Tania Prill was born in Hamburg, in 1969, and later moved to Zurich, where she continues to live. She graduated from the Schule für Gestaltung Zürich in 1995, and received a diploma in visual communication from the Hochschule für Künste Bremen, in Germany, in 1996. Prill was married to fellow typographer Hans-Rudolf Lutz until his death in 1998. In 2001, she founded the Zurich design studio Prill & Vieceli with Alberto Vieceli, which became Prill Vieceli Cremers following Sebastian Cremers joining the practice. The studio has won numerous awards for its poster and book design. Further, Prill was an AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale) member from 2008 to 14. She has been teaching communication design and typography at universities in Switzerland and beyond since 1996, was a professor of visual communication at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe, Germany, and, since 2010, has been professor of typography at the Hochschule der Künste Bremen, Germany.
Tania Prill Is this your diploma project? Will it be published?
Louise Paradis That is the goal. We will see.
TP Super, because there is very little like this about TM … it is astonishing. When I think about it, the magazine was published for so many years and nothing has been done about it really. Today, it is not what it used to be.
LP Yes, it is unfortunate. The years I selected, 1960 to 90, were amazing. Some years before, too, but I had to focus on a period. One of the reasons I selected those years is because I wanted to look at the shift from Modernism to Postmodernism. I have here all the covers from 1965 to 90: biographies, notices, and also interviews.
TP Where did you find all those images? I don’t have a full series of Lutz’s covers.
LP I found three sources in Switzerland who own a complete TM collection, where the issues of one year are not bound in volumes: Jean-Pierre Graber, Hans Rudolf Bosshard and the Museum für Gestaltung in Zürich. But actually, I have prepared a few questions for you.
TP Oh yes please go ahead. I have asked more questions than you so far …
LP When you entered the graphic design field, were you looking at any design publications, and magazines in particular?
TP When I started with graphic design, it was Eye magazine that caught our attention. That was still when I studied, in Bremen, in Germany, before arriving in Switzerland, and my professor there was published in Eye. He showed the issue to us.
LP Were you aware of TM?
TP Within the education of graphic designers in Germany, it was nothing too important for us. When I came to Switzerland this changed radically: TM was very important.
LP What kind of education did you go through? Did you do an apprenticeship?
TP No, I went to the University of the Arts in Bremen.
LP How did you meet Hans-Rudolf Lutz?
TP For a week he was my teacher when I studied in Bremen, just when I began my studies. In the first month, I had to attend two workshops and one was by Lutz… After that workshop with Lutz, I knew I wanted to study in Zurich. That was in 1989, I think.
LP So you came to Zurich and went to the design school there, with Hans-Rudolf Lutz as a teacher?
TP Well, it was a bit of a pity because Lutz at that time was teaching more in Lucerne. So in a way, I missed him. He gave some workshops in Zurich though, focusing on typography.
LP Many people told me he was an excellent teacher. Do you think you can explain why?
TP I think it was because Lutz was always listening to students and their ideas and opinions. He wanted to support the students in their projects, by letting them make their own mistakes. A lot of teachers simply want to give advice about what they think is right or good—without checking what the student wants. But Lutz never pushed a student in some kind of direction. That was great. He was really open to any kind of idea; he took it really seriously. He also could motivate you. Yes, he was a very good motivator and gave good advice. After a discussion with him, the things he said would stimulate you. It was not like: “Oh my God, what am I going to do with my strange ideas?” It was: “Yes, I am moving further with my plans, taking this or that into account.”
LP It is nice to have support and encouragement; it helps. From what you know of his work, do you think Lutz had a strong impact on graphic design in Switzerland?
TP Yes, I think so—but not only in Switzerland. There are so many people who know and estimate his work and his way of working, of giving room to mistakes and coincidences. He had great impact, maybe not on the very young graphic design scene, but on his students for sure. After his death in January 1998, a lot of young students would come look at Lutz’s work. They would carry out research projects about him or come to me with requests.
LP For example, that series of covers he did for TM in 1977 seems to have had such an impact. Max Bruinsma wrote that Lutz is the designer who introduced the subject of contextuality to Switzerland, through his teaching mainly.
TP Yeah, for sure.
LP How would you describe his influence on you?
TP One key piece of advice he gave me is to take your ideas seriously, no matter how strange they are. To really focus on the project and on the little details. What else … I really liked his publishing house; how his books were pure luxury. He didn’t have a car or any other fancy things. He spent all his money on printing and publishing his books. So the book Typoundso, for example, should cost 600 Swiss francs [around 600 US dollars] if you’re seeking to make a profit from its sale: it was printed in five colors, expensive papers, and everything. I like how he realized this book. He really cared about what the books look like and he kept working on it over and over again until it was really well done.
LP You worked with him on Typoundso. Did you collaborate on other projects?
TP Yeah, we worked on an exhibition of his work. At round 1997 he came up with the concept for an exhibition in Emmenbrücke, an industrial area outside of Lucerne, in Switzerland, but unfortunately he died two months before the opening. There exists a walk-through of the exhibition.
LP I read that he was very political and opinionated. He was a socialist, almost communist. Do you think it is important for designers to be opinionated; to be politically involved or to work with the community?
TP I don’t know. I think, in a way, you can’t not be political. Because if you just work in your studio and you are not involved in anything, it is also a statement of politics, of refusal, in a way. I think times have changed a bit since then. I think it is important to be involved in a way, but I don’t see this any longer, not in the same way, with the young design studios. A few are saying what they think clear and loud. For example Cornel Windlin—he was a student of Lutz’s also.
LP True. And how important is the reference to subculture for you? Lutz was involved with the music group Unknown Mix and you did this book about Swiss punk. Do you think it is important to be present on a, let’s say, less commercial scene?
TP You know we are standing in Lutz’s former studio, his atelier for 25 years. I moved here after his death. I think its location has an influence, being here under the highway bridge that goes across Zurich. But it was probably more that I never wanted to work in the commercial field. I did it for a couple years after my studies and then realized that it was not my world or it wasn’t how I wanted to work. I then built up my own studio in order to do my own projects. I am really happy right now because in a way it is how I always wanted to work. We have great clients and a lot of discussions about the work with everyone involved.
I have also been teaching since I finished school, and so I always have had these two things pretty much in parallel: teaching and studio. I started the studio with Alberto Vieceli at around 2001, and we’ve worked with Sebastian Cremers since 2011. And we normally have designers interning at our studio. What kind of projects we do is very important for us.
LP Can you tell me about the publication Hot Love (2006). I am curious to know more about it.
TP Hot Love was started by someone we knew from another project who asked me to be co-editor of the book with him. He had been a punk here in Switzerland, when punk was big, and I was interested in knowing more about it, since I didn’t have a connection with this movement; well, in the mid 1970s I was in kindergarten. We managed to deal with the project very freely, he didn’t have much of a pre-set structure.
LP I discovered a lot of good punk bands through the book—I had no idea that Switzerland produced punk like that. I have one final question: do you have any advice for the younger generation of designers?
TP I think the ability to make decisions is important. With the advanced technology used in our work, everything can be done.So it’s helpful to be decisive, and also to collaborate. It is often more fun and easier to work in a team and within an extensive design project, different opinions and experiences are only for the benefit of the process. Another piece of advice would be to read a lot, to be open, and possibly to write about design.
The above conversation took place in Zurich in November 2011. It was copy-edited by Ariella Yedgar and Roland Früh.