Operating out of studios more than 6,200 miles apart, partners Philipp Hubert (New York) and Sebastian Fischer (Stuttgart, Germany, but soon to be Berlin), of Hubert & Fischer (pictured above), have managed to create an enviable portfolio of exquisitely executed book designs, primarily featuring the work of artists, while subtly (or not so subtly) emphasizing the artists’ eccentricities on the page. They’ve garnered a bevy of awards for their editorial and type design from the Type Directors Club, Design Observer, from us at AIGA, and internationally from the Czech Republic, Japan, Germany, and Moscow.
The two met while studying design in Germany and soon began collaborating together, and with other studios and agencies around the world. In 2010, Hubert moved to New York to intern with Stefan Sagmeister and stayed on for a few years working on various book projects, before deciding to merge with Fischer again and open the New York office of Hubert & Fischer in 2014. We decided to check in with the duo to see what they’re working on next.
When designing art books, do you have an immediate sense of how you want to showcase the work?
Hubert: I need to spend some time with the content, but not too much; it helps me understand what to communicate and to get a feeling of typography, format, and other things you need to decide in the early stage of a book design. We’re also involved with editing the images for the book, which means we select them or discuss with the artist or editor what should be in it, and sometimes we make suggestions with pull quotes or text changes. This is all a different layer to think about, and part of what makes book design exciting.
How many concepts or dummies do you typically present to a publisher?
Hubert: We tend to show only the direction we’re confident with and that we think is the right thing for the project, but sometimes two directions help the client to visualize other possibilities and make comparisons. Our experience is that a client or artist with little book experience is more confused if you present more than two ideas.
Fischer: And in the process of the design, we show variations. It’s an evolving process and sometimes it looks different than in the initial presentation.
What’s a typical book design project like?
Hubert: For the Haas Brothers book (above) we started by looking at their artwork to come up with a design idea that could work well, yet was not too loud. Then we designed a typeface for the book that’s inspired by the organic shapes of their objects, ceramics, and their use of the color gold, which you see on the front cover and fore edges.
Fischer: For some books, we associate the chosen typeface or the way we typeset with the artworks, but we don’t try to mimic it too closely. The artwork serves as more of an inspiration for us. Fine art is the best inspiration.
Do you pretty much have free reign when it comes to your publishing projects?
Fischer: For the most part I think we’re lucky in that our clients trust us in what we do and this gives us creative freedom. And of course the budget influences the production. But when we start to work on a project, we try not to get influenced or limited by the budget because we believe there’s a solution for every obstacle you face in production.
Hubert: You can do really good design whether you have a limited budget or certain design rules to abide by. It’s also a matter of experience and knowledge of book production. We’ve designed almost 40 books since we started the studio, and somehow you get to know the flow and production issues. But you still need to pay attention to everything.
Tell us about your type work. You’ve collaborated on some really interesting typefaces.
Hubert: Some of the typefaces we designed were out of personal interest when we worked on a book, but we also work on custom typefaces for more commercial clients. Sometimes we’re inspired by the artwork in a book we worked on, and have fun playing with shapes and existing typefaces to create something unusual. Sometimes you walk down the street and see something typographically interesting and you sketch it out.
Fischer: Designing a typeface was always a part of our studio practice, and we designed our first font family when we graduated from design school, but it mostly comes together with designing the books. With almost every project we create graphic elements and strive for interesting typography. One of our sayings when we started the studio is: “Never do boring typography!”
Do you ever push the aesthetic too far for the publisher or artist?
Hubert: Of course! Every project should be pushed in a way that’s unusual from a designer’s perspective to the point where it actually becomes something else. Even if it won’t be realized, it’s very important for me to keep creative experimentation in my life as designer. But in the end the outcome is mostly a compromise between the client and the designer, and it’s important that the client and the designer are both happy with it.
Fischer: We’re always trying to push the design away from a traditional way of seeing and break with boring notions. Certainly we have to make compromises in design, but we’re lucky that we often have clients who understand the importance of being slightly outside the standard norms.