Geotypografika Interview 001: Jean-Benoît Lévy

You can take the boy out of Switzerland, but you can’t take the Switzerland out of the boy.


Above: JBL as himself. Please take time to examine his h-and-s font, a font developed as an international language. An AGI member, he is an internationally known poster designer. Geotypografika knows him best as a devoted teacher, husband, and new father. Servus JBL!

Title/Profession: Visual Specialist
Location: San Francisco, California
Studio Name: Studio AND

001 Video Interviews with JBL: Handbook, and another on his poster work. Here, with a class at San Jose State University.
002 In print: Handbook. The book about Hand Signs, featuring the font h-and-s
003 AGI Notes: Jean-Benoit Levy at the AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale)
004 Designing with Type: link to an article about Jean-Benoit Levy’s class
005 Moving words: cards + journals
006 Products with hands: Buttons
007 Fonts: h-and-s
008 On Rene Wanner’s Posterpage (dot) CH.

Above: A mark by JBL. For more, please use Rene’s search engine, there is much to see but start here.

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Above: A selection of JBL’s posters, click an image for a direct link.

Geotypografika Interview 001 Jean-Benoît Lévy verbatim

What developments are you following in the world of graphic
design/typography today?

JBL I am looking at the way styles are appearing, disappearing, reappearing. How young designers are presenting themselves, their impact on recent trends. How designs are influenced by new tehnologies and software. I am observing in which field in the industries, new aesthetics are changing our behaviors.

What new developments are occurring specific to your location?
JBL In traditional graphic design things are quiet, all seams to repeat again and again. As a trend we do hear a lot about sustainability and green design (see for example here, and here), which by the way is already a much more advanced and developed concept in Europe. However design wise, there are much more innovations to observe here in California in the field of interaction design and mobile devices. There is a new generation of interfaces that gears more towards a better user friendly and intuitive experience design.

Given the astronomical growth (both current and especially projected) of the Indian and
Chinese middle class/economies, how long before contemporary graphic design and typography finally recede from “Western” domination, and we see a new global vernacular arising? Or will we witness an inversion, where the dominant Eastern economies impose their visual vernacular?

JBL Graphic trends are a luxurious matter and do not particularly represent the main point of development in other cultures. More important is to transmit a clear message and to be able to communicate it well. I wish that those “new” cultures appearing in the design scene will keep and further evolve into their individualities instead of trying to replicate our western style.

How do you see yourself (or your work) involved in the global state of graphic design? Do you try and address this, for example, by searching for a contemporary voice
in your work?

JBL I am like an antenna or a sponge, always in exchange with my environment, receiving or transmitting. I try to find the time to be creative and be open minded while addressing the needs of my clients, my publishers and students while I am enjoying the wonderful opportunity to work on personal projects such as the handbook, the h-and-s buttons, allowing to express my visions.

What avenues for research/global discussion do you regularly visit, online or otherwise?
JBL The graphic scene is very active in the bay area. We go to conferences, lectures, exchange ideas. I observe the development of the image and type in motion, follow individual online expression (here). I am listening to the radio and like to hear how others are dealing with the same problems. Fortunately, certain issues are related to particular place and not everything is becoming global. I do lectures wherever
I am in the world.

Are you optimistic about the future?
JBL The future was and will always be a place of insecurity which generates great energies. This state of mind gives me hope and freedom.

What are the most important elements/abilities for a young designer to master in today’s ultra-competitive world?
JBL With the web anyone can quickly generate ideas and reach a bigger audience.
But like always, knowing a technique is not enough and in order to develop his own personal voice one has to know what has been made before. It is in a total new state of mind – since everything is accessible – that we have to teach ourselves how to navigate, how to find our way into a more immediate world. We have to learn to develop a new sense of orientation.

Is teaching typography and graphic design even possible at a truly global scale? How to account for an audience of this scale beyond the model of the International Style, etc.?
JBL In one hand, the problem of visual communication is the same everywhere. In the other hand, the styles and cultures are in permanent transition. I hope for many different styles and do not encourage a global visual one. Typography means to organize a written message in order to help an idea to become more clearly expressed. Maybe is the content more important than the form?

Are you witnessing a migration of talent to the developing markets in the East?
JBL Absolutely.

Do you feel a sense of an obligation to/concern for a growing global audience for your work in these times of international immediacy (i.e. The WWW)?
JBL If you are not exposed you do not exist in the design world. In a less serious way, we even placed a short movie on U-tube, where I played someone disappearing.
The question is: beside big brother, is really someone watching?

If so, how do you approach this problem?
JBL We just redesigned our website, so that we can update more easily, and use it as an flexible tool of communication rather than just a display. I am currently expressing my thoughts on our website in a similar way to blogs, giving explanations about certain projects or dispatching a possible visitor toward other links. Present on specialized online platforms, I give interviews and lectures. By following my intuition in what I believe, I try to move out of my comfort zone, beyond print design
and digital communication.

Grazie, JBL.

More Geotypografika interviews here.

3 Responses to “Geotypografika Interview 001: Jean-Benoît Lévy”

Hello Jean-Benoit,
I am going to Felsentor on Lake Lucerne this summer. I will have a week to travel around Switzerland. Where shall I go?

Laurie Szujewska

Laurie Szujewska added these words on Jan 30 08 at 1:14 PM

Switzerland is a very small country and it is great to travel from town to town
with the public transportation ( train ). If you are in Lucerne, you are maximum 3 hours from Geneva, 21/2 from Lausanne, 1 from Zurich, 1 from Basel. In each of those town you will find nice museums. The best, as US traveler, is if you could get in the US a one week train ticket, because train is expensive if you buy it there. Such an abonnment would allow you to go for example to visit Lausanne the Mudac and musee de l’art brut, to go in Genva by boat, to visit Tinguely Museum + Vitra in Basel, the Museum for Communication in Bern, the Gewerbemuseum in Zurich. It all depends your interests. Also you could take a great tour by boat on the lake by Lucerne. I let you google for the rest. good luck

jbl added these words on Jan 31 08 at 11:35 AM

great information and startling art!

Lausanne added these words on Oct 21 09 at 5:59 AM

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