karlssonwilker ON America
Unit Editions have launched a new series of publications that invites designers to investigate an interest that they feel strongly about.
Titled ON, this is one of those ideas that you wonder how nobody thought of before. Graphic designers are increasingly as interested in content as much as presentation, as exemplified by the Unit Editions project itself, so introducing this platform for others to present their ideas seems quite obvious and natural. In some ways it’s an extension of Unit’s monograph about their sister design studio Spin, giving the designer(s) a voice while displaying their aesthetic approach to work.
This first edition sees Icelandic-German duo Hjalti Karlsson and Jan Wilker examine their adopted US home. They moved to New York in 2000, and karlssonwilker ON America examines what the duo have learned over those eighteen years. It portrays a love-hate relationship, unstinting at times in its takedown of aspects of the US, but often as ambiguous as ‘Make America Great Again’; a message that anyone might agree with while arguing about how.
Most of the pages are loose collections of found items, statements and infographics that apply the duo’s humour to the broader design business as well as America.
The heart of the publication is a Q&A between Jan Wilker and Unit editor Adrian Shaughnessy that clarifies the surrounding pages. Jan tells the story of his arrival in NY and subsequent settling down, and the pair discuss the state of the US in the context of new superpowers like China, as well as the difference in approach to graphic design in Europe and the US, ‘Graphic designers in the US are entertainers…’
The production values of the publication are relatively austere for a Unit product — it’s a quite ordinary A4 saddle stitched monochrome piece —but that suits the subject. My favourite spread, and one that sums up the project, is this one above: two versions of the word WAR presented on a spread; the left one is correctly labelled ‘badly spaced’, the right hand version ‘well spaced’. It’s a nice summation of the decision that faces every designer at some point: is it enough to make something look good , or should we care about the message?
I’m intrigued to see what future editions of ON will deliver.