Today, we are joined by Thomas Manss , he is a Graphic Designer. You can view his portfolio here.

  • Tell us about your graphic design career. How did you break into graphic design, and how did you advance to where you are today?

Both my parents were architects and I was destined to follow in their footsteps starting to design houses at the tender age of twelve. However, the more I found out about the profession, the less appealing seven years of studies and many more years of waiting until one could realize a major public commission became. I did not think I had the patience to be an architect.

The faster pace of the design business seemed a much more natural fit, although I have kept my connection with architecture. We count many of today’s leading architects as our clients.

I started my professional career at Erik Spiekermann’s Metadesign, got involved in some huge identity programmes at Sedley Place Design and ended up Alan Fletcher’s Associate at Pentagram in London before setting up Thomas Manss & Company in 1993.

  • What do you enjoy most about your career?

The story telling.To create a memorable design you need to start with a thought that’s worth remembering. In my view, there is very little point in designing your heart out if you have nothing to say. We spent an awful lot of time getting the story right and then the task of the design is to seduce people into wanting to know more.

This approach has led to a wonderful variety of projects. Clients frequently come to me and say: “You understand what we are about and you can tell our story better than anybody else, so we want you to design our next exhibition stand.” This is how we got involved in areas as diverse as identity programmes, websites, apps, corporate literature, books, magazines, campaigns, posters, exhibitions and signage.

  • What were the biggest inspirations for your career?

From Erik Spiekermann I learnt everything I know about typography, from Alan Fletcher I learnt to forget everything I knew about typography.

Whilst the self-proclaimed typomaniac Spiekermann provided the foundation with his intimate knowledge of grids and obsessive attention to typographic detail, Fletcher’s designs always revolved around a simple idea. Together they have inspired our mantra of Ordnung & Eccentricity. Ordnung describes a German sense of order, while Eccentricity adds an element of surprise that is rooted in the English wit you will find in many of our designs.

  • What are some favorite projects you’ve completed and why?

Any project where you cannot tell when it was designed. For me, it is more important to get a design right, rather than pandering to fleeting fashions. A client should be able to own their design rather than chasing after everybody else’s.

  • Tell us about your graphic design education. How did you decide to study graphic design?

Once I had abandoned my plan to become an architect, I chose the Communication Design course at Fachhochschule Würzburg for its conceptual strength and its free spirit when it came to expressing ideas.

Observing my professor, the German poster designer Frieder Grindler, I found that every stage of the design and production process offers an opportunity to introduce an element of surprise, whether it is some clever thinking at the outset, or filling the duct of a single colour litho press with three different colour inks during the final print production; the result being a colourful poster printed with a single pass on a single colour press.

You just had to know about every stage of the process and what could be done at that stage. So I treated my studies more like a job, turning up at the crack of dawn to work in the print shop, help with some photo typesetting or use any of the other production facilities to learn more about how I could turn my ideas into something tangible.

  • In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you pursued your graphic design education?

That most designers think with their eyes, as Erik Spiekermann so succinctly put it. The problem is that the eyes are ill-equipped for thinking. I have met too many designers who believe that it is their task to push the bits around until it looks pretty.

Once you go down that route, you inevitably lose your authority in the eyes of the client, because you are not making a difference to the client’s business. That is why we are frequently battling the perception that we are the jesters of industry who get the budget that is left over at the end of the financial year in order to provide some colourful entertainment.

As practitioners we have a huge, collective task to explain our contribution and how this can make a tangible difference to any business.

  • Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the most respected and prestigious schools, departments or programs? Does graduating from a prestigious school make a difference in landing a good job?

Coming from a respected school might open the door, but then it is down to the individual designer to deliver on that initial promise.

That is the moment I tried to prepare my students for when I was teaching Corporate Identity at Fachhochschule Potsdam. Today, this college on the outskirts of Berlin is still one of our favourite colleges when we are looking for graduates. It might be very different for other design practices, but there seem to be some colleges whose approach will enable graduates to hit the ground running at Thomas Manss & Company.

  • What other advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in graphic design?

Design is not a job, it is a way of life. Consequently, the much talked about concept of life-work-balance is not even worth thinking about, because design does not happen on a computer screen in the office, it happens anywhere and at any time.

Being curious about photography, illustration and typography, about technology, about business, about the clients, about the people involved in the design process and about the mundane things in everyday life that might one day inspire an idea, is what makes a great designer.

The more you immerse yourself, the easier you will find it to spot that vital clue, that leads to a distinctive and memorable design.

  • What exactly do you do? What are your key responsibilities?

I am learning every day. I also run four offices in London, Berlin, Florence and Rio de Janeiro.

A big company needs administrative structures and hierarchies that create office politics. The advantage of our small teams is that they organise themselves, which frees me to do, what I do best.

The American inventor, engineer and entrepreneur Charles Kettering once remarked that “a problem well stated, is a problem half solved” and it is my key responsibility to make sure that we get that part right. It gives everybody the confidence to develop a fresh design expression for the resulting story.

  • What are the tools of the trade that you use the most?

My brain, because “design is a mental utensil” (Alan Fletcher). Unlike the designers who profess to be thinking in images, for me, words a frequently the starting point. An expression or a proverb can provide the clue for a design solution. I design with words.

This poses an obvious problem when you design for cultures where you don’t speak the language and it is the reason why we unite so many nationalities under the Thomas Manss & Company umbrella. We have staff from all over the world who contribute their cultural experiences and their language skills to projects for clients on four continents.

  • What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Making sure that we do not start thinking with our eyes, but instead deliver projects with clarity of thought and just the right amount of Ordnung & Eccentricity in all our four offices.

  • What are the hottest specialities within the graphic design field over the next decade?

I am very interested in designing for mobile – and I am not talking about shrinking elements so they fit the smaller screen or responsive design that adapts to whatever screen size you throw at it.

A lot of the designs for mobile devices are still contaminated by the thinking we developed for computers. We even navigate in the same way, by clicking on things (albeit with our clumsy fingers rather than the more precise computer pointer). And I am not sure that talking to your watch, because it is too small to be operated with your fingers, is the solution. In ten years time, we will look back with amusement at our current fledgling efforts.