An elaborate yet stoic sans for Kantstraße in Berlin. A sturdy, gold for Corso Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome. For São Paulo’s Treze de Maio, an energetic, powerful serif. Each issue of Flaneur magazine focuses on a single street in a different city from around the world, honing microscopically into its histories, particularities, and communities. Design by Studio Yukiko brings the editorial team’s experience of a street colorfully to life: every issue becoming a typographic love letter of sorts, or a densely packed and overflowing postcard.
The term “flaneur” historically suggests a detached observer wandering a crowd, contemplating the wonders of the megalopolis in complete self-absorbed absorption. With this in mind, I’ve always felt that the name Flaneur isn’t perfectly suited to the magazine project. Unlike the self-absorbed flaneur, the magazine embraces a street, working closely with the community who live and work there to spin content in the form of photo stories, artistic contributions, and lengthy essays. It’s transparent about the fact that an issue is merely a fleeting interpretation of a place, filled with contradictions, alternative histories, and disconnected fragments: “this could be Kantstraße,” the editors memorably wrote in issue one.
Flaneur has created papery portraits of lively streets for five years and seven issues now, taking the team from its home in Berlin to Leipzig, Montreal, Rome, Athens, Moscow, and most recently, São Paulo for several months. I wonder at the team’s resourceful ability to not only find funding for a publishing project of its kind (the magazine is a hefty thing—240 x 320mm format, and it doesn’t shy away from expensive inks and complex printing), but also for visas and the privilege of unsalaried time spent abroad, too.
“Funding an issue of Flauner is a job in itself,’ say Michelle Phillips and Johannes Conrad of Studio Yukiko. “It takes a lot of application writing and resourceful thinking. Through this project, we keep growing, questioning, and surprizing ourselves, though. We can’t stress enough the importance of doing something that you really make yours in any creative discipline.
“I think without Flaneur our practise would be very different, as we feed so much of what we learn from the magazine into the rest of our work.”
The designers take me through the latest 304 pages that they’ve created. It’s the largest to date, and the first dual language issue with Portuguese running alongside English. Design emerged from “an overarching feeling” of the street, say Yukiko. The pair always begin the process of a new issue in the same way: gathering ephemera from the street, and photographically documenting the typography, design, color, and architecture they observe, grouping everything together into visual moods.
Yukiko begun the design of issue seven by taking the fragments and ephemera they’d collected—the hundreds of photos and scrappy notes by the editors—and arranged them one fragment per page. “We felt that the themes we’d found were too complex to tidy into a selection of neat sections and visual response, so a more fluid visual and editorial structure emerged. Some of the pieces seem to seamlessly run into the next without any warning, and they intersect each other. The construction of the magazine was in continuous flux until the end.”
To guide the reader, Yukiko developed a series of bands that run down the sides of spreads, indicating ideas and themes being discussed on that page. These carry through the features designed in direct response to a particular experience. “For example, we have a section on the Sarau, a spoken word event held at the bottom of the street where locals come and share their thoughts in poetry and rhyme,” says Yukiko. “We collaborated with the guys from Suburban Sarau Bixiga (another name for the lower part of the neighbourhood), to create an event on the 13 May (on the street named after the 13th of May after all), and they asked us to create the flyer for it. Our flyer design directly riffed on their designs, and the design inside the magazine was an extension of that.”
Similarly the red that’s seen on the cover was informed by their hosts’ apartment. “Our host, Karlla Girotto, had a magnificent red kitchen. It was beautiful—I’m sure the red seeped into our subconscious. Our hosts Karlla and André Penteado also then became contributors in the magazine. Karlla had been working closely with marginalized women from the periphery and centre of the city, using her skills as a fashion designer to create masks around the theme of identity with them. André uses photography in an almost investigative manner, letting each picture he takes act as a clue to lead him to the next picture he might take. For us, he explored the themes of meat and service culture in São Paulo, specifically on our street.”
I ask Studio Yukiko about the ethics of playing homage and representing a place through graphic design in a way that’s respectful of and informed by its local design history, especially when it brings its very own specific, European design sensibility to the pages. Yukiko explains that the editorial team works collaboratively with the people they meet on a street while putting together an issue, but the magazine doesn’t collaborate with local designers in the same way—it’s informed instead by the team’s ongoing collaborative experiences. “Our most important rule when starting an issue is don’t go with any preconceptions or expectations,” says Yukiko. “If we can achieve that then the outcome of the magazine should be an honest representation of our on-site experiences and research. The design evolves and is inspired by our time there.
“Ultimately, design does play a very strong role in Flaneur, we allow it to be quite vocal in its contribution and there’s certainly a lot of us in it, but we’re very conscious of avoiding current design trends. It is a process. There’s no formula, and it takes a lot of trying things out until we come to a point where it feels like we are making an honest but exciting interpretation.”