012024: The long hard stupid way

Image of piled-up cobble stones

Coordinates: I am typing this—again!—on a train, as this seems to be the only place for me to unplug from the world and jot down some words. As night falls, one very orange strip of light just disappeared behind the horizon, somewhere between Germany and Austria. Here we are.

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Recently I’ve been thinking about the value in my work, and the current times I work in. In my day job I make websites; tons of buttons and rounded corners and modules and typographic pairings and responsive grid layouts. A significant other part of my job is writing proposals and documentation for these websites, and communicating with the people they are made for—clients, and luckily also the viewers and users of these sites.

What is it that adds value to these websites? Why are they worth making, viewing, using? I recently came back to a lecture from Frank Chimero from 2012, where he talked about doing things “the long hard, stupid way”. Ultimately, the talk was about making an effort, and about gift-giving.

So, what makes a good gift? It is personal. Its value is subjective; maybe it sparks joy, or adds ease to the recipient’s daily life. It is made with care and thought, and the less care and thought go into it, the less personal it becomes. I liked Frank’s idea of seeing the digital tools we make as gifts for others. Inefficiency—or doing things the long hard stupid way—can become an advantage, even a feature, if you think of it as a gift. A thing someone—you or I—cared for makes the world (the internet!) a more precious place. And isn’t that what we all need right now?

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The year has moved into April already, and I hope this email finds you well. Here are some work updates:

Village One + Freelance

In July, Village One—our small design + tech cooperative—celebrates its 2nd birthday. It’s been a great and wild ride so far! From April on, however, I split my time between juggling projects for Village One and doing more freelance work for myself again. I want to write and draw more, and longed for a less repetitive day-to-day-life. Let‘s see how that goes!

The Village One team standing in front of a building, everyone staring at their phones

Writing = Design Workshop

Just like in recent years, Sonja and I will host another Writing = Design workshop at University of the Arts this summer. From July 22—26, we will explore writing as a design tool. You can learn more and sign up here; would love to see you there!

Team photo of a previous Writing class; people holding their manuscripts in front of their faces

Illustrations for Krautreporter

My friend Gabriel Yoran writes a great column for Krautreporter about the “enshittification” of the world: Why do products get worse and worse, whilst everything was promised to get better?! I am illustrating the series, have a look here (German).

Illustrations for Krautreporter

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As the train approaches my destination, it emptied out almost completely. I love these quiet evenings on a softly rumbling train carriage, so peaceful and focussed. I hope you had a good start into the year so far. Daylight has been saved, spring is here, we made it!

By the way: You can subscribe to these (irregular) english posts via my email newsletter here.

32023: You Are Here

Photo of a person wearing a red hat which says “You are here”

Sitting on my couch, I’ve been staring into a wall of code for a couple of hours already. I’m trying to reorganize my website and digital outlets, updating my body of work; drawings and web design projects and writing. Learning new tools is hard, and I am not a programmer, and I have no patience. But I have a plan!

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While re-shuffling all those digital things, I was also trying to bring some clarity into my writing and newsletters and digital profile. Usually, I do not believe in separating professional and private things online: I am who I am, and I don’t post personal stuff that doesn’t belong on the internet anyway. But I found it tricky; my blog and social media posts often are written in German, which excludes all non-German-speaking audiences—specifically, the design and tech community.

So, regarding this publication’s future: I want to circle this newsletter back to its design writing roots. The earliest issues (2016!) were explorations on fake marblefilter bubbles and PIBA-DIBA. I will not be the 500st design newsletter in your inbox; this letter will stay personal and diary-like; it will include life and work updates as well as musings, but it will be my professional writing outlet.

If you’re German-speaking and interested in my monthly lists (no work stuff, just play!), you can sign-up for my monthly newsletter Fakten und Mirakel (“Facts and miracles”) here.

As my newsletter service TinyLetter finally, after years of neglect, is being shut down, I will move to Buttondown, a more independent, light-weight service. I found Mailchimp and other marketing tools to not be suitable (this is not a marketing email!), and Substack is, besides its ugly design, also questionable in many other ways. The more aware I become regarding my software usage (just like consuming food and buying clothes), the more difficult it gets. On a positive note, I am enjoying my consciousness, and making well-elaborated decisions. Most of the time, at least.

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Looking back at 2023: I worked a lot! With our coop studio Village One, we did some fantastic projects: we designed and built the new website for DemocracyNext, an action institute exploring democratic citizen assemblies. We rebranded and built a website for the Sovereign Tech Fund, who invests in digital infrastructure. And we are building and designing all digital outlets for Publix, a new house for journalism in Berlin.

