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.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

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.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

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:

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

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.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

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.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

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.)

052021: I Need a Camera to My Eye

Photo of a black notebook

Sitting on the train back home to Berlin, after a week at my parent’s home: the idea of my own pillow, my own coffee machine, my own trip to the super market makes me cherish the fact that I am a grown-up; that I only slip into the child’s role for a couple of days a year. I am very thankful for having a family that I can visit over the holidays—we do not argue about politics or vaccines or the Christmas menu. But I am also thankful that I have a life of my own, a life I can design the way I please. That fact that I can do things differently.

As the cities pass by the train window, I flip through my phone’s camera roll. The past year felt longer than usual; whatever happened in the beginning of 2021 appears to be two, three years ago. What is left of it? My brain can’t slice the year up into months anymore, everything gets blurry, and a couple of snapshots throughout the year help to cluster moments and events and ups and downs. What is a good way to make sense of your personal past? I have a messy way of keeping track of life: During the year I switch between various notebooks and note-taking apps, write lists and memories, organize a digital calendar, but everything is all over the place and hard to delve through. As a visual thinker, my camera roll really is the one place that keeps everything connected: A quick glimpse into the past that holds feelings, places, and faces. I wish I’d be less awkward in taking pictures—after all, they’re my extended memory. The smartphone itself doesn’t make me a cyborg; the camera roll does.

Then again: I am still a hopeless romantic when it comes to hand-writing, diaries and notebooks. For 2022, I bought a thick daily calendar, with the great intention to jot down one or two thoughts every day. Inward and outward looking, getting closer to what happens, finding my own language for everyday life, and making it my own.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

2021 wrapped: I designed a poster for Berlinale Talents. Together with Gabriel, I published a small fun book. I’ve been to the sea side, and I walked on the frozen canal. I lived off orange cake and ravioli and fancy lemonades. I wrote a lot less than I wanted, but my blog is alive and well—I still wish we would all go back to blogging and ditch Instagram and its lousy companions. I discovered great new music; just recently: Haruomi Hosono and Gilligan Moss. I read 16 books, and wrote four columns for form design magazine.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

As for 2022: All will continue. Make it yours as much as you can. 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.)

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.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

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.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

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.)

032021: At the Bottom of Everything

Photo of me with just my eyes, my forehead and the sky visible

After the weather has been indecisive for the whole weekend, the rain finally comes down on this Sunday evening. I am sitting here, in my sparsely lit living room, on the couch, in summer shorts, sipping ice tea. Apparently, these 20 degrees Celsius are what makes our summer this year, and whatever, I’m fine with it.

This dispatch has been on a little break. After the last letters, I felt that my writing had become too whiny, and I wasn’t sure whether I actually have anything of relevance to tell. And, reflecting on the media landscape of the past years, I believe: If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything. We need a slower, calmer internet; we need to be more selective in what we ingest — and as artists, writers and publishers, I think we can be more precise and selective in what we publish and share, as well. I know that all the social media experts will tell you that you’d need to publish one post, three instagram stories and a newsletter each and every day, but honestly: No. You don’t need to. No one needs to read or see it, either. The world won’t spin faster from the noise that we make – it will just cause nausea.

During the past months, one line kept coming back into my head. Donald E. Knuth, professor emeritus at Stanford University, writes: “Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things.” I think this goes for all social media that came after e-mail, too, and it’s exactly where I want to be: At the bottom of things. Here on my sofa, with the rain outside, reading weblogs and making little websites and delving through the vast amount of printed magazines I buy but never get to read.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

A brief note on goings-on in my life and ministry: A couple of months ago (the last dispatch was sent out in April!), I seemed to have unlearned to say the word “No”, and by now I’m wading through piles of unfinished work. Some of it has just been completed though: I designed an innovation report on Synthetic Media for the German broadcaster WDR (read it here; in German), and I wrote another episode of my technology column for form magazine, about screen savers (buy it here). More is to come, and I’m excited to tell you about that soon. Until then, here is a collection of things I enjoyed online:

Seen on TV: My twitter bubble is already full of praise, but I want to stress it yet again: Ted Lasso on Apple TV is a great show, probably the best I’ve seen this year. I have zero interest in soccer, but the show is just a great mixture of fun and emotions, with a refreshing take on male characters.

Thoughts from the home office: How can work environments change once people are required to go back to their cubicles? Will it be required at all? What’s needed to achieve sustainable remote work, asks Cal Newport in the New Yorker.

Reading poetry: The ­ magazine is an inspiring take on digital and interactive poems. The issue Mistaking Glass For Skin and Hannah Schraven’s poem forever dolphin love II are definitely worth your time.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

Maybe I will find a way back to writing this letter more regularly. Or maybe I will stick to the rule to only publish when I feel something is worth publishing. Until then, I will try to stay at the bottom of things. I hope you can find a way to manage the noise, too.

