Sven Tillack is a designer who advocates taking things slowly. His work could be seen as a testament to this—all calm, considered layouts, punchy type, and a minimal feel—more often than not created using processes he’s spent years honing.
Tillack is based in Stuttgart, Germany, and is currently completing his 14th semester studying at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart (Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design). He’s been there seven years, and his audible excitement as we chat indicates that all that time there certainly hasn’t weakened his fondness for the institution. “I’m in a lucky position to be studying somewhere that you can take a diploma,” he says. “Maybe in the UK or in America, you see people take a bachelor’s and a master’s and finish when they’re 23, then become partners in their 30s. Studying in Stuttgart you can take things slowly: in some projects you can take two weeks where you don’t even use a computer, and take the time to think about what form that project might take.”
This sort of pace certainly seems to suit Tillack, and his freelance work outside school mostly comprises projects for cultural clients, meaning he looks to really get his teeth into the concepts around his design. One such recent project with time as its focus is a catalog for postgraduate artists that aims to last for five years, taking the form of five issues that gradually form a whole. “I love trying to find new ways of working with materials,” he says, “or find a new approach to making the same old catalogs and the same old posters.
“Working with architects and artists means they’re more likely to want interesting ways of solving a design problem and they aren’t too interested in normal solutions. I like to have a really strong concept and an output that can last—with book design it’s very important to have something that lasts over time. With editorial you have to have all the newest fonts and the newest photographers, but with books you have to work with the hand brake on a bit more.”
Tillack’s speciality these days is Riso printing, which he loves for the “little mistakes” the process engenders and its capacity for experimentation. He’s supervised Riso printing at college for the past four years, and his thesis is looking at the possibilities for printing photographs using a Riso machine by experimenting with new spot colors using programs licensed to him by a generous company somewhere in Bavaria. It sounds like a complicated feat, and one undoubtedly helped by early years of programming.
“I spent a lot of my childhood sitting in front of a computer,” he says, launching into a story about his nine-year-old self playing hooky the day he knew that new parts were arriving for his dad’s computer. When they did, left alone to his own devices, he took the computer apart and put the new elements in. He managed to accidentally break the lot. Thankfully his parents saw the funny side, and undeterred, he continued teaching himself the programming language BASIC, going on to create a website for his community of online gamer pals. “Some kids like to play outside and build tree houses, but I always found it more interesting to stay at home,” he says. “I think having an understanding of programming has always stayed with me, and it’s really helped with preparing files to be printed, or in the technical side of projects.”
Tillack took his childhood tinkering into a design apprenticeship working for a large company with mostly beauty and industrial clients. While he enjoyed his time there, he found that the fast-paced world of ad campaign visuals and corporate design wasn’t the best fit for the way he liked to work.
“In an agency you might work your ass off on one thing for three or four weeks and then move on to something else, but here our teachers want us to take our time,” he says. “My professor, Uli Cluss, always wants us to think about how the content determines the form of the output. It might mean we don’t have the newest fonts or the most contemporary graphic design, but you get some really interesting results. It’s more like a playground than a university.”