Being involved in projects I care about really makes me happy. What was missing this year was time and space for my own projects; drawing and writing and maybe teaching. I will make room for this in 2024. So if you have a project or teaching gig or workshop in mind: Let me know!

Carving out time for personal work is especially difficult if your personal aspirations are so similar to your work setup: Mostly spent at a desk, mostly alone, thinking and trying out things. I find it hard to justify all this alone-time. But in the end: My time is mine, and that’s how it should be, no?

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For a couple of months, there’s been a little post-it sitting on my iMac’s screen frame. It says “If you want to be a writer: write”. I haven’t written much since, but it keeps me alert. And it counts for many things: If you want to be an artist: make art. If you want make progress: act. If you want to rest: switch off your phone. If you want to be a writer: write.

I hope you can leave the year at peace with yourself and others, and are eager for a new one—2024 is just around the corner. Another year, another round, make it count. Yours truly, 💌 Christoph

(If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as an irregular newsletterSign up for it here.)

022023: Manifestations of Romance

Me standing in a colorful room, taking my photo in the mirror, camera in front of my face

Berlin, 6:25 pm, new note: I am typing this in iA Writer’s “focus mode”, a tool that highlights only the very current section that is being edited. I never use it because focus, what even is that?! Haven’t heard from her in years. And you, dear reader, haven’t heard from me and this letter in months, either, so: Welcome back.

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Some smaller towns in Italy have so-called “Necrologi.” Big analog boards in the center of the town, or at relevant pedestrian crossings, that originally announced the passing of a parishioner. When walking through the cities around Amalfi coast this summer, I saw them. Posters informed passers-by about recent deaths, yes, but also about upcoming celebrations, concerts and the town’s goings-on. They were not advertisement billboards; they were very local, specific platforms for communities to share events of interest.

The famous Parisian bookshop Shakespeare and Company has been cultivating a wall of analog notifications for ages. On little paper notes, people share messages, stories, call-outs for other visitors to dig through and find each other. True love may or may not be found in those layers and layers of paper, but the board itself is a manifestation of romance that visitors long for. Paper as a real connection to a stranger.

And also: Do you remember BVG Augenblicke? Berlins public transport system, BVG, used to have a digital platform where people who shared a moment on the train—a smile, a gaze, a brief conversation with a stranger—could find each other again. Oftentimes, secondary romance is to be avoided (as it turns out less exciting as expected), but having the tools—both digital and analog—to give it a chance; it was magic. Technology was magic!

As a true millennial, I stopped believing in digital tools as true connectors for a while now. But I don’t mind it too much. I’m just over it, really. Like Jason Parham writes in his essay on “It’s not that I consider myself too old for social media, or the pace and attention it requires. I’m just less interested in being everywhere these days.” Same, really. I still enjoy posting to my Instagram story from time to time or write a blog post when I have something to share or need to feel productive. It’s ok to realize that the magic has vanished. Maybe it’s to be found offline, on public notice boards and in book shops and on train rides and through the people I already know. Or within a little community of readers and friends like you—thanks for sticking around!

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The last issue of this newsletter was sent in May. Summer passed, the world still spins, sometimes and recently so furiously that it has been hard to manage. I hope you do, somehow.

One of my coping strategies: I keep writing my monthly lists. They keep up the feeling of being creative, or at least productive; it’s some output that comes around every month. If you’re interested in what’s happened during my summer, find some notes from June, or September, or simply scroll through this blog. I’m planning on sending them out as a separate newsletter in the future because who visits weblogs these days, really. I’ll keep this letter as an English format, though.

How was your summer? Where are you right now? I’d love to hear from you: What’s been keeping you spinning? I hope you’re well!

(If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as an irregular newsletter called Christel’s CornerSign up for it here.)

012023: Dogs, Beans, and Red Badges

Me sitting in a big golden picture frame outside, in the back of the picture: a lake and tree

I’m currently on a train back to Berlin. My sparse data plan is already used up, and as the train’s wifi is not working, I am treating myself to five hours of flight mode. Over the past months or maybe even years, I became extremely sloppy with answering text messages. The little red badges on my phone’s apps kept multiplying exorbitantly—until I finally deactivated them. I used to be on top of my game and very active on social media, eager to connect to people and keep digital conversations going. I found it exciting, and I gained energy from the digital exchange. But looking at those 15 unread WhatsApp messages, 10 long Instagram direct messages awaiting a reply, and an email app very far away from “inbox zero”, I have to admit that I am not that person on top of their game anymore. I can’t keep up.