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

022021: The Sound of 7 o’Clock

Photo of balloons behind a transulcent window

Almost one year ago, in April 2020: I’m sitting in my reading chair at the window, the iPad on my lap, flipping through a New Yorker issue. David Remnick’s comment on the city’s situation, overwhelmed by the chaos the pandemic had been causing. He describes how the city applauds the essential workers at 7pm every evening (one year later, this feels even more like a farce). I cry over the text, it’s a lot. In April 2020, everything is a lot.

12 months later, we’re still here. The applause silenced, obviously. My routines, like reading magazines before work, also fizzled out. The home office gym classes, the Instagram live dances, the eagerness to cook something new – it all got swallowed by commonplace. The internet, a place I was always happy to spend time, also got boring: The dances have inhabited Instagram, too, and Twitter is overshadowed by arguments and horrific stories, eating up my soul. Paul Bokowski puts it into the right words (I quickly translated): “[…] It may be vital for me to strive for less psychological toxicity. That is, to do something that actually goes against my nature: to deliberately close my eyes. Not from the problem itself, but from its multimedia symptoms. […] The only thing that keeps me happy these days is reading and writing.”

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

On words. As much as I like design as a practice, I often struggle talking about it. I want to describe a certain phenomenon, but cannot find the right term for it. Recently, Malte pointed me to Evan Collin’s are.na boards – his (mostly architectural) research provides words for everything! For example: Utopian Scholastic, Gen-X Corporate or The Global Village Coffeehouse (you’ll know it when you see it).

Another term I encountered and liked: Corporate Memphis! Author and designer Rachel Hawley analyzed the illustration style we’ve all seen and internalized during the past years of using digital services: oddly-shaped humans with exaggerated limbs, roller-skates and cheerful colors. Read about how this style is made-to-scale to tell a corporate fairy tale about big tech companies, and how it might evolve in the future.

What else? I’ve been blogging during the past months (mainly in German). I wrote about the sky, about oysters, about my hands, and about the the guy who moved into the ground-floor apartment.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

Quietly, this little e-mail dispatch turned 5 years old. Thanks for reading along! You can find the first issue from 2016 here, but I rather recommend you last year’s letter on temperature guns. In it I wrote: “a lot of things just feel a bit weird right now, right?” The right now part turns 12 months these days, and well, it’s still a lot. But at least we’ve managed it through the dark winter, so let’s stay positive. What other options do we have?

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

012021: Where You Find Me

Berlin is preparing for the snowstorm. It’s awaited for Sunday, temperatures are supposed to go below -10°C, and we’re expecting up to 30 centimeters of snow. This city is not used to it anymore; the last time I worried if my shoes were winter-proof was about ten years ago. But sitting in my apartment, as I’ve basically done for the past year, I’m excited for it. I’m excited for the sound of the snow, the silence of city, the brightness and the crisp air.

While I started the year with a big slice of uncertainty, January took care of things itself, and by now, lots of them are clarified. There’s enough work to do, and I’ve accepted that my motivation oscillates between “I’ll make this Wednesday a Sunday and stay in bed” to “LET’S GET THIS DONE”. As we all know, January and February are the hardest months to get through—mood, productivity and serotonin are on their lowest levels. But we are already halfway through! You can find motivation in anything if you’re desperate. And if you can’t, it’s also okay to just stay in bed from time to time.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

Not much else noteworthy happened in January. And as we’re going to be covered unter 30 centimeters of snow at any given moment, things might stay that way a little longer. So here is a short list:

I’ve been listening to the new The Notwist album on repeat the past week. It‘s eery and gloomy; perfectly composed for this weird time. My favorite song is Into Love / Stars, but Where You Find Me is also great and a very typical Notwist song.

If you’re rather in need of uplifting music, give the new Baio album “Dead Hand Control” a spin (e.g. on Spotify). It’s catchy and weird and fun to listen to.

In case we’re not going to be completely snowbound, the Berlinische Galerie published three audio tours guiding you along remarkable 1980s architecture in Berlin. For me as a big Baller-enthusiast, this will be the perfect companion for snowy Sunday walks.

For the readers who are more into nature than architecture: In this Twitter thread, I received some great recommendations on where to meet animals in Berlin these days.

✳︎ ✳︎ ✳︎

Animals can be great mood boosters during winter. Unfortunately I only get to see my friends’ and colleagues’ pets via Zoom, but the decision to get a four-legged flatmate is getting closer and closer. Just like the snowstorm! Stay safe, stay at home, and if you want: Stay in bed.

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