There are three things that strike you when you take a look at the portfolio of Berlin-based graphic designer and art director Maximilian Mauracher: firstly, his beautiful work; secondly, “wow, this guy really loves monochrome”; and thirdly, that his personal logo is surely a nod to a certain clown called Ronald’s famous golden arches.
The similarity is no accident, and it points towards Mauracher’s playful and wry sense of humor, one that imbues much of his portfolio when that sort of thing is appropriate. It’s baffling (and impressive) to see his work in light of the fact that he only graduated from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna in June this year, and on creating his new website after graduation, he found himself thinking about how other graphic designers or illustrators craft their own logos. “They create these random things from their initials which look nice, but aren’t really saying anything,” says Mauracher. “Then I realized that MM and the McDonald’s logo have some similarities… and they create something visually interesting, but also humorous. It’s an ironic comment on the habits of designers using their initials to make a logo. A lot of people really like it, but my father asked if I was scared I was going to get sued.”
These sort of smart yet affectionate sideways glances are never really far from Mauracher’s work. Take his designs for the Easy Access concert series held at Brut Wien late last year. In one application, his approach takes the name of the series into saucy territory by displaying typography within a series of mocked-up condom wrappers, and elsewhere the look draws on a ’90s net art feel that manages to tread the line between deliciously trendy graphics and branding that fits a client brief perfectly.
“Humor is a great thing to attract attention in a subtle way,” says Mauracher. “I don’t like it in very obvious ways, as my work is sometimes quite minimal. But humor can make people think about things in different ways, if it’s done in a nice way. In these times we’re living in, maybe we need a little more humor.”
It’s an old but ever-veracious cliché that creativity flourishes within limitations, and the shackle that Mauracher most often fastens to his practice is using only black and white. What’s even more fascinating in his case, is that monochrome isn’t just for graphics, it’s for life. His Instagram account, his wardrobe—for all I know, his breakfast is rendered in a sober palette of black and white. Dobrila Denegri, art historian and curator of the Transfashional exhibition for which Mauracher designed the printed materials, describes the color choices in his work as a “total design” approach, in which everything is “characterized by interplay of geometrical structures and oppositions of black and white.” But what’s behind young Monochrome Max’s radical palette? “It was a conscious decision when I decided to ban color for all my clothes,” he says. “Sometimes I wear grey or denim, but I don’t own any colorful pieces anymore. It was so time-consuming to choose the right things and match them, so I just thought ‘let’s do black and white’ as it always looks nice and sleek. Then suddenly all my work was black and white, too.
“If it’s a client project and it needs color then of course I’ll do that, but on my own projects I try to stick to that monochrome feeling. Having complete freedom is quite difficult and overwhelming, so I always set myself a limitation; one of the first was working in black and white, or on early projects, using only two typefaces maximum on a project. If there’s no client, you have to make those limitations yourself.”
Mauracher grew up in a small village in Austria of around 2,000 people, before going to Vienna at 19 years old to study. From the sounds of it, he’s always been a commendably driven chap. Having no formal design courses at school, he instead spent his afternoons teaching himself inDesign and Photoshop. At school, around age 14, some friends started their own theater club (the school had no such activities formally on the curriculum); Mauracher took it upon himself to design the posters, and found that he had a passion for design: “Around 13 or 14 I was already really into the graphics thing, and bought a lot of magazines and books about it. It was clear I was some sort of creative person. I taught myself a lot of things at home, and I was always doing things like branding projects for fictional brands. Looking back now, that was so weird.”
However, this isn’t one of those stories of a child who was forever drawing. “I really can’t draw,” he says, “I always skipped any class involving drawing at university, like when you have to draw naked people—I was like ‘fuck that shit’ and would try and hand in other people’s drawings if I needed to give something in to get a grade. If someone hands me a pencil, I just think ‘I can’t do it.’
“As a child I wanted to be a restaurant chef, then I realized that it’s not that nice a job. But there are actually a lot of similarities with design: you have the ingredients, like the typography, shapes, colors, and mix it together to make something tasteful. It’s about working on it and refining it.”
His move to Berlin after graduation was for the city’s rich art, music, and design scene; with Mauracher’s work mostly focusing on such clients, it makes sense. At the moment he’s continuing to work on exhibition catalogs, identity projects, and co-running his publisher Pool, for which he’s already applied his black and white aesthetic to the design of nine books. He’s also just got his hands on a 3D printer, which I’m excited to see the fruits of in future.
So far, Mauracher’s freelance lifestyle sounds pretty dreamy: mornings are for work, afternoons for hanging out with friends and going to galleries, then the evenings are back to work until around 10p.m. Blimey, that’s disciplined, I tell him.
“I’m a workaholic,” he says, “which is maybe quite bad, but as long as you really love your work and it’s a passion, then it doesn’t always feel like work. I get a lot of power and energy from designing. And if the client is happy, that’s the highest form of validation somehow.”