But I also have to say: I don’t want any of it. I want to be at the bottom of things. Endless conversation streams are almost as exhausting as endless meetings, endless classical concerts, and endless scrollable feeds. I prefer things to have a beginning and an end. A narrative, so to speak.

Just as I struggle with keeping a tidy inbox, I feel exhausted keeping up with current debates on technology. After Elon Musk bought Twitter and sent it down its hell ride, I basically left the platform. I do not miss it; those timelines and “digital products” in general have lost their joy and meaning for me. Therefore, I missed most of the early and heated debate on ChatGPT. I do find its rise interesting, to some extent. But I do not care about computer-generated vocals, or artificial radio hosts, or machine-written movies. There’s no joy in that; we’ll get bored by it quickly. I am more curious about how people and states will learn to live with these inflammatory tools, and I want to see them bring an actual positive impact to the world. Haven’t read much about that yet. Until then, I’ll mute the buzzwords. We still are in control of who and what we pay attention to—at least for now we are.

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On dogs. When spending time with the dog, I remembered the On Being podcast episode with artist and illustrator Maira Kalman. She describes dogs in the most beautiful way: “They’re heroic, and they’re comic at the same time, which I guess is my favourite way of looking at things.” In her book Beloved Dog, she writes: “They are constant reminders that life reveals the best of itself when we live fully in the moment and extend our unconditional love.”

On beans. I’ve been enjoying Kerry Cunningham’s newsletter Circle Back so much recently! She’s so funny! I loved this issue about Anish Kapoor’s new and sad Bean sculpture in New York from a while ago. Subscribe here.

On the blog: I keep writing my monthly lists. They’re a good processor of life’s events. Read all lists, or specifically January 23, February 23, March 23, April 23.

Briefly noted: My friend/colleague/accomplice Sonja and I will host our annual Writing = Design workshop at University of the Arts in Berlin this summer. It’s one week (August 7 – 11) of writing and exploring text, and if this sounds like it could be something for you: It is! English language, everyone is welcome, find all the details here.

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I hope you had a great start into the year and are enjoying some of the much needed spring sun that has been appearing every once in a while recently. Watch out for big red notification badges, turn them off, even, and go for a little walk. Greetings from within flight mode.

(If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as an irregular newsletter called Christel’s CornerSign up for it here.)

022022: Books from Boxes

Drawing of me underneath a lot of moving boxes

I am sitting in between towers of moving boxes, filled with my clothes, my books, my stuff – just so much stuff that needs to change coordinates with me. I am moving! Well, I did—that’s what I spent the whole November and December with. Packing things up in boxes is a cathartic process. I wasn’t able to get rid of as many things as I wished, but eventually, I took this as a sign that I am already surrounded by the things I love, and I want to keep them. Ok, most of them.

Finding space for all this life within a new place is a long and exhausting (and sometimes also expensive) process, and every once in a while, I need to remind myself that this is all fun and I am doing it for me and I finally get to decorate and design everything exactly the way I want to. I cannot help but wonder: Is it more difficult to chose a wall color when you’re a visual thinker; an aesthete? Shouldn’t it be easier? Maybe I am just a slow decision maker, and that’s ok, too. I’ll get there.

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As 2022 comes to an end, let’s briefly look at the hard facts and feelings:

I moved into a new apartment, which was an unbelievable (the apartment is perfect!) and stressful (I have not done this in quite a while!) process. However, I am here now, lurking out of all those boxes that still need to be unpacked. Home makes me very happy and thankful.

I had several teaching jobs in 2022: Web design at Merz Academy, my annual Writing = Design workshop week with Sonja, and a whole semester’s course at UdK on writing about illustration. All these jobs were completely different, but I got the chance to find out that a) I want to do more of it, and b) I developed a better understanding for how my style of teaching and working with students could work. Now, let’s see where it fits in.

In July, we founded our cooperative: Village One. Since then, we’ve been talking to other coops, thought a lot about our company approach, and obviously did some work, too: For example, we helped Neue Narrative to rebrush their website, we teamed up with Cobot to do a big research project, and we work closely together with Publix, a new house for Journalism in Berlin; building their digital infrastructure. I definitely enjoy the variety, but I sometimes miss the office buzz you normally get with a company. Working remotely and alone at home as a freelancer is fine, but teaming up with others feels different when you meet at the kitchen table. Anyway, a lot is planned for 2023 with Village One; follow us if you’re curious. We’re also looking for a designer to join the team!

