Antwerp-based graphic designer and educator Ines Cox is fascinated by the ignored and forgotten. She approaches a commission by thinking just as much about negative space as the design of the content itself, and she enjoys drawing attention to things—whether visual details or ideas themselves—that often pass by unnoticed. After graduating from the Netherlands’ Werkplaats Typografie with a Master’s degree in typography in 2011, Cox co-founded studio Cox & Grusenmeyer. In 2014, she started her own personal studio as well, where she now crafts her impeccable, fresh, and carefully composed (yet apparently effortless) designs.
The one oft-neglected area that particularly fascinates Cox? Blank paper. She used to believe that if a design itself was good, then its strength and power would shine through no matter what surface it was printed on. “I’m wiser now,” she states enthusiastically, “[but] paper adds a special, additional quality.”
An incredible sense of tactility emanates from the surfaces of Cox’s printed paraphernalia; a lot of meaning can be discerned from the grain of the material alone, the way ink meets the pores of the page, and how a photograph looks when pressed to the surface. The textures of her projects are inextricably linked to the concept of her designs.
Case in point: for a recent identity for THE TEN—an exhibition in Brussels that brought together the work of 10 designers who’d won Belgium’s Designer of the Year award since 2005—Cox selected a paper that exuded a stark sense of stoniness. Why? Because she wanted to capture the idea that these 10 design names were permanently “written in stone.” The negative space—speckled with textural detail—was crucial to the concept.
Cox’s identity for a crime film festival, made in collaboration with Lauren Grusenmeyer, was similarly smart and playful when it came to its three-dimensionality and use of blank, invisible space. Just like a cartoon detective might, Cox punctured eye holes (or perhaps bullet holes?) into the newspaper she’d been commissioned to create, so that visitors could spy on one another while reading about the films at the festival.
Cox and Grusenmeyer’s stunning and attention-grabbing identity for lingerie brand La Fille d’O also hinges on emphatic blankness; the name of the brand peeks out from behind the void of a black box so that the type almost looks like cleavage.
“When it comes to good composition, negative space is just as important as the way you shape the content,” asserts Cox, a lesson she’s intent on passing onto her students at the Royal Academy of Antwerp, where she teaches typography and design. She themes workshops around negative space, and encourages students to focus on blank areas of a page before making any marks at all.
The things that often go ignored are forever of fascination to Cox, so much so that the theme of the overlooked feeds into her personal projects, too. Recently FAT magazine asked her to fill a double page spread with whatever she liked. The brief was overwhelmingly open, simply that “it should be Ines Cox.”
“Since my work process involves a lot of sketching and trying out, I determined years ago to keep everything that I do in a physical archive,” says Cox, who decided that she’d use the things that got forgotten, the killed-off ideas she’d filed meticulously in her binders.
Cox calls these forgotten designs her “darlings,” and sometimes she regrets that they’ve ended up in her design graveyard, so to speak. For the FAT commission, she cobbled her dead darlings together in squares across a page like an Instagram feed, and called the composition “The Resurrection of the Darlings.”
“The works become detached from their original content and context,” muses Cox, delighted by the way you can transform the forgotten and overlooked into the core of a design concept itself. All it takes is a shift in perspective: look closely at what you throw away or ignore and new ideas will often emerge. Cox resurrects and champions the invisible, she crafts her design from white blankness as well as concentrating on marks, typography, and all the inky details. The result is beautifully balanced, holistic design.