Book Review: Flexible Visual Systems

In this post I would like to share with you a book that Dr. Martin Lorenz published with Slanted Publishers in 2021. It’s called “Flexible Visual Systems” is, in my view, an important foundational work that finally offers a clear terminology and method for the intersection of graphic design and creative coding.

I had a special moment with this book when my father visited me a few weeks ago. We have always had passionate discussions about the field of Graphic Design. He himself knows this profession all too well: starting out as an illustrator and typographer, he built a successful agency over a period of 30 years and was responsible for over 25 employees and offices in 3 different cities. As an entrepreneur with a great deal of responsibility, he has developed a pragmatic view of communication design over the years. This is easy to understand, because the 30 years as an agency owner have by no means been easy or straightforward for him and thus for our family. The impact of technology on the industry in particular has required constant rethinking and enormous flexibility. Between 1985 and 2005, he experienced at least two technological revolutions in the field: the rise of the computer and the expansion of the Internet.

This is my father in the early nineties at the design agency. Note the early Apple computers!

I, on the other hand, interpreted graphic design as an artistic discipline during my studies and beyond. My experiments with basic geometric shapes, graphic systems, and programmed patterns probably seemed like a waste of time to my father at the time. He often remarked that he didn’t see any concrete professional application for it. However, I had the gut feeling that with this experimentation I was following a path that in the long run would result in a concretely applicable and pragmatic design methodology.

Today, in 2021, media has liquefied to an astonishing degree: graphic design is now understood to be multidimensional and must be conceived for a wide variety of formats simultaneously. For the development of visual identities, this means that they must be understood as flexible systems. This is exactly what the book “Flexible Visual Systems” by Martin Lorenz is about. It is based on his doctoral thesis, which he wrote over a period of more than 10 years in Barcelona, and is radically pragmatic: it provides concrete methodological approaches for teaching and application, and even about 30 concrete suggestions for application. With its systems approach, the book also builds a bridge to Creative Coding, which is all about formulating (mostly visual) systems in the form of programs.

A few weeks ago, the book was on my kitchen table. When my father came to visit, he opened it and flipped through it carefully. What he said then was very moving for me:

I think I finally understand what you did in your studies and why you teach programming in Graphic Design.

Written in Cubelles, Spain. I’m spending a few days here visiting Martin. Yesterday he gave me a tour of Barcelona.

Published by Tim on Monday January 10, 2022

Last modified on May 21st, 2022 at 12:42


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