Story telling about the visual narrative in graphic design by Reinhard Gassner

Publication »ART AND DESIGN« Magazine China, 096 2007/12
»I think, we derive the coining information for our perception from the meaning and the significance of things. Visually we derive them from the visible, from the surfaces – I mean surfaces in the broadest sense. By this I mean views, shapes, perspectives, types, visual relations, colours, sharp and unsharp. We cannot look at things without asking and searching for semantics. This is an essential difference between our perception and artificial intelligence. Already Kant said ‘We create the world by looking at it’. A more abstract surface is the image of a company. Visually, it is coined by the corporate design, audibly by the verbal communication, especially by the company name. For my work the narrative has proved to be the most important criterion – both visually and verbally. With this I mean not the open statements but the hidden effects of words and images. This effect was well described by Elias Canetti as the ‘acoustic mask of the word’. It means exactly the interaction of sound and image. And we can use this in our work by creating typography, posters, books, logotypes or whatever you want.« Reinhard Gassner

Trained as reprophotographer Reinhard Gassner continued his professional education and graphic art training at the studio of his brother, Franz Gassner, MA. He attended various design seminars and began his professional career working for different advertising agencies. With his wife Ruth, he established his own studio in 1976. Since 1988 he has taken part in various international exhibitions. Gassner was awarded several prizes not only for his poster design but also for his corporate and book designs. His main interest is in the semiotics of visual and verbal communication. From 1996 to 1999 Reinhard Gassner was external consultant and design head of the degree programme InterMedia at Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences.
text – for some years he has practiced phonographic phenomena with the simple word. »The t at the beginning is pronounced differently from the t at the end of the word. At first it speeds up even borrows an aspirated h and then it stops with a rather dry final sound. Between the x and the t there is a sharp voiceless s. The e in itself is a letter with many sound hues. The typefaces, which arise from the different fonts, tell us a lot of different stories: for example the loud laughing e, the shyly smiling e or a sneering, or a grinning e.«
Reinhard Gassner
Visual narrative in Corporate Design

european wood initiative – The aim of this new co-operation is the common wood promotion in Asia. Gassner concentrate on the generally understandable word wood and the metamorphosis of the double o into the infinity symbol; from this the logotype derives its semiotic and characteristic meanings. The infinity symbol, also lemniscate (Greek for ribbon) - algebraic curve - horizontal figure-of-eight. According to tradition the lemniscate is the sign for the cycle of being; The lemniscate is symbolically the cycle from matter to space und back to matter - a dignified symbol of living beings such as plants, forest, wood and everything that can be created from them. Looked at the logo in motion or in small sizes, the lemniscate again turns into the letters double o.
nu – task was to create a name and a corporate design for a software company. The idea behind it was the double strategy of the company – on the one hand the high technology Content Management System and on the other hand creative but standardised software solutions. In a workshop with the customer Gassner agreed on a freely invented onomatopoetic name. The solution was only two letters, actually only one letter shape, once in the standard position and once upside down. nu – n and u certainly not u and n – namely the prefix »un-« – which would have a much more negative connotation. »... in the dynamics and the synergy of letters, there are many meanings« RG; nu is something like an acoustic pictogram. This has something to do with the fact that the name is at the same time familiar and unfamiliar. It is so short that it can hardly be an abbreviation, but thematizes the aspect of two. In the logotype Gassner has characterized this aspect by turning the letters – and by composing two different colours.
Jazz - a Logo, it arose from a poster, which Gassner designed for a jazz club in 1978. It‘s a transformation from a mustard tube to a saxophone and tells us a story of jazz sounds, which are pressed, breathed or roared out of a saxophone, whatever you see or hear in this image. Today this image is used as a key visual and a logo of this club and for many applications, like this poster.
2©©© – Together with other designers Gassner was invited to design a poster on the turn of the millennium for the Goethe-Institut in Santiago de Chile. His image idea is derived from a statement by Jan Tschichold. Among other things he said on the typographic subject of centred line: »Imagine Jesus without a centre parting, a middle parting«. When saints or holy things are presented we meet the circle in the form of a halo and the emphasis on the centred mode as a sign of uniqueness and credibility. The basis for Gassners design was a well known Russian icon with the holy face of Jesus. He modified this picture by changing the centre parting and the direction of the eyes. The number 2000 was visualised via the Roman figure hidden in copyright signs (The c contains the Roman figure for one hundred) and he wanted to show the new century without a halo, without a circle.
»I‘m not really opposed to the centred line but I think we have to interrupt it. Centred modes without any interruptions, without any interventions are a little bit bombastic and at the same time boring. And by the way I don‘t always want to be fixed by the looks of Jesus.« RG
Mohammed Jesus – a printing collage, which Gassner edited at Easter of 2003 on the occasion of the beginning of the war in Iraq. The two names Mohammed and Jesus stand for the first name and the surname of one and the same person. These are the names for well-known icons of creeds with imperial claims. The war and the evil are already contained in the belief that only their own prophet can be the true one. The conflict it visualised typographically in the Latin and Arabic scripts in the two opposite directions. The four poster motives printed one over the other result in a condensed image synergy with broad connotation: the back of the wasp for aggression, the sleeping face for passivity, the baroque angel for bombast and complacent God-consciousness, Star of David, Cross and Crescent for the marketing of confessions by means of brands. Over this 8-colour offset print Gassner used silk screen print for the two names Mohammed and Jesus. The finished poster has some explosive power and visually tells us about chaos and fights. »Posters are especially good for visual narratives and for interaction with the viewer. They are small stages with a very short playtime, but very interesting actors.« Reinhard Gassner

