Catherine Zask (in English)

Project initiated by Thierry Le Boité, online since June 2003.

Click on the thumbnails to get a bigger image and read comments by the graphic designer Catherine Zask (translator: Natalie Lithwick).



I have few clients and for the most part our collaboration goes on for years. What does this imply? Reciprocity. Mutual esteem, dialogue, pleasure, trust. This doesn’t mean it’s roses all the way or that we’re in total synch! Tension, blow-ups, and suppressed (or expressed) rage are all part of the picture. But if on both sides the desire to keep on going is stronger, then it lasts! The reason it lasts is because I work with people (and not with organizations). People who are in a position to make decisions, or who are able to convince the decision-makers (very important). I learn from each of them. My fastidiousness sometimes drives them crazy, and so does my stubbornness. But at the end of the day, we get along just fine.



When I’m at the development stage, I don’t ask for comments. I rarely show work in progress, unless it’s to friends who aren’t necessarily graphic designers: the dialogue becomes a tool for consolidating pathways, confirming intuitions. When presenting a project to a client, the comments I get are essential. It is by voicing opinions that clients appropriate a project. Their comments also give me more insight into the institution’s needs. This allows me to refine my response to their demands. When the documents are printed, I am eager for comments. Especially from my clients. If I don’t get any comments, then I ask for them. I want to know the different reactions. It’s a kind of test: how do they feel inside their tailor-made outfit? What comments do they receive?



Most of my commissions involve educational or cultural promotion. I have nothing against spreading out to industry or commerce, but I’ve unfortunately never met a potential interlocutor in these areas.



Computers have brought be calm, autonomy… and backache. Not ideas, directly, but rather direct access to the structure of words, my raw material. Words, for me, are always what lead to the image. Reading, saying, writing, pulling apart, rubbing words against each other, splintering letters; this is what gives rise to visual creation. What would happen if A jumped onto B? Click! there it is! Overlap? Collision? Overwrite? It happens as fast as I can think it. The computer’s fantastic reactivity shows me a visual step that produces another idea, opens up another pathway.


earlier works

In some earlier works, I can pinpoint premises that I was later able to name (elements that became constants) but which I couldn’t discern at the time. It is very satisfying to discover how everything is intertwined. It is the sign of coherence, which however only appears bit by bit, over the years.



Once in Lausanne, Werner Jeker served me an unforgettable risotto with truffles (white). I call him ‘the big hearted gourmesthete’. A good basis for fruitful international exchange.


graphic designer

For the most part, a graphic designer is a channel (intermediary, interpreter) between an emitter (who makes a more or less precise request) and a recipient (e.g. the public, an end-user). A graphic designer’s work mainly consists of giving ideas a visual existence. This does not necessarily mean that ideas are prior to their visual shape. Sometimes the visual find, based on intuition, is what comes first. The next stage is essential. It consists of validating one’s intuitions: formulating, clarifying, expressing. The words put the image to the test, and declare it to be valid or not. But whatever the process, when a graphic designer creates something visual in the framework of a commission, it is always in order to render visible, legible: to convey meaning.



Creating a web site is now natural part of developing a visual identity. This is not a medium I master, but there are some things I’d like to explore, such as working in collaboration with young graphic designers who are competent and inventive.



There is no one method, one system, or one procedure. The only constant is that I deal with people: the relation brings about the method.



Cereal box, union poster, postage stamp, museum descriptive, tax form, train schedule, metro map, guide, catalog, program, brochure… What isn’t political?



No object is ‘efficient’ on its own. If you create a fantastic logo for a company, but you get someone rude on the phone, then their entire image suffers. A poster is a mere presence in a city. It has to battle with hordes of urban signs, especially against billboards. If it is visible, which in itself is a feat, it can lead to curiosity. So it’s up to each institution (theater, museum…) to respond with quality proposals.



My role is sometimes quite simple: making an institution legible (theater, museum, university). In other words: giving people the means to enter an institution through understanding. In addition to developing a specific visual identity, this requires working on the contents, organizing the information, reaching the end-user in a way that denotes respect. In France, institutions often display power, not consideration. Out of habit or negligence, texts are packed with references which are incomprehensible to the uninitiated end-user. My role is also to get rid of language that excludes in order to set up a language that welcomes. This is the ‘invisible’ or ‘unspectacular’ part of my work. It depends on trust and complicity with my clients, and makes the documents more generous. Clarity is crucial; it is the condition for beauty. And beauty is about creating meaning, enriching the message as well as the end-user. The thoroughness that marks each stage of work indicates the institution’s regard for the end-user. And producing thorough documents is also about educating the eye.


social responsibility

A graphic designer who produces something illegible, ugly or vulgar, is like a driver who empties his ashtray onto the road. Pollutant.



I work in a calm and sunlit studio. Open door. Surrounded by other studios. Graphic designers, artists, photographers, architects… hardworking, but not tense. It’s like a big cruising ship. An atmosphere that allows for autonomy, workaholics, and lingering aperitifs. Sometimes, young graphic designers come and work with me. It is always interesting.



I don't have one.


training graphic designers

In addition to the obvious (drawing, observation, typography…): - bringing them into contact with all creative arts; - encouraging encounters with students in other fields (economics, administration, commerce, sciences) who will later be their interlocutors. This fulfills a double objective: familiarizing future graphic designers with the fields that they will be required to render legible; showing other students the value of integrating graphic design into the framework of their profession; - developing each person’s confidence in their own uniqueness, which is what will enable them to truly invent.



Sometimes I think I’ve invented a particular means of expression, which I then come across in some foreign project. Am I just aware of it because it happens to be on my mind? Is it possible I saw it beforehand without noticing, and that it nevertheless influenced me? Did the edition of my own work influence others? It’s hard to tell! Especially since sometimes it’s only later on that we realize we’ve been influenced. For instance, in 1996 I thought up a series of posters-manifestos-invitations for the Scam. I used Block typography, creating friction between the letters. It was much later on that a chance question made me realize I’d spent a year working on the pet typography of Roman Cieslewicz, my professor at Esag, who had passed away that year. But I’m not drawn to trends. If a beautiful typographic character is in fashion, then I just don’t use it.



I used to love forms. Exactness. I wanted to draw. It was all rather vague. I’d seen some things made of typographic material. It fulfilled a hollow space that had been awaiting just that for everything to make sense. I took the leap. Years of doing only this. Since then, the form has been broadening; and the meaning is getting less and less clear.