Dominic Hofstede is the principal of Hofstede Design, a Melbourne-based graphic design studio, established in 1996. Guided by Hofstede’s inquisitive nature and his assiduousness, the studio has produced a body of thoughtful, intelligent and beautifully crafted work.
Although it reads on the studio’s website ‘we are doers, not talkers’, Hofstede is extremely proficient in both. Here, Hofstede talks at length about his work, influences and typography, providing insight into how and why he does what he does.
Is there a particular project that you could discuss that may give us an insight into the studio’s design process?
Dominic Hofstede: I would describe our approach as reductive, a bit like chipping away at a block of marble. Designers often represent their process in neat little information diagrams, distilled down into a perfectly logical pathway. Of course, it is rarely linear, and I find the creative component increasingly challenging after 20-plus years of struggling to find new ways to say the same things. In terms of discussing a project that illustrates our approach to publication design specifically, a large book project, Australia: Story of a Cricket Country, comes to mind. At just over 400 pages, with 250-plus images and 100,000 words, it is the largest publication we have worked on.
All three members of the studio contributed in varying ways. The editor was extremely close to the project emotionally, and sat with us through every page of the layout, scaling images and finessing type, so our methodology included a high level of client engagement. I chose this example because it demonstrates how we work collaboratively, and how we balance the rational with the creative.
Having worked with you on Response magazine and having seen the Les Mason Epicurean exhibition at The Narrows, the result of a partnership between you and Warren Taylor, I am interested in how these collaborations change your design process? If indeed they do?
For many years I worked on my own. In fact, even when I began employing staff, I still isolated myself from them creatively. It’s a very unhealthy way to work, and only recently have I facilitated collaboration with employees, colleagues and, indeed, clients. Working with Warren on the Epicurean project, and then with you on Response was revelatory, and forced this shift in thinking. Those experiences taught me to loosen my grip on ideas, and [that] inviting constructive and informed feedback can open up new creative possibilities.
As I understand it, the Les Mason Epicurean exhibition came about through your research for [online archive] Re:collection. What was the impetus for starting it?
Actually, there was a specific event that proved the catalyst: the 2008 AGDA Awards ceremony in Adelaide. I recall watching slides of work by that year’s Hall of Fame inductees and it suddenly struck me that these people, who had just been given the ultimate acknowledgment for their contribution to our industry, were strangers to me. Upon my return, I began searching for information about them, and I was astounded at the dearth of resources. Frustrated, and in search of a personal project, I decided an online archive was a simple solution, with single or multiple image posts both manageable, given time issues, and practical, given the lack of material. I had nearly finished the site when Les Mason passed away in October 2009, so it was fitting his work was the first item posted.
Re:collection serves as a great inventory of Australian graphic design from the 60s to the 80s, and no doubt provides a great deal of inspiration for both local and international students. As a student, were you aware of many of the Australian designers you now feature on Re:collection? If so, who in particular inspired or intrigued you?
We are all guilty of looking outwards for inspiration and, coming through design school in the 1980s, many of my heroes were American designers. Type-based designers like Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase, and illustrators like Brad Holland and Marshall Arisman. On the local scene, Ken Cato was the best known graphic designer in Australia, and he championed the industry more than anybody else. Emery Vincent Associates (EVA) were at the peak of their powers, and I was a huge admirer of their work at that time, so pure in its aesthetic.
You have cited type-based designers such as Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase as an early influence and I’ve noticed that the quote by Jan Tschichold – “Perfect typography is certainly the most elusive of all arts” – actually forms part of your identity. What role does typography play in the studio’s approach to design?
I recently posted a book cover on Re:collection, designed by Arthur Stokes. Arthur taught typography for many years at Chisholm Institute (now Monash University) and I was fortunate to have him in my first year. He spoke about type with the fervour of a zealot, and I cite him as a significant figure in my design education. I guess I absorbed some of Arthur’s enthusiasm for the craft, and we see typography as the glue that binds our work.
The other significant typographic watershed for Hofstede Design occurred in 2005 when Wendy Ellerton joined, fresh from her type media studies at the Royal Academy in The Hague. Ellerton’s training in type design added a technical rigour to our folio, and she played a major role in the evolution of Hofstede Design (she is now at Studio Round).
The Tschichold quote seems particularly prescient given design’s ever-changing landscape. Type is omnipresent, and yet so much of it is in the hands of non-designers, or poorly trained ones. It resonates with me because now, more than ever, we need teachers like Arthur.
Re:collection, Response and the Epicurean exhibition are all self-initiated projects, done as labours of love. Where do these projects sit within the context of running a commercial studio?
Such projects are critical to sustaining interest and enthusiasm for our work. We recently completed a joint entry for the 2011 AGDA Poster Annual, and it was probably the most fun I have had creatively for some time. This was the first studio project Tim (Royall), Ben (Jennings) and I had undertaken as a collective, and it was enlightening for me to observe how we might work together in the future. This type of project provides invaluable educative experiences that will impact positively on our commissioned work.
From desktop magazine.
Thumbnail: L-R foreground Ben Jennings, Dominic Hofstede, Tim Royall. Photography by James Braund.
All images copyright Hofstede Design.