Visual narrative in Book Design

Constructive Provocation – an exhibition about the contemporary architecture in Vorarlberg, organized at the French Architecture Institute in Paris. The task was to create the exhibition catalogue. The title shows a scribble by the author concerning the interwoven relations of the scene. Inside the cover Gassner tell this story more exactly with the tools of information design, actually with a synchronopsis – a time line with several developments. Besides some short texts Gassner wanted to make the pictures tell something about the development of our little country and so we have selected three image levels for that purpose.
First – a visual essay about the country and its inhabitants in black and white photography. Second – the presentation of contemporary architecture in Vorarlberg with pictures, that tell us something about architectural neighbourhoods and relations. Third – information design with narrative and sometimes also ironic contents. Here you can see the country where Gassner lives. Vorarlberg is practically in the centre of Europe in the west of Austria bordering on Germany, Switzerland and Italy. In his graphic design he show for example the altitude line from Paris to Vienna – from the Eifel Tower via the Alps to the St. Stephan‘s Cathedral – the settlement densities of Paris and Vorarlberg – aspects of traffic and public transport, and for example the fact that in Vorarlberg there are almost as many cows as guest beds.
Architecture Guide – This book is part of a series of architecture guides, which we made for different Austrian federal provinces (Vorarlberg, Tyrol, Carinthia so far). The contents are splitted in regions. The beginning of the individual chapters shows bird’s-eye views with photos and special cartography. With only two numbers, one for the region and one for the respective object, we achieve a good user guidance. The object pages have a compact design. The small handy format needs exact typography and print quality. Just now, a new volume is being presented. It is about the eastern most province of Austria, the Burgenland; ..[westungarn]... in this case with three languages – German, Hungarian, Croatian.
The Mute Eye – an exhibition catalogue for the architectural photographer Ignacio Martínez. He wanted to show pictures without any text. The title shows a very much enlarged shadow of his father on the Spanish earth. When you open the book you first see black and white pages. Only after unfolding the pages the contents are disclosed. They are picture combinations with 3 photos each. The relations of shape and form of the picture combinations are important, not the objects themselves. The 3 pictures, called tryptichons, remain without any texts. The required information can be found in the visual narrative illustrations at the end of the book. In these illustrations is shown the most important photographic lines of the tryptichons and in this way Gassner told something about the formal aspects and at the same time he made the connections with the individual items of picture information.
Zuschnitt – a magazine with wood as material and architecture with wood. In the visual design of the magazine Gassner has developed a communicative almost bibliophile style. The message is information and not promotion. As an example the issue »wood in the language« – one of the 28 editions so far. In this case an architecture magazine without any pictures. It is just the other way round, the images are in the contents and in the typography: Pinocchio‘s nose, a wood-grain consisting of hundreds of different wood names, and so on. Also in the title Gassner avoid pictures and use a wooden printing block for a simple red square surface printed in analogue letter press printing – you should really feel the structure.
Holzspektrum – Bookdesign (2006) for a wood pattern book in nearly perfect facsimile technology for different kinds of wood surfaces. Consistently, the book presents the respective woods on double spread pages. On the right side a holohedral depiction of the wood species without any text, on the left side there are interesting descriptions and deliberately coy illustrations of the silhouette of the trees, the leaves and the form of the fruits. In 2007, the book was awarded as one of the most beautiful books in the world.
A narrative, witty, chatting, and a tell-tale typography.

anagram – a work for large glass surfaces in a community building. Gassner suggested puns with anagrams. The word anagram comes from Greek anagraphein and means something like describe or re-write. A short text – say with 3 words – forms the letter basis for new word creations and combinations. Of course, the plays on words are nonsense, but it is fun to follow the transformations and find new and surprising types of contents. Totally there are more than 3500 transformations in more than 100 text columns with almost 80000 letters.
Kiel – International competition for the corporate design of the world’s biggest sailing event. As one of five designer teams Gassner was invited to take part in this competition. The idea is: The »i« of »Kiel« becomes »KIEL« (which is German for keel) and dives below the water surface together with a part of the word. In the bilge the ship’s energy is accumulated; in Gassners design the leading part of the communicative scenario has been assigned to this point.
»We also have to trust the silence effects in graphic design and the slowness in communication. We do not always need noise and visual fast food as a viewer or consumer of information.« Reinhard Gassner

The work of the Studio Gassner is characterised through both, its professional breadth and depth. The work orients itself consistently on the requirements of the customers. Besides Reinhard Gassner, the team consists of five more employees and and temporarily hired professionals for specific tasks within the field of visual and verbal communications. Significant for Gassners design work are the semiotic and semantic aspects. »These aspects are in the small and big things, in micro and macro typography, in pictures and words, in colours and materials and they influence our perception. Think, as graphic designers we have to be sure that communication is our aim, our product. We have to design dialogues not monologues. We have to create interactions not one-way streets. If I speak about interaction between the viewer and our work we have to take him as an emancipated partner not as – let‘s say – a stupid consumer. And you can involve the audience with good visual narratives, also with mysteries and omissions like blank spaces. A good way to do that is to tell stories with pictures and create pictures in typography.«
Reinhard Gassner