Lorenzo Mason & Marco Campardo (Tankboys) interview

The Venetian designers behind the studio Tankboys also run a publishing house and an annual book fair. We chat to them about working in one of Europe's most iconic cities.

Interview by Julian Hutton
Published June 2014

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i, v.  How to Shoplift Books, David Horvitz, 2013
ii. "Not Reading Books Is Insane" Christmas gift poster, 2014
iii–iv.  Etna, Renato D’Agostin, 2014
vi. Alternate glyph examples, Forma typeface, 2013
vii. The Book Affair, second edition, 2013

All images © Tankboys 2014

Hi Lorenzo and Marco, what are you up to today?

Today we're working on a couple of exhibitions for the Venice Architecture Biennale. May is definitely one of the busiest periods of the year.

In 2005 you founded Tankboys. What has been your aim with the studio over the years?

At the beginning the aim was to set up an independent studio, with the intent to learn, research, experiment and develop a critical and personal point of view (not only in design, of course). Now, nine years later, even if a lot of things have changed, we can say that the aim is still the same.

When did you first meet each other?

We met at the university but, unlike other studios, we didn’t start out as friends. At that time, we were independently working on some projects and, at some point, we both understood that we needed each other to realise something bigger. Afterwards, we also became friends.
 

"We believe that the role that the designer plays in contemporary society is not only to give a form to content for a client but also to produce and promote culture."


How would you describe your design approach?

First, we try to define the problem. Second, we seek an idea and elaborate a concept. After that, we start to design.

You're based in Venice. How do you find the creative scene there?

Venice is a wonderful place to create because it's very calm and quiet, but the creative scene is quite small compared to bigger cities such as London or Amsterdam. Moreover, exhibitions and events are mainly concentrated during the Biennale. That's why sometimes we feel the necessity to organise lectures, exhibitions and a book fair.

You launched The Book Affair, a two-day independent publishing fair, in 2011. Could you tell us about the fair and how you came up with the concept?

A book fair is mainly a chance to meet people, to talk and compare ourselves, and to create networks and projects. Our twofold purpose was to create a meeting point for that Biennale audience that is interested in artists’ books, design and publishing, and to promote this cultural niche in Venice.
 

"Venice is a wonderful place to create because it's very calm and quiet..."


As well as Tankboys, you also run a small publishing house, Automatic Books. What prompted you to start this?

We wanted to produce the books we couldn't find in normal bookshops, but we also felt the desire to experiment with printing and get involved in every aspect of the production of a book.

On top of that, we believe that the role that the designer plays in contemporary society is not only to give a form to content for a client but also to produce and promote culture. 

With your obvious interest in print, what are your thoughts on digital publishing?

We think that everything that we want to read and we don't need to keep in our bookshelf can be digital (even if we usually don't use digital devices to read). It's always better to save trees.
 

"We realised that typography was the best medium to produce a conceptual and content-based approach to communication."


What have been some of the more rewarding client projects you've had over the years?

It's a difficult question because projects are rewarding for a number of different aspects: sometimes it's a matter of form, sometimes a matter of content, sometimes even a matter of money.

What projects are you currently working on?

Books, exhibitions, typefaces, objects.

You have a very strong typographical sensibility that can be seen in all your projects. How important is typography to you? When were you first exposed to good typography?

At the beginning, we were simply keen on typography, without knowing (or asking ourselves) why. It was love at first sight. Then we realised that typography was the best medium to produce a conceptual and content-based approach to communication.
 

"We were thrilled by this attempt to design something rational that ended up being more humanistic than rational. We think that Forma is, in some ways, a metaphor for Italy."


What is it about type designer Aldo Novarese's work that inspires you?

We are interested in Aldo Novarese's work because is a fundamental part of the Italian visual heritage. Before desktop publishing, most of the books, signage and graphic artifacts were composed with Novarese's typefaces (also because Nebiolo, the type foundry he was working with, was the biggest firm in Italy).

You've worked to digitalise Novarese's typeface Forma. How did this project begin, and why Forma?

It began when we read about the story of Forma; it was conceived to be the Italian answer to Helvetica. The team involved in the project grouped some of our favourite Italian designers, such as Bruno Munari and Franco Grignani. We were thrilled by this attempt to design something rational that ended up being more humanistic than rational. We think that Forma is, in some ways, a metaphor for Italy.

Something we usually try to understand is how the place we live in influences us, and what the relationship is between creative productions and the surrounding environment.

 

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