The Heart of Hort

Published:  January 8, 2014
Bonnie Abbott
The Heart of Hort

Hort prefer the image of a ‘creative playground’, a kindergarten for ideas, over that of a typical design studio. Established in Germany in 1994, the studio has become something of a pioneer in the landscape of European graphic design, dedicating their square-footage to the development of transforming ideas into living things, its collection of people—graphic designers, interns, admin and all—as imperative parts of a high functioning, experimental powerhouse. Hort is capable of the strictest grids, its typography in military order, as well as some of the most audacious distortion and joyous, playful naïvety, seen in contemporary graphic design. Attempting to determine a Hort house-style is possible only in its consistent inconsistency. 

For our 300th ‘celebrationry’ issue, we spoke to its founder, Eike König, about his ‘playground’—this creative Eden he has forged out of the cliché of Germanic uniformity, and the special characters who frolic within it.

You are the cover artists of our 300th celebratory issue! Does Hort like to party?

Yes, we do! We feel very honored and it was fun doing the cover and we hope our design communicates this.

Can you talk a little of the “Hort to Heart” philosophy?

The whole idea of changing the word heart into Hort in some phrases was developed by our friend R.J. McCuskey. ‘Hort and Soul’, ‘Listen to the Hortbeat’, ‘Beauty comes from the Hort’, ‘Learn it by Hort’, ‘Wild at Hort’, ‘Don’t be Hortless’, ‘From the bottom of your Hort’ are a few examples. It somehow communicates the love we put in our work and at the same time how much we respect those we are talking to.

Hort’s alternate cover for Desktop #300

Can you tell us about the characters who make up the Hort team?

It would be to hard for me to try to describe all this wonderful characters in only a few words. With each of them I have a very strong and personal history. I respect very much each moment they spend with me and all the knowledge and creativity they share with me. I have known some of them now for over 10 years. Some started their own businesses, but we keep in contact, we still work together on projects and I see them as friends and not as competitors.

How do they come together as Hort?

Hort is a safe place where young designers can still learn, fail, grow and experiment within a group of strong and highly creative buddies on an interesting range of commissions from around the world. We try to keep everyone as individual as possible, support them in becoming a strong personality in every part of their character, not just design. We are kind of an international family. Respect, openness, empathy, trust, responsibility and the willingness to question things are the foundation of our team.

Hort: Nike ‘Beautiful Devastation’ poster

Hort: Posters for Nike

What were the game changers in early Hort history? What were your landmarks?

  • First record sleeve as Hort: Andreas Dorau – Stoned faces don’t lie.
  • First international job: Worldwide campaign for ESPN
  • First self published book: Ihre Körper liefen noch durch Frankfurt (1998)
  • LeBron James of Zoom LeBron IV visual center was the beginning of a long relationship with Nike Basketball, LeBron James and it lead us to more work with XBox, Calle and many more brands.
  • Redesigning the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation identity opened the door to lots of commissions from cultural institutes in Germany.
  • Starting our own band named HORT — kind of an experimental visual playground for the studio.

How important is happiness to the running of the studio?

It’s a big part. Fear and bad vibes are a highly negative energy that works against good solutions in design. But we are not just happy people. We are hard workers and sometimes it’s also very frustrating. However we always try to come back and fight again for the good times. We spend so much time together and therefore there is a big investment from all of us to make this time as enjoyable as possible.

Do the Hort designers work collaboratively?

Yes, they do. Big jobs are done by lots of people, smaller ones by small teams or individuals. Everyone involved is responsible for the job.

Hort: Sehsuechte International Student Film Festival and Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau Posters

Hort: Pocket books for Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Your work feels as if it is continuously uplifting — is this a purposeful infusion of happiness and celebration in your work?

The work we do is pretty serious. It’s about questioning the past to design the future. What is important for us is that our work has kind of a Hort personality. We want that people understand that this is the way we would solve the problem … that doesn’t mean that this is the only way you can do it. There are millions of ways. But we want soul in our work. If this is understood as happiness – that’s fine, but this is not our intention.

Is there a unique, “Hort” relationship with colour?

There’s no one ‘unique’ relationship as there are different individuals at Hort, each one promoting their own unique relationship. But when it comes to commissioned work, the team have to decide which colour range would be, in our opinion, the best to serve our concept.

What about Hort and irregularity?

I have my own experience with errors in my work. I learned graphic design by doing layouts by hand. “Layouting” an idea on a sheet of paper was connected to a lot of senses. There was much more time involved in making decisions as there was no Apple ‘Z’ in reality.

One day I talked to a lithographer about perfection in design. He showed me a sheet of a rasterized 70% black film used to exposure a pressure plate. There was one little dot that was damaged and my eye somehow found it. He told me that that errors build a much stronger relationship to us as we are not perfect either. At that time I did not understand the meaning behind this sentence. However when the computer entered my life I fell in love and designed everything on this machine, after some time I found out, that every design follows programming by someone else, just a tiny little bit. Design looked like it was designed on a computer. Slick and programmed. It was hard to learn to break out of this system. Perfection might be the engine for some designers, but for me perfection often kills the soul of someone’s work. So I try to integrate little irregularities to feel more connection with what I’m doing.

Hort: Calle Underground and Künstlerhaus Mousonturm posters

What typefaces or colours you would associate with Hort?

174T2ry by
This is the typeface they designed for us years ago to design our identity. Another strong part of the identity is red. We use courier to talk to people.

Tell us the first Hort word that comes to mind:

Dance: Like it’s your last one.
Open: Source. Sharing is caring.
Positive: Humour
Smile: More
Birthday cake: Adli
Hugs: For free
Paints: Pain

What design friends would you invite to a Hort party?

Antoine & Manuel, Paula Scher, Mirko Borsche, Mario Lombardo, Haw-Lin, vier5, Onlab, Stahl R, Siggi Eggertsson, Colophon Foundry (Anthony and Edd), Patakiman, Cyan, Manuel Bürger, Hasi macht Sachen, Frank Höhne, 44 Flavors, Stefan Marx, Niklaus Troxler, Mutti, Marian Bantjes… and the many others we respect as both creatives and as people.

Hort: Wild Art book design


Hort: Limited edition illustrations for Happy Cups

What is in the bright future for Hort?

It’s more important to enjoy brightness in the moment than hoping for a brighter future.

And after it all, how would you like Hort remembered?

As it is. A fantastic place where investing in relationships and humanity is more important than success and money.

First published in desktop #300

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