3daysofdesign: graphics and publications

use of detailed graphics in the show room of Arper in Nordhavn


3daysofdesign was a major event that included many of the most well-established design companies in Denmark so, perhaps, it might seem odd to talk about the graphic design of publications and posters seen at the various venues … of course everyone expects well-designed graphics and beautiful catalogues from furniture companies … surely it goes without saying? … surely it would only be worth a comment if catalogues or lettering in the showroom or information leaflets were badly designed or badly printed?

Well no. Just because everyone assumes it will be good and just because the graphics were actually good throughout, it is even more important to make a few points about this aspect of the work of the furniture industry. 

In general, people outside the professional design world … so obviously the majority of customers … assume that graphics with high-quality photographs, eye-catching layout and high quality paper are all simply what should be expected. They take it for granted. After all, computers with a huge number of fonts and any template you could wish for for a layout, high definition images, even from a mobile phone, and high quality printing are all available from personal systems in most homes … what can possibly be so hard in producing a nice (free) catalogue? And of course we are all greedy - voracious - for images, gloss, entertainment, facts, information and commentary with little time spent on thinking about how much it has actually cost to produce in terms of professional skill, mental stress, time and money. And last years catalogue or last years campaign are not good enough. We want, need and expect something new.

What was clear across the board at 3daysofdesign is that companies do and do have to invest a huge amount of time, thought and money in the right style of advertising and the best possible publications with information about and for their products.

Catalogues, advertisements, information booklets, online sites and so on have to tell the story of the company; explain the development of the design; introduce the designer, if they are young or new to the company; explain the way the design evolved - everyone loves a good story - give information about the manufacturing process, promote green credentials, of course, and, often, give after-sales care advice as well. And good graphics, as everyone knows, can create a brand image and customer awareness of, recognition of and loyalty to a company or even to a specific design. Chair 7 by Arne Jacobsen, Stool 60 from Artek and the PH5 light are all the obvious examples of the ongoing commercial value of recognition and loyalty.

The Series 7 chair is actually a very good example. It will be the subject of a separate post but it is of relevance in this post just because it is still the best-selling piece in the Fritz Hansen catalogue but it has just reached a milestone anniversary - the chair was designed in 1955 - and Fritz Hansen are in the middle of a major campaign to ‘relaunch’ the chair in new colours to ensure that it remains a design that has a place in the homes of young and future generations of buyers. So publicity material, and advertising and the way the chair is shown in displays now, are crucial to its future success. The strap line of the present campaign is Colours in Perfect Shape.

With a completely new range or a novel design it may even be necessary to give advice about how the piece might best be set in the context of it’s new home. It is actually quite difficult to explain to a customer, who is dissatisfied because, maybe, their new purchase doesn’t look quite as good in their home as it did in the show room or in the catalogue, that in fact they have bought the wrong thing for their existing house and existing life style. The new piece itself is amazing … it’s just that really their room/your room should possibly/could maybe/definitely ought to be a different colour and much of the rest of the furniture should be replaced. But the shop can’t say that. Better to start a bit of gentle advice - sow the seeds of a few ideas and suggestions in the catalogue or in the display in the shop.

The good small catalogue for the event itself and the graphic material for Re-Framing Danish Design were well designed and distinct … presumably they were aware of the added problem of having to avoid any resemblance to the brand styles of any of the companies taking part. 

Arper and Muuto had elaborate graphics on the walls of their show rooms to explain or identify their designs and several companies including Fritz Hansen, OneCollection and Gubi include in their catalogues extensive articles on major designers from the classic period of Danish design to put designs, that might be 50 or more years old, into their wider historic context. The Gubi catalogue is called a design booklet and is, significantly, titled ‘Icons, Memories and Stories.’ It is necessary to explain to a new generation of buyers when and why the pieces were designed; state why they were important designs or why they were admired when they were first manufactured, and why they have relevance now and and why they should still be in production. Basically why a design was amazing then and why it is amazing now.

It is also necessary to explain to a new buyer why an old design might not be exactly like the earliest examples of a design that they have seen in a museum. Designs can evolve in terms of the materials used, for instance in upholstery, and manufacturing techniques change or some aspects of machine manufacturing have improved since the original pieces were made. Again managing expectations and nurturing customers who might have admired a design long ago but are, only now, getting around to buying it.

Innovations for new designs, particularly new materials or new methods of production, have to be explained to potential customers and can become what are called unique selling points to distinguish the designs from one company from the works from their rivals. Muuto have launched a new shell chair that is moulded from a recyclable material that includes wood fibre … deliberately described as ‘pinewood fibers.’ This material has a softer and matt look and a slight texture which has to be explained to the customer and work with the material has also led to interesting developments in producing an optional upholstered interior to the shell. New material often require changes to fixings and supports or an appropriate rethink and here, with Muuto, this means that the shell of this chair can have four different supports: thin, elegant, metal legs; a ’sled’ like metal frame; a wooden base with a frame below the seat and a metal swivel base. These distinguish the chair from rivals but the developments and the differences have to be pointed out to the customer and this has to be done through advertising and through catalogues and brochures … not least because this choice of base and choice of upholstery along with choices of colour, in the case of the new Muuto chair, gives 41 different permutations … a potential problem for the customer in making that choice and potential problems with manufacture and the supply system that can be made easier by appropriate publications for information. I believe this is called managing expectations.

Frama and Please Wait to be Seated both produced information that unfolded to poster size and several companies, including Frama, used reproductions of hand-drawn line work, rather than digital computer-generated drawings, to show something of the various early stages of the design process as designers play with a number of ideas and take a particular form forward.


Personally, I really like the small, folded and stapled A4, cloth-bound catalogue from Flos for their String Lights and IC Lights by Michael Anastassiades with quotes from the designer, talking about inspiration for the design, but with studio photographs combined with hand-drawn sketches to explain how that arrangement of the lights were set up along with a surprising amount of technical information. 

The small catalogue for Parentesit from Arper has an interesting look that somehow hints at the 1930s and Bauhaus style. Good graphic design can hint at sources of inspiration.

For its ‘case study’ series, Frama uses thick board that is coated on one side but unbleached on the back and with a single brass screw link at one corner - so playing a very clever game with period and style - hard-tech mechanics contrasted with soft-tech almost retro style that you see in their furniture as well with incredibly sharp, clean industrial-character designs presented in the elaborate and dramatic interior of their show room - formerly a chemist shop with amazing fittings that date back to about 1900.

Graphics from MA/U Studio were as thin and as elegant and as distinctive as their furniture with the clever use of simple outline human figures to give drawings of shelving easily-understood scale.