I continued writing my little column for the form design magazine: This year, I wrote about the cloud (295), desktop publishing (296), buttons (297) and phone sex (298). You can see some videos about the columns on my Instagram, and buy the magazine online.

Both writing and drawing exercises felt a little thin this year. I miss it, but other big projects occupied my desk. However, I did write my monthly diary recaps on the blog (find them here) and I was involved in two book projects: For Lorenz Meyer’s “Kreuzfahrt durch die Republik” I drew cover + portraits, and for Gabriel Yoran’s new Genussbuch »Wenn das Leben dir Zitronen gibt, mach Dressing draus« I drew the cover and some spots. Next year, I want to make something just for myself. More depth, less instagram.

What else? I travelled places! I am not a traveller, it makes me nervous and I find it so exhausting that I forget about the beauty and the new input I bring home with me. I went to Vienna (I love you!), I spent my time in pools and restaurants in Greece, I went to Rome and ate all the things. It was nice. Let’s say it like that: I am not into traveling, but I do enjoy a nice vacation. Find me at the pool.

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As December’s days rush by so quickly, another year is put to the archives. Boxes, archives, folders – how are these the symbols of my year?! Sorry that this letter turned into some work-focussed yada yada, with little wisdom and no new year’s predictions from within my crystal ball. Current times are so wonky, I decided to avoid outlooks and be more here, in this tower of boxes—in this slice of air and time.

I haven’t written this letter in a while, but it feels good to be back at it. How has your year been? What comes next? Send me a reply, if you like, or we’ll find each other in other ways in the next year; it’s almost there. Another year, another round, make it count.

(If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as an irregular newsletter called Christel’s CornerSign up for it here.)

012022: It Takes A Village

a yellow curtain being pulled to the side

Coordinates: It’s half past midnight and I just switched the light back on to start typing this. It was one of those situations we all know: As soon as you put your body to rest, your mind starts wandering, walking, sometimes running. So did mine – and another issue of this newsletter was long overdue! So here we are: 0:24am. Welcome back!

Log book: Since the last newsletter, six months passed by. I kept true to my belief that one should only write something when there is something to tell, and the last months have been so full of work and projects and business that I didn’t know how to make shareable sense of everything. That’s why I sticked to the simple format of lists: I made one for every month of 2022 so far, and if you understand German, you can read them all in the blog. However, I actually do have some bigger news I want to share with you:

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I am co-founding a company! For the last two years, I’ve been enjoying my freelance life and all the freedom that comes with it, but I’ve been missing exchange and tackling bigger, more relevant topics with a team of smart people. Luckily, I found these people, I’ve been knowing them all along. For a while, we’ve been talking about how we want to work, what we want to work on, and how we can build a framework that provides a flexible, democratic work environment to design and build digital products.

That’s why we decided to found a cooperative: Village One. ✨ We signed all the paperwork on Friday, and it is all very exciting!

Why cooperative though? As it is owned by its workers, the format truly ensures that everyone can have a say and steer the company towards the right direction. The world and our society are battling so many crises at the moment, and as much as designers like to tell themselves that „design will save the world“ – it won’t, I’m sorry, not until we use our energy for the right things. Overcome capitalist thinking; putting the planet over profit; redistribute privilege; foster a calmer, better society; online and offline – that’s what we aim for. It sounds utopian, yes, but we have to start creating the right frameworks to steer the narrative. Harry Keller, one of my co-founders, puts it very well in his newsletter (which I highly recommend):

For a long time I’ve felt powerless and unsure what I can contribute here, but over the past months I’ve sat down with a few thoughtful people and we’ve sketched out a new kind of workplace. A place that embraces emergence over hierarchical planning, a place that’s owned by all its workers, embracing diversity and new perspectives, which is democratically governed, feminist, anti-racist, curious and humble, choosing cooperation over competition, operating as a distributed team with asynchronous workflows, enabling maximum flexibility for its people, empowering them to live the life they want.

At the moment, we’re a small team, but we’re very excited to get going with our first projects, build our own site, and get to know more people (maybe you?) that are interested in our idea. I’d be happy if you followed along; on twitter, on our mailing list, or just by reaching out (simply by replying to this e-mail).

You can read even more about it on our Village One site (more content to come!) and in Harry’s recent newsletter.

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We’re still busy getting everything up and running, but I wanted to have you all aboard already and share the news with you (and also the reason that kept me so busy during the past months). So, what else happened?

