Between analog and digital with Eike König – Interview featured by #jungbleiben
Graphic designer, artist, and professor, father, partner, and above all human being; this is Eike König. Growing up in Germany in the 1970s, he lived through exciting eras, but also emotional ups and downs have made him the person he is now. Linguistically, Eike König is absolutely in his element and admires the aesthetics and the art of sport. We had a chat with him for our series “Featured by #jungbleiben magazine“.
You grew up in Germany during the “wild 70s”. Is there anything from this time that particularly shaped you and that you still like to remember?
A lot of things have shaped and influenced me during that time … On the one hand, I spent lots of time doing gymnastics. Between the ages of 3 and 17 my afternoons were strictly organized. There was almost no room for visionary thoughts or wild personal experiences. And yet the cloak of fear, due to the nuclear threat of the Cold War, was permanently on my “emotional couch”. All that yet not experienced aroused inner unrest that I am still feeling today. A kind of drive to live my life to the fullest in a limited time. In all nuances and extremes.
At the same time, I went through puberty, uncertainty, and insecurity. So many emerging musical and fashionable trends and groups that I felt I belonged to, without really wanting to be one of them. And at the same time, I felt the demarcation that I couldn’t understand. Why must all positions be so ’exclusively’ formulated? This experience probably also has a trait of my personality: I can deal with quite a number of different personalities, interests, and opinions and do not want to surround myself exclusively with only my own kind. I am fundamentally interested in people and their history.
Your artwork deals with very current and socio-political topics. You are very “young at heart” and state of the art, is that how you feel personally?
Thank you very much for the compliment. Society, community, responsibility, freedom, attitude, opinion, environment … these have always been topics that I have dealt with. It doesn’t end with… 25… on the contrary, it feels even more intense since our son’s birth.
In my artistic work, I deal with language, de- and contextualization, and the resulting spaces of interpretation. Language is a very powerful tool with which we describe our inner and outer reality and sometimes our feelings.
You are a freelance graphic artist, have your flourishing graphic design studio in Berlin and also teach at the Hochschule der Künste, HfG Offenbach. What is your personal balance and has anything changed since the birth of your son?
I’ve organized myself in such a way that I can tackle all the different professional areas with seriousness, joy, and energy. They enrich one another. The birth of our son was like a big bang in my life. You just can’t imagine what it’s like to have a child. I was completely naive. The planets of your universe rearranged themself again. Many established positions had to be renegotiated, your OWN time takes on a new, intense meaning that I wasn’t so aware of before. And well, the EGO begins to rock as well.
Would you consider yourself an artist or more of a graphic designer?
Personally, I don’t make a difference. I studied graphic design, offered my knowledge and skills to companies and institutions for a very long time, and developed and designed great identities together with great people. I am human first and foremost. Then a citizen, a father, a lover and partner, a friend. If we then add the graphic designer, the artist and the professor, we describe myself a little.
You work a lot with graphic elements and fonts, are they mostly produced digital or analog?
First and foremost they arise in thoughts. Before that, I collect and prepare most of it in my digital notes that I make every day, then I look for potential and make the first drafts digitally. At the very beginning, I printed them out on paper by hand and analog, there was no digital.
How do you differentiate when working by hand and using digital tools?
I was trained analog, at that time there were no computers at the university. At the moment, I create my free work analog by hand as well. I try to do everything myself as best as I can because every material and every method gives me the opportunity to learn something and thus becomes an important part of my artistic practice.
One of the largest international clients your studio HORT works with is Nike. To what extent can you identify with the brand and this healthy/sporty lifestyle?
I like sport very much, it inspires me above all in its perfection and in detail. This apparent lightness is actually a highly complex and controlled sequence of movements. At Nike, it all started with basketball when we designed shoe packaging for LeBron James and then the visual center. Basketball is a fascinating team sport with two powers: attack and defense. Very fast, dynamic, acrobatic, powerful, and tactical. When I say it like that, graphic translations immediately come to my mind: font, graphics, color, contrasts … I can absolutely identify with that.
Brands like Nike know that today’s customers want more than just a product. They want to be part of a story and this has a lot to do with values and ethics.
As Art Director at Logic Records, you started your career in the techno scene and the beginning of a new era. Would you like to experience such a ground-breaking event once again?
Of course. It really was something special. To experience a new genre right from the start and to even partly help to shape it, is something exhilarating.
A few years ago you were chosen to receive the practical grant from Villa Massimo in Italy. There you thought about your next steps and worked on new artwork under your own name. What did you take with you from this time that still shapes your current lifestyle and everyday work?
For me, it was above all a wonderful award, an appreciation of my personal work and my studio. The Villa Massimo is actually reserved for the ’pillars of culture’, which includes fine arts, architecture, classical composition and literature. Unfortunately, applied graphic design, product design, fashion, interfaces, pop culture, etc. are often still smiled at.
I went to Rome with the idea of repeating an existential experience. When I was 30, I suffered from burnout, couldn’t work for six months, the demands on myself were too high and recognition too fast. I was afraid of failure or of losing something. Out of this experience I started working with some younger and in certain areas better and more experienced designers and to think and design in a team. That is, what taught me the most personally, over the years and that is what makes HORT so successful.
Over time, you establish networks in which you can move safely. I wanted to test this certainty and find my own questions in Rome. The stay was not that existential, but it was an important step.
My lifestyle has not changed as a result of the stay, but my daily work has. The method of translating internal monologues into original printed works, developed in Rome, still accompanies me today when I go to my studio.
As a professor at the Hochschule der Künste HfG Offenbach, you work with a wide variety of and mostly very talented students. Have you ever remembered a student in particular that has inspired you in your further work?
I’m surrounded by young, talented, and very interesting people, it’s always an exciting dialogue. Every now and then you meet someone whose work fascinates you deeply. I find inspiration in every conversation and also in the process. In the past nine years, I have accompanied some very exciting students and their processes of whom I still follow their careers today. Some even became friends.
Is there any advice you would give to your students and young designers when they are just at the beginning of their careers?
I am very bad at giving advice. At the beginning of the course, I always tell the students “I can give you all the certificates now, they shouldn’t be your motivation. I want a fire to be kindled within you, a deep interest in the discipline and responsibility that comes with it. If you fall in love with typography, then you are on the right track.”
Is there a connection between inspiration and productivity for you?
Inspiration sounds like a magical moment in which the blurring suddenly disappears and a path becomes visible. There is a big misconception about productivity. We are on the wrong track if we only produce when something physical arises. The product is the result of a process. And in that case, there is probably a connection between inspiration and productivity.
What makes you so successful and did you ever dream of becoming successful as a child?
Yes, I wanted to be successful and I was programmed for it very early on. In my battle to cut the cord from my father, I developed a certain need to show him that I would be more successful than him, but without real success in mind. I didn’t start practicing graphic design to become a known graphic designer. Back then there was no internet and the scope and visibility of your work was very limited. I saw in my independence rather an expression of myself, self-determined, and free. Today I can at least make a living from it.
What have you been doing over the past few months?
Like all of us … with the pandemic. From now on, we will be calling it the time BEFORE and AFTER COVID-19. I spent a lot of time with my young family. Watched and admired my son learning to walk, cooked, played, learned and laughed together. I was thinking and reflecting. I launched a few projects like my 50/50, lived through a digital semester, developed a few free works …