10 Jan
Ian in front of one of the many doors painted with graffiti at Zossener Strasse.
Ian in front of one of the many doors painted with graffiti at Zossener Strasse.

For English graphic designer and founder of All The World’s A Page Ian Warner in Berlin “so much has changed over the years, and being witness to that is a big source of inspiration”. And so he began to wonder whether it’s possible to fit one book onto one page…

I moved to Berlin in 1996, so I feel pretty old-school these days. I’d just finished my BA in communication design at Portsmouth University in the UK, and was so impatient that I’d already moved here before the graduation ball. The design school had good ties with Berlin and I came here on a trip for the first time in 1994. I ended up doing my BA thesis on the urban development plans for Potsdamer Platz, which effectively combined my interest in architecture and urbanism with graphic design.

Around that time I was listening to a lot of electronic and industrial music: I was a big fan of Einstürzende Neubauten and I was really seduced by the images of the city. Everything was worn down and messed up, grimy, broken and improvised. There’s not much of that side of Berlin left: so many of the empty plots of land have been built on that it’s difficult to recall how the place looked ten years ago.

What I also loved about Berlin was its café culture and the way people went out to be with each other rather than to just get drunk – which is how I experienced life in England. Compared to Portsmouth in the mid 1990s, Prenzlauer Berg cafés were a distinct improvement. But it’s nothing compared to the situation now: the cafés just keep on getting better and better. Most weekends I’m in my favorite, ‘westberlin’, on Friedrichstraße, who make a fantastic brew.

So much has changed over the years, and being witness to that is a big source of inspiration. In 2006 I started a semi-satirical architectural blog called Slab which deals with personal impressions of city planning and its building-culture. Slab now has five regular contributors, has held lectures for students at the TU Berlin and the AdbK Nürnberg, and also authored a print publication which surveyed new architecture built on the former site of the Berlin Wall called The New Death Strip.

My professional ties to the city go back to my first year here. In 1997 I started freelancing, among others, for the company that would later come to be known as Blotto Design, and whom I joined as a partner in 2000. In 2010 we set up the label All The World’s A Page. It followed an idea I had about typesetting the whole of James Joyce’s Ulysses on a single poster. Idle curiosity led me to it: I wanted to know how long the novel really was, without having to guess by the width of the book’s spine. We designed and produced four posters along the same idea, set up a web store, and started sales just before Christmas 2010. The project has been really successful and we now sell 21 titles including Das Kapital, Moby Dick, Faust, Ulysses, Dracula and Grimms’ Fairy Tales. We ship them worldwide, and it’s been fascinating to see where they end up.

I’ve had an unusually straightforward career for a Berlin creative, but after thirteen years at Blotto, it was time to move on to new things. So together with one of my partners, Johannes Siemer, we’ve founded a new design agency called State. Our way of working has become increasingly holistic: projects have become more complex and involve more people from different disciplines. We’re also frequently engaged as consultants from very early on in projects, so simply calling ourselves graphic designers is no longer the whole story. State will allow us to refocus and set up new structures that reflect and support this change.

The creative scene in Berlin has become really atomized in the last years. I’m wary of hype and I’m not convinced by the city’s commitment to establishing Berlin as a creative center. But I’m optimistic all the same. Berlin has a habit of surprising you.