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- Graphic Design

The secret of local: quality and trust

Designer Kurt Dornig is well known beyond the borders of his homeland region of Vorarlberg in Austria. But although international publishers are listed in his portfolio, he loves to work for clients in his region – and for many reasons. We talked to this grounded but world-wise designer.


You work for a number of regional clients – where do you see your biggest advantage here?

With many of my clients I have been working for over 20 years so I have known them since a time when the internet and global interconnectivity was still only just emerging. At that time it was not easy at all for a young designer from the provinces to reach clients outside his or her own region. So I developed my own personal way of working – I was you might say »socialised« as a designer. That explains perhaps also why I find it a little difficult to have meetings on Skype and I am a bit awkward still in using social media such as Facebook & Co. One prevailing principle and one that is my personal key to long-term successful collaboration with clients is quite simply, reliability. For this you need mutual respect and trust – and that involved working at the relationship. And I need to talk to people face to face. Regular meetings, sometimes also spontaneously, are much easier to organise if the client is only a few minutes away.

Buchgestaltung »Von der Alp auf den Teller«
Buchgestaltung »Von der Alp auf den Teller«


Is that then expressed in a shared philosophy?

When you work together on projects for a long time and pursue the same goals, that develops kind of naturally. My clients mostly have a clear corporate philosophy and often I share that unequivo?cally. In return I require a certain attitude from them, as regards me as a person and also my approach to design. I can’t and I don’t want to work for people who just regard me as a »supplier«. I want to be perceived and taken seriously as a partner. Also it’s important to me that the client can appreciate the quality of my work. That means they should not just rely on their subjective taste criteria, they must also have an understanding of what it is that I do for them. Ideally that develops into the same way of thinking.

Stadt Dornbirn, Kulturleitbild
Stadt Dornbirn, Kulturleitbild

One of your regional clients is Biber Umweltprodukte Versand, an online supplier of eco-friendly products. How did you come to work with them?

In the regional business digest of the Vorarlberg region there is a weekly list of newly founded companies. In 1995, when I moved with my partners at the time from Bregenz to Dornbirn, I sent a short direct mail out to these 100 or so firms and followed up with a telephone call. Biber already had a design agency that was looking after them, but nevertheless I was invited to come along and promptly received a commission to design a new title concept. Further smaller jobs followed until the MD Christoph Intemann asked if I would like to take over the design of the whole catalogue. At that time the catalogue only had 32 pages, and it was A5 format. It was produced four times a year – today it stretches to 200 A4 pages. What I couldn’t guess at the time was how successful that company would become in the following 22 years. And I also benefited from this development in a number of ways.

Verpackung für den Biber Umweltprodukte Versand


Does a shared location also play a part here?

Biber is an international supplier but in many ways it is very firmly rooted in the region. Which means that in terms of the range it offers, an above-average proportion of the products come from regional craftsmen and manufacturers. On the other hand almost everyone involved with and working for the company is in one location. This close proximity makes for very efficient working and minimal errors occur due to communication difficulties.

Gebrauchsanleitungen für den Biber Umweltprodukte Versand


You are also active as a designer in the arts scene in Vorarlberg. Is it important in this field or just helpful to have a connection with the region?

The Rhine valley area of Vorarlberg is not just a thriving location for business, it is also a cultural hotspot. In architecture, for example, it has attained an international reputation. But also museums like the Kunsthaus Bregenz, the vorarlberg museum, which was refurbished just a few years ago, and the Kunstraum Dornbirn are immensely attractive as exhibition venues. I see myself as part of this cultural scene and do various programmes for a performance festival, for example, and a series of publications on contemporary local artists for the vorarlberg museum.
   I think that when you work in the arts field in particular, having a passion for the subject and a personal relationship to the client and the place is highly relevant. And part of this is of course being involved in that scene yourself, and enjoying participating in it. That automatically leads to contacts and inquiries, because people know each other and have respect for one another.

Schriftenreihe des Vorarlberg Museums
Schriftenreihe des Vorarlberg Museums


Many designers want to have big international clients – is that something you also see as worth striving for?

Looking after big international clients sounds at first very good. And of course it can indeed be very exciting and interesting to work for well known brands.
   The reality, however, is that the bigger the firm, the bigger the project and the bigger the budget, the more people there are who have a say in it. And all these people want to have a part of their vision reflected in the outcome. In other words: If you don’t have a strong position, then compromise is inevitable.
   As well as my regional clients, I also work for clients across the German-speaking regions. These publishers and museums are based in Vienna, Berlin, Hamburg, Zürich and Vaduz, and they often have offices in other parts of the world. Producing publications in several languages is quite normal. But as I said what’s important to me in the end is personal contact to the decision-?makers. And sometimes I prefer a nice regional project that I have control over to a big international project working with lots of people I don’t know.



Ausstellung Egon Goldner im Vorarlberg Museum

This interview was first published in our novum issue 05.17 (main topic: regional design). Furthermore you can find in there an interview with Interbrand about the new identity for Juventus Turin. You can buy a single copy here:


More works by Kurt Dornig: