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Graphic Design




Cover: Dead Trees (1992)


Marty Ehrlich (2006)

Niklaus Troxler was born in the Swiss town of Willisau in 1947. Following studies in graphic design in Lucerne, he worked as an art director in Paris before returning to Willisau in 1973. In 1975, he organised the first Willisau Jazz Festival, which continues to this day, promoted by his distinctive, award-winning posters – many of which are in museum collections around the world, including The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Tell us about your studio.

Niklaus Troxler runs his own design studio, creating work primarily for music industry and corporate clients. He is also a Professor at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, Germany.

How do you approach a new project? Is there any difference between your approach to corporate work and to jazz festival posters?

I live in a three-floor house with garden, and the upper floor is my studio. There are three desks with computers, so that I can work with assistants whenever I need to. The space is about 80 square meters. There are two windows, one with view of the town, the other with a view of the Pilatus mountain. Starting this year, I work alone in my office. It’s time to scale back. I just want to work on projects that I really like.

There is almost no difference. They begin the same way: I need to have a serious talk with the client. Then I start researching. Then I start sketching – searching for ideas. I go over the ideas, more sketching. Then testing the idea, which means presenting to other people (my wife is my most serious critic!). Execution of the idea. Presentation to the client.

For the jazz designs, it starts with listening to the music of the specific group or musician. Then I do research work about them: where they come from, their musical or social background, their ideas, etcetera. Then I start sketching, while listening to the the music. I have to try and free myself from all clichés, from everything I've ever done before. I have to find a new solution for that specific artist. I will only be satisfied when I have found a new way to express their music. The one thing I know after so many years of professional work is that routine is a real killer! I constantly have to work against it. How do you translate music into design? In the musical field, I have an opportunity to work more freely. That freedom allows me to experiment a lot and to look for new solutions in the design. Everything that attracts me to the music attracts me to its design: contrast, rhythm, sound (colour), interaction, personal expression, individualism, interaction, dynamism.

I want to create designs that have a musical approach, but that also touch the viewer through their visual style. I’m not transforming music into design. It’s more about my point of view. I create a design that expresses itself in a musical way, but it remains design. There is no such thing as a transcription of a melody or a sound into design! Why do you work so much with jazz musicians? I’ve been fascinated by jazz since I was very young. The different voices, the different expressions, the different constellations, the individuality and the personal improvisations touch me. Sometimes your work seems very spontaneous, like a lot of jazz. Other times, it feels very carefully considered and thought out. How do you decide which method to adopt?  During the process of creation, each project might take different directions, different curves. The most important thing is that I find an idea. Sometimes it is an idea based on content, sometimes it is a visual idea that reflects the music

Tribute to Monk (1986)

Uwe Kropinski (1998)

of the group. Sometimes the idea reflects the time or the development of the music. In my earlier work, I was looking more for metaphors. Today, I’m more interested in structures. Structures can be influenced by the music itself or by the design method I choose. As designers, we work in a twodimensional medium, but we always try to bring in some movement, let’s say a kind of animation to the work. Sometimes I achieve that, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I make a more or less ok solution, without it having any outstanding character. But when I make something that I know is visually powerful, it makes me feel very satisfied. You created and ran the Willisau Jazz Festival for many years. What kind of creative satisfaction did that give you? The organisation of the festival and the concerts was very interesting. It taught me about so many aspects of communication and interaction, and the many contacts with agents and musicians enriched my life a lot.

Even organising the infrastructure could be interesting. To make changes year after year, to look for new solutions and possibilities kept me fresh and open, and also influenced my design work, my way of thinking and experimenting. But of course, the biggest treat for me is always the graphic design of the event! In the last few years, it became harder and harder to get the money together to organise the festival. Last year, I handed over the festival to my nephew Arno, who is a young and engaged musician. Myself, I continue to organise a few jazz concerts during the year – so I can keep designing posters for events. How much do you consider the context of other images/advertisements/posters on the street when designing? I think that every design has to express and reflect its time. It is important to me to design a poster for “Today”. The next poster I design will always be the “youngest” and the “last” of my posters. It sits at the end of poster history, but also at the end of my personal development. I only can create a contemporary design when I experiment. I don’t think

Irene Schweizer (2005)

McCoy Tyner (1980)

Eskelin & Bennink (2000)

Diverse Jazz in Willisau posters

Helvetica (2007)

that I can find the most up to date ideas on the streets or in the advertisements of today. Looking at competition catalogues and design yearbooks can give an overview what’s going on in the design world, but the better way by far is to develop something yourself.

open to the history of design and to its development.

Your work is remarkably diverse. Sometimes it feels like an image could have been taken straight from a Polish cinema wall or post-revolution Cuba; other times, one of your posters might feel like a piece of Pop Art or the work of Push Pin Studios. Do you think you have a distinctive style?

How do you feel about your creations being emailed or put on a website? Is it different from seeing it pasted on a wall?

I always hate it when people say: “I like your style”. I never wanted to have a personal style, I always worked against having one! After all the years, I realise that maybe I do have a kind of personal style. But I think it is not a “graphic style”, but more of an attitude about the way in which I express myself using different graphic methods or tools. Of course, I also like a great deal of the work of my colleagues in the art and design worlds. I keep my eyes

What, if anything, do you think your body of work has in common? A curiosity to do something new.

It's ok, the media are different. But, of course, a poster has to be seen outside, in the streets, to surprise the passersby! Sometimes, in personal exhibitions outside Switzerland, visitors are surprised how big my posters are (90 x 128 cm) compared to tiny images on a screen. And they are surprised by the print quality, because they are all silk screened. Do you have a close relationship with your printer? I worked over 30 years with the same silkscreen printer, then for five years with his son in the same company. For the last two years, I've been working with a different printer who has a great

Mut zur Wut (2010)

Neujahr Bรถsch (2008)

deal of passion for their work. The printing process influences the design a lot. Experience in printing helps my students to think about the processes of colour separation and colour solution. They are always inspired by the material, the paper, the colour, the print. In the early years, I spent a lot of time with the printer. I was experimenting with colours a great deal. Today, we know each other very well and I know almost exactly what I want. I explain to them, and if I’m unsure about something, I will still go to the printer and check it out. What do you enjoy about teaching design? I like to work with young people. They have another point of view about social life and their own future. Sometimes they feel insecure. To help in such fields and to show them methods of self expression is very interesting. I take every single student as an individual. Everybody has to find his own way. I encourage them to experiment – every individual is important enough to be allowed to express himself however they want. 

How much has design changed throughout your career? The problems stayed the same, only the tools changed. Everything goes faster now – in the early days, I was the designer, and I had to choose the typeface, to order the typesetting, then I created the montage. After the execution had been completed, I gave it to the lithographer and he made the final films. That process took a minimum of 10 days. Today, the client gives you just one week to create a job. We live in a speedy time! You went to watch the Swiss football team play at the World Cup. Are there any similarities between sport and design? Like in design, you never know how the game will end when it begins!

Der Rote Bereich (2008)

Otello (1991)

Erotische Plakate (1999)

Missing Fukuda (2010)

SOS Kinderdorf (1997)


PUBLICATIONS 01 CHRISTOPH NIEMANN Illustration 02 MICHEL MALLARD Creative Direction 03 FUN FACTORY Product Design 04 ANDREAS UEBELE Signage Design 05 HARRI PECCINOTTI Photography 06 KUSTAA SAKSI Illustration 07 5.5 DESIGNERS Product Design

2009 2009 2009 2010 2010 2010 2011

with Carrérotondes asbl MAPPING AUGUST. An Infographic Challenge 2010

PUBLISHER Design Friends COORDINATION Silvano Vidale LAYOUT Tom Gloesener INTERVIEW Merel Kokhuis PRINT Faber Imprimerie PRINT RUN 500 (Limited edition) ISBN 978-99959-625-9-3 PRICE 5 € DESIGN FRIENDS Association sans but lucratif (Luxembourg) BOARDMEMBERS Silvano Vidale (President) Arnaud Mouriamé (Vice-president) Nadine Clemens (Secretary) Heike Fries (Treasurer) Mike Koedinger (Boardmember)


Niklaus Niklaus Troxler Troxler Poster Poster Sound Sound M채rz 2011 2011 16. 16.M채rz 18.30 Uhr Uhr 18.30 Mudam Mudam Luxembourg Luxembourg

This catalogue is published for Niklaus Troxler's lecture at Mudam Luxembourg on March 16, 2011 organized by Design Friends.

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Niklaus Troxler  

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Niklaus Troxler  

Poster Sound