters, etc., and I remember it so clearly because I took it so seriously. I felt like this collage made a difference. Today I know that that's not really the case and that design can only make a tiny contribution. But I learned that you have to take design in the political field very seriously in order to get a reasonably good result.
FRÆK: What happened next? How did you get into design then?
RR: I grew up in an artist household: my father was a well-known painter and graphic artist, my mother an author and translator in the GDR. Of course it shapes you, but as a child you don't really notice it. When I was 14, I knew all about art and printing techniques because my father took me everywhere. I got to know most of the trends, the most important names and even a little bit of current affairs, because my father also had a subscription to Western art magazines. At that time a lot was done by hand, measured with the eye and decided with the heart. Of that, the essentials remain that have accompanied me to this day. Personally, I found the computer to be a very liberating tool because it allowed me to develop my own style. One of the reasons I ended up in design was because I was one of the few people in the east German province who could even use a computer.
FRÆK: What exactly is “Messitsch” and what is the background to it?
RR: A couple of friends and I wanted to express our enthusiasm for music at the end of the eighties and we came up with it as a small-scale and megalomaniac project in the café house. The only resource there was too much of in the small country was time, and we wanted to kill it at least with fun. “Messitsch” was a mixture of concert criticism, gossip and design that went wild, which we distributed every few months with a typewriter, scissors and copier. That's when I did something like design for the first time - within the scope of the truly manageable possibilities. I drew, glued and above all cut out a lot and reassembled. We actually viewed ourselves as comparatively apolitical, but the act of self-publishing was already a political one as such.
FRÆK: You worked for agencies like Scholz and Friends and Jung von Matt for several years. What were the reasons for starting your own studio?
RR: After the wall came down and in the chaos that followed, I just kept going. I joined the first free newspaper in Leipzig as a designer and also wrote texts, drew full-page comics, etc. We developed a supplement for this newspaper to get more advertisements, because we wanted to play a little with capitalism . There I was editor-in-chief and art director in one. From this time the still existing “Kreuzer”, the Leipzig-Magazin, remains, which was rescued from the rubble of the newspaper and the supplement. I was then responsible for several magazines there for a few years and also accompanied political campaigns, cultural offers and sometimes a little bit of business. During this time it happened that I was completely flashed by a poster from the Benetton campaign that was stuck to a fire wall somewhere in the middle of one of the ruins of Leipzig houses. I got the feeling that advertising can somehow be more than just selling socks. And when Sebastian Turner from Scholz and Friends Berlin received the offer, I didn't have to think twice. As an autodidact, it made sense for me to go to this school of conception again and that worked wonderfully. We worked exclusively for media customers and their task for us was: Do things with which we provoke and win prizes. But after a few years that was learned and exhausted and after a few detours I got back into the form in which I feel most comfortable. I call the studio because it's not an agency and not even an office. Here I now work for customers, develop my own publications and allow myself the luxury of social work, which is usually not very well paid. At least not if you insist on your own independence.
FRÆK: What made you decide to use design as a platform to make a political and social statement?
RR: The graphic was and is simply my language, because word and image, idea and implementation are in a balance that leaves enough room for the interpretation of others. This is important to me, because I really don't want to belong to the army of clever guys who know everything better beforehand. Ken’ya Hara, a Japanese designer legend, once said: Design is the balancing of opposites. I like to orient myself towards this, because design should be lively and appreciate what is essential - the viewer. Because that's always part of our work.
FRÆK: Most of your graphic comments and posters consist of a concise motif. What is the process behind these motives?
RR: It started with social media, where you have neither time nor space for complex things. Every now and then I published graphics on current topics there, which were then requested for posters and exhibitions. For example the “Help Japan” motif, which was then also available as a bag. In 2015, a new chapter began noticeably with the refugee situation - especially for Germany. I had a few of these graphics in stock, which I sent to the “Tagesspiegel” and which then published them. This then resulted in the desire for regularity, on which I had to make a decision. Because an editorial deadline cannot be postponed and the topics are usually very close. So I thought about reserving the majority of the time for the idea and implementing it in 20 minutes. This works best with material from the Internet, for example clip art, which I then quickly process. Stylistically it is very vector-oriented, but also really well suited for digital representations.
FRÆK: Which of your projects has preoccupied you the most or moved you in the long term?
RR: One of the social projects that arose around 2015 was Cucula, a student project in which refugees built designer furniture in order to earn a living and a residence permit. Language courses and cultural mediation were an integral part of the collaboration in a Kreuzberg workshop. For this I created a design that was so warmly received by the students and trainees that it was even found in some of the works. When we started a Kickstarter campaign to secure the project economically, we were of course as excited as we were. After the targeted amount doubled on the last night of the crowdfunding, I had tears in my eyes for the first time with a customer.
FRÆK: Are you politically and socially involved outside of the Tagesspiegel?
RR: Every now and then I work for free on social, cultural or political projects. However, I have the condition that I can do what I think is right. Just so that it doesn't get watered down and made worse. So far everything has actually appeared as I thought it would be. Then it is good for both sides and if it still has an effect, it is even a win-win-win situation.
FRÆK: What is currently moving you?
RR: I have the feeling that after many years of stagnation, we are once again in a shift in social values. The issues of right-wing radicalism, racism and climate change are not new, but at least they are being looked at in a new way. Corona has made many old imbalances clear and so everything is being re-sorted a bit. It is to be hoped that there will be a little more justice left afterwards, although I am more of a realist. Two steps forward and one step back is probably the real pace here too. But of course I am pleased that the younger generation has all of this on their radar again and will hopefully work on it a little.
FRÆK: Do you have a message for all the creative people out there?
RR: Yes: have a message.