Most designers didn’t begin their careers using a computer smuggled across the Berlin Wall disguised as a TV. But Detlef Fiedler and Daniela Haufe, founders of design studio Cyan, did.
Cyan’s work from the 1990s, created just after the fall of the wall, was strongly affected by the dichotomy between East and West: they retained some of communism’s social values via their work with cultural institutions, but they also had to deal with the reality of becoming commercial designers as the economy pivoted towards capitalism. Cyan’s process and style also sits somewhere between tradition and innovation: It was the first design studio in East Berlin to use computer software like Photoshop, but at the same time, Cyan’s founders dedicated themselves to the precision of their lithography, obsessing over each detail like medieval German printmakers.
Wildly vibrant, illusionistic designs were the result of Cyan’s material and conceptual methodology. Several strata deep, their posters require a careful eye to decode every layer. “Cyan’s whole philosophy is that they want you to spend time with their posters,” says Angelina Lippert, curator of Designing Through the Wall, a new show of Cyan’s work—a big ask for audiences used to decades of clean-cut Swiss advertising.
“Cyan’s whole philosophy is that they want you to spend time with their posters.”
Designing Through the Wall is Cyan’s first show in the United States, and little had been written on the collective prior to the exhibition. In fact, most of the primary research was conducted by Lippert through interviews with Fiedler and Haufe, who are still working as graphic designers in Berlin today. These interviews will be published in a small catalogue accompanying the exhibition, along with essays by Rick Poynor and Paul Stirton which will contextualize Cyan’s work, revealing how the studio pioneered digital graphic technologies while still honoring the history of German design.
We caught up with Lippert to discuss Cyan’s distinctive style, process, and how they pushed the field of design forward while still looking to the past, just before the opening of Designing Through the Wall: Cyan in the 1990s, opening June 20 at Poster House, a new museum in New York City solely dedicated to posters.