I wrote more columns for form design magazine about digital nostalgia: One about the Cloud, and the most recent one about Desktop Publishing. Ordering the printed magazine is highly recommended; the form team always manages to add a big variety of perspectives towards one topic; most recently: Generations.

During this summer semester, from April to July, I teach a course at University of the Arts Berlin. Together with the students, we work on a book about the University’s illustration class, and I teach writing techniques. Mark your calendars: The „UdK Rundgang“ is on July 22–24.

Also: You can still sign up for my one-week writing workshop Writing = Design together with Sonja Knecht from August 8–12, 2022, in Berlin. I’m already excited for it, it’s going to be fun!

On the blog: I’ve been listening to OTTO, Belle & Sebastian and Charli XCX a lot, I wrote about the annoyance of queues in Berlin, and about weird drinking glasses.

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Ok. That was a lot, take some deep breaths now. Six months of stuff, but I’ll let you go enjoy the sunny weather now. I hope you’re all well, savoring summer, soaking up the sun!

(If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as an irregular newsletter called Christel’s CornerSign up for it here.)

042021: I Am at War with My Time

Portrait of Cate Blanchett

© 2015 Julian Rosefeldt, “Manifesto”

I am standing in front of a photograph of Cate Blanchett; a film still by Julian Rosefeldt’s “Manifesto” video installation. The portrait is huge, Cate’s cold gaze is staring at me. Underneath it, in small serif letters, the sentence: “I am at war with my time.”

Rosefeldt borrowed that sentence from artist and architect Lebbeus Woods, who wrote it in 1993. Originally, that sentence was only introducing a long list of things he was at war with: “I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms.”

Battles. I often find myself residing in fixed and frightened forms, incapable of moving forward, weighed down by fear, uncertainty and an annoyingly low level of self-esteem. I am at war with my time, as in: it always feels like it’s running out; I need to do more, faster, better, louder; my work needs to be more precise, more recognizable, more in general; even my personality needs to be more decisive, more sharpened, more consistent.

To get out of that sword fight, Autumn is a great month to start reflecting the year. What has happened so far? What was achieved, what was done for the first, what for the last time? Which battles were won, which were lost? I sat down at my desk, wrote a list of all the projects I’ve finished this year. I rated them by categories like ‘Fun’, ‘Pride’, ‘Revenue’. Luckily, most cards showed a positive score, and the ones that didn’t were already archived. I’ve learned my lessons, let’s move on.

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Sculptures. Summer was so full of work that I was grateful for a month off, visiting a handful of art museums around Germany. I saw Cate Blanchett’s portrait, but I also really enjoyed looking at sculptures by Hans Arp in Hannover and the œuvre of Beuys in Bonn. I saw the two Gutenberg bibles (the oldest books printed with movable type) in Mainz and I stumbled upon a long-lost book about dreams in an antique book shop in Heidelberg. I drew some drawings of the cities I visited and posted them on Instagram.

Slow Mornings. Back at my desk, I enjoy taking some slow time to get my head started in the mornings. Just me and my notebook. Austin Kleon’s demonstration of his slow use of the Pentel Brush pen—a pen I really love as well—was a great inspiration for that ritual.

Music. Black Marble released a new album, Fast Idol, which is just as perfect as their 2019 release Bigger Than Life. I’ve also been listening to a lot of DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ, to Red Hearse, and to German rapper Haiyti. And to my annoying neighbor with their most recent passion: The bagpipe.

A Personal Note. My friend Gabriel Yoran and I worked on a small book that will be published on November 9th. I am very excited about it! “Warum heißt es Traum und nicht Memoryschaum” (“Why is it called dream and not memory foam”) is a collection of playful (German) language twists, which I illustrated. The book is published by the great Frohmann Verlag, and you can pre-order it directly there or at your favorite book store. It makes a great gift for people who love language and drawings.

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I am at war with my time. It’s my birthday soon, another decade hits; and I recently found an old (now private) blog post from October 2011: “What my life will be like in 10 years”. It was a fantasy about me being super independent, living in my own nice space in the middle of Berlin, surrounded by great people. With some distance, I realize that lots of these 10-year-old wishes turned true, and some things happened I couldn’t even dream of back then. Maybe the long run isn’t always that important. As Woods wrote in his manifesto: “I know only moments, and lifetimes that are as moments, and forms that appear with infinite strength, then ‘melt into air’.” Choose your battles wisely.

(If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as a (irregular) monthly newsletter called Christel’s CornerSign up for it here.)