Interview: Armin Scharf I Images: büro s Visuelle Gestaltung

Sustainable communication design

The “NatureExperienceWeek” was just the kind of project Kathrin Schüle likes. It involved the conception, design and implementation of a platform for environmental education. The campaign has been running for several years and was initiated by the Academy for Nature and Environmental Protection Baden-Württemberg; in addition to print communications, the brief also included topic-specific websites and the implementation of customisable Web2Print offerings.
The portfolio of büro s Visuelle Gestaltung contains a number of projects that address environmental topics.
Ms Schüle, what are you working on right now?
I’m in the process of developing pictograms that depict operational processes for a company in the SME sector. In general, I tend to focus on sustainable conception and design.
In what way?
Sustainability is an important factor, especially when it comes to print products. That’s why I’m interested in implementing projects in ways that are economically, ecologically and socially sustainable. That means I design something as sustainably as is feasible right from the start, beginning with the choice of format and colouring. It goes on to include advising clients on things like the number of copies, paper, printing methods, finishing and the selection of local service providers.
There are lots of examples of projects with an environmental or educational theme in your portfolio.
Yes, those themes really are important to me, I see it as a kind of obligation. Good design increases interest in these topics and illustrates connections more clearly. When I founded my firm, I made a point of approaching clients in those areas. But obviously I work for customers with totally different subject matter as well, like SMEs.
What do your clients have in common?
What’s important to me is that people show interest, appreciation and respect for one another. Strictly speaking, that applies to everybody who’s involved in the creation and development process. That’s not just extremely effective, it’s fulfilling too. I’m interested in direct contact, which is why I involve regional and reliable partners whenever possible. I try to establish long-term relationships because in my experience they bring the desired results – for everybody involved. If I work for a client over a long period of time, I’m familiar with their culture, requirements, wants and needs.
For example?
A packaging company by the name of Horn Verpackung GmbH from Winnenden was one of my very first clients when I started out around 20 years ago. We have a relationship based on mutual trust and can talk openly about any problems that might arise. Customer relationships are like partnerships: you ought to be committed. Treating one another with respect is part of it too, of course, and ideally you should share similar values. For Horn I create business stationery, company brochures, their web design and trade show booth.
Is it OK for a communication designer to have their own style?
That’s not an easy question to answer because I create client-specific solutions. I think it makes more sense to talk about characteristics that influence style and are combined with one another, things like typography and colouring. If something is too rigid it gets boring – not just for the person looking it, but for those who design it too. And last but not least, different assignments call for different approaches. It’s the constant evolution that makes it interesting. But to get back to your question: I would say my work is quite minimalist and structured.
Do your studies at the University of Design (HfG) in Schwäbisch Gmünd still play a role in that?
My time at the HfG in Schwäbisch Gmünd definitely had a strong influence on me. The course there takes a very comprehensive, intensive and interdisciplinary approach. You acquire the skills you need to solve complex design assignments and gain expertise in various methods and techniques, as well as project experience, so you’re equipped with various components that you can then combine individually in working life. Systematic and even scientific approaches play a major role, paired with methodical thinking. And the HfG also attaches a great deal of importance to the practice side of things, as well as humanity and a culture of communication.
You work in an interdisciplinary way as well – with your husband, for instance, who’s a self-employed software and IT specialist. What form does that take?
We share office space, so the lines of communication are very direct. With digital projects, there are often discrepancies between the intentions of the design and the implementation of the program code. That doesn’t happen in our case, because we know what the other person intends and can work out technical or creative details with one another directly. That means our clients get compelling implementations – as in the case of the NatureExperienceWeek project.
Digital media call for a very different approach when it comes to feel – how do you deal with that?
The feel is a key element of both analogue and digital design. In the analogue world, things like texture, viscosity, mass, form and temperature are relevant, whereas in the case of digital projects it’s more about surface, space and time. That’s where communication takes place, it’s extremely subtle. If the feel is a fit with the context, it’s a factor that creates value.
What made you want to start your own business?
I worked at several firms and agencies, even before I graduated. Sometimes the work was divided up into tiny portions, so you only ever worked on one little bit of the project. But for me it’s important to be part of the entire process, from the first briefing all the way to the approval of the final proofs in the case of print projects. I also enjoy the variety and flexibility, as well as the straightforward decision-making and communication processes. Having my own firm enables me to put all that into practice.
As a one-person business, you can sometimes be stretched to the limits when it comes to capacity. Is that a problem for you or your clients?
I’m convinced this form of enterprise is right for me. It means I’m able to react quickly and give my clients individual, personal service. Thanks to the network I’ve built up in recent years, I’m in a position to cover a lot of different services, implement new ideas and increase capacity if necessary.

büro s Visuelle Gestaltung

Kathrin Schüle has been developing analogue and digital communication products for industrial enterprises and service companies since 2000. Her portfolio also includes clients from the public sector and cultural institutions. Many of her projects centre on environmental and educational themes. She implements digital projects together with her husband, a freelance software and IT specialist.

Kathrin & Dieter Schüle