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- Graphic Design

Fluid borders

Niels Schrader likes to explore the interface between analogue and digit­al – both in his studio Mind Design and in his work with students, as Dean of the Design Faculty at the Royal Academy of Art in Den Haag. We talked to this creative about the challenges, his projects and about developments in graphic design that are having an impact on our daily lives.


Niels, what is so intriguing about combining the analogue and the digital?

Bringing together these quite different fields of design not only opens up new possibilities in design itself, it also opens the way for innovations and unusual forms of collaboration.


Is there perhaps even a certain interdependency between the digital and the analogue?

I think so, but less in media terms, more in terms of the way we think. These days digital communication is having an ever greater effect on our behaviour, in other words we are increasingly forced to make binary decisions. Characteristic of digital systems is that they are controlled by two signal states – one and zero. Since the terror attacks of 9/11, people are either for or against something, yes or no are the only remaining answers. You see it with the Brexit referendum and many other critical decisions in life. Only those who polarise debate get our attention – the »Trumpification« of the media leaves no room for grey scales.

»White Blackout«, audio-visuelle Installation

Digital and analogue content are indisputably perceived in different ways by the reader or user. In your »Hyperbody« project you tried to transfer »digital structures« to an analogue medium, a book. Can you tell us something about the challenges you faced in this?

With computer-controlled or generative design processes you have to be in the position to relinquish control. That’s not always easy, because it actually contradicts the essence of design in terms of creating order. Anyone who does venture down this path, often doesn’t know the goal and cannot allow him/herself to be intimidated in their efforts by unknown challenges – chal­lenges that result quite naturally from the opposing characteristics of digital and analogue. In general you can expect visual results only at a very late stage in such a design process – the solution only crystallises after a process of slow and careful implementation.

Niels Schrader: »Hyperbody« – First Decade of Interactive Architecture


Is it possible to compare the functionality of your book design for »Hyperbody« with that of your app design for Genders of Hyperlinks? Do you consider this an important aspect?

What both have in common is the concept of hyperlinking content, and the actual software that rendered these connections. Genders of Hyperlinks was the logical follow-up to »Hyperbody«, since it translates the same concept from a printed medium into an entirely digital environment.
The innovative potential of this method lies in discovering the different genders of relationships that related pieces of text might have. They are in fact challenging our current conception of what we generally define to be a hyperlink. The Internet so far does not distinguish between different types of hypertext references, since it does not consider the characteristics of its destination. Even though the <a> tag is the most essential attribute of the World Wide Web, little has been done to advance it to the next level.
So the question here is: Why aren’t we currently differentiating hyperlinks based on the content they are pointing to? Aren’t we missing something crucial when we stay oblivious to the diversity of virtual relations? Social sci­ences, for example, teach us that the relationships among humans have ­different strengths and degrees. So isn’t it about time to implement this ­trivial feature in what connects the world: the Internet?

»Genders of Hyperlinks«, Tablet-Anwendung, Mind Design

With the linking of digital and analogue content, do you think the visual aesthetics of both will also come closer together? And will the designer then be better able to do justice to the individual strengths of the media?

I doubt that the blending of analogue and digital will create a unified visual aesthetic. It depends on the message, not the technology. Many of my projects make use of the dialogue principle, in which media contents transfer from one informative aggregate status to another and in doing so new, unexpected forms of artistic expression emerge. Nach wie vor, White Blackout, Genders of Hyperlinks and The Next Big Thing is Not a Thing give insight into all current phenomena of cultural and philosophical origin and they do not have the same outward appearance.

Geschäftsausstattung für Robstolk, Mind Design

Analogue versus digital also means a natural limitation of the extent in print, and the careful choice that may accompany this, versus the online infinity, including a (possible) arbitrariness. Which option is easier for the designer to live with?

Here, too, there is no either/or. Print products and websites have different advantages and disadvantages: some are amazingly inert and therefore all the more sustainable, others are fast moving and therefore all the more adaptable. You can work very well with both – above all if you probe humorously through ironic refraction. Like a book that evaporates or a website cast in stone.

Geschäftsausstattung für Robstolk, Mind Design


How do you treat the analogue/digital dichotomy in your work as Dean of the Design Faculty? Does the next generation of designers even still think in these categories? To what extent does education have to ensure a balance between the media available?

Against the background of rapid technological progress in the field of artificial intelligence, the discipline of design will have to prove its right to exist in the coming years. Much is already being designed and produced by software, whether it’s an analogue object or a digital application. The next generation of designers should therefore not only master the design tools of the future, they should also be making sure they can develop or build these themselves.

This article was first published in our novum issue 10.16 (main topic »digital / analogue«. You can buy a single copy (also as PDF) here:

»The Next Big Thing is Not a Thing«, Ausstellungskampagne, Mind Design