Sep 13, 2009

The Basel School of Design / Summer Workshop

Maryam Hosseinnia Shares her Experience of Continuing Education

Lately, I’ve been grappling with the following questions: how do experienced designers reach out for creative inspiration? What about professors who bask in the dynamic arena of academic exchange fuelled by young blood?

How important is it for a visual communicator to foster an evolving spirit of creativity in education, culture and art? I think I took a critical step towards answering these questions when I signed up for the Basel School of Design Summer Workshop.

The Basel School of Design has influenced the design community since the 1960s. Under the direction of Armin Hoffman and Emil Ruder, their approach and philosophy to graphic design set outstanding models for a modernist design education.

Research, process, analysis and ideation was examined throughout the three weeks.
Participants were professionals, graduate and undergraduate students. Most were from the States, and others came from Spain, Italy, Turkey, Sharjah and Dubai in UAE, and Kuwait.

Each week we were given an assignment along with guided tours of various places, and on the weekends field trips to places such as the Kunstmuseums Basel, Schaulager,  La Chaux de-Fonds to visit Le Corbusier houses, Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Alsace. Other sources of research were the archives of Professor Wolfgang Weingarts’ students’ projects,  and archived Swiss posters at the old Basel School of Design.

The first workshop was Poster Design taught by Leander Eisenmann, who has worked at the Siemens Design Center and Rolf Mueller in Munich, and, since 2002. He also lectures at the Department for the Visual Communication in the area of ‘Imagery” at the Academy of Art and Design Basel.

Leander started out by giving us a choice of four themes for poster design, each advertising an event or exhibition. Nature Design, a theme for an exhibition held at the Museum of Design Zurich presenting more than 500 objects and projects from the fields of design, architecture, landscape architecture, art, photography in relation between man and nature, interested me the most. I chose to explore the notion of space and its relation to outside / inside, nature, texture, and process.

Later that same day, Leander took us on a field trip to the old Basel School  of Design building to show us a collection of Swiss Poster designed by communicators such as Wolfgang Weingart, Herbert Matter and Muller+Hess.  Seeing these designers’ posters up close brought a new appreciation for the rich tradition of Basel design.

We had only three days to design and print our posters. As we observed and learned from one another’s process, we realized that over a short time we had developed many variations, and were constantly in the process of refining a finished product. As ideas grew, we analyzed and questioned the notion of process for a dynamic, contextually correct and aesthetically successful poster design and its influence on the content message.

The second workshop was Typography Design. After an inspiring week of poster design we looked for new challenges. This workshop was taught by Phillip Stamm, trained as typographer before studying at The Basel School of Design in Typographic Design and Visual Communication; he has been working the past eight years on a book of the complete typographic work of Adrian Frutiger.

Phillip gave an introduction of his book about Adrian Frutiger, followed by a demo of assignment objectives. Our assignment was to create a letterform of our choice and then animate it to demonstrate one of six elements: stem/stroke (contour, fill), stroke terminal, circular, link, circular terminal, contrast. Each participant concentrated on one letterform. The interaction of drawing by hand and further development on the computer allowed for a different entailed and new awareness and appreciation for type forms. The purpose of this workshop was to inspire the creative process and to encourage experimentation.

The third workshop was Inquiry by Design taught by Professor Michael Renner, who worked for Apple and is chair of the department at the Academy of Art and Design (HGK) in Basel with an emphasis on Information Design, Interaction Design and Corporate Design.

The workshop focused on the formulation of an iconic research question and a practical methodology of exploration and inquiry by design. The core of the assignment was to define an individual design research question, focusing on the iconic category of the portrait. Part of our assignment was to read materials written by W.J.Thomas Mitchell (Metapictures), Christopher Frayling (Research in Art and Design), Gottfried Boehm (Iconic Knowledge; the Image as Model ), and Gui Bonsiepe (The Uneasy Relationship Between Design and Design Research) and to be prepared to discuss our readings, followed by working on our assignments.

Every one had to come up with a research question of her own, and present visual solutions to the question through exploration / investigation of visual strategies and process. During the week we created a portfolio of images, which illustrated a design strategy in finding exemplary visual answers. In today’s world, we need to know more about how images are perceived in order to use them consciously and conscientiously.

Before signing up for the three workshops, I had no notion of what to expect. The workshops have altered my way of practicing, processing and thinking about process.

In poster design, I acquired a further understanding of exploration with material, techniques and process, and how that influences on the content message. In type design, I gained a stronger appreciation for type and type designers. And, in design researcg, our daily readings were informative as was the project itself. I believe that researching the question and the process of finding the answer puts the creative in a position to constant exploration and analysis.

I left Basel rejuvenated and ready to continue my work and design with fresh vision and  perspective. The goal was to connect – to more deeply understand design – and to bring inspiration to my work and students. I felt validated in my need to stay current and participate in workshops, conferences, seminars that bring fresh ideas that push the notion of creativity and process.

This experience has reminded me of how important it is to sometimes let go and allow for process to take over content.

Maryam Hosseinnia is the Program Lead and the full-time faculty at The American University of Kuwait. She has been working in Kuwait for three years.


  • Hello Maryam! I stumbled on this while searching for the name of the poster archive and museum Leander brought us to. Reading this has left me longing to go back and attend the workshops all over again. It was a reformative experience for all of us I believe.
    Hope you’re new school year is going well and that you are keeping your design energy and passion up. Cheers to you from all of us in Chicago.

  • […] year Maryam Hosseinnia shared her thoughts about inspiration and design during a 2-week workshop in Basel. This year, her adventures in recharging and expanding horizons […]

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