Humans have been marking the world around them with signs since prehistoric times. A language of signs allows people to record the regularity they discern in the movements of the stars and the passing of the seasons in calendars, to communicate messages and orders during battles. Over the centuries, people developed all sorts of ways to process land use, irrigation, music, dance and language itself as information. They broke it down into functional units, linked these units to signs, combined these signs into functional code and incorporated this code in a working technology that made it possible to preserve the recorded information, transfer it, vary and expand on it. The Department of Signs is dedicated to this form of magic that shapes, wards off and externalises our desires, fears, fantasies. From alfabets to flags, from codes and cyphers to music notation, signs are omnipresent units in the practise of the Typographic Masoner.

A symbol is a sign that resembles a statue: it doesn’t simply refer to a language – or parts of a language, like words or sounds – but to entire stories. Symbols generally exist in a swarm of other symbols with which they are affiliated. They are linked to superstition and irrationality and evoke associations of abhorrent artistic styles and kitsch. Symbols produce ‘too much’ and ‘too little’ meaning at the same time. They take the form of words, sounds, gestures, ideas or visual images and are used to convey other ideas and beliefs. The department of Symbols collects all kinds of symbolic languages and their use, from Jungs archetypes to all categories of cartographic symbol shapes, from alchemical symbols to heraldic emblems.

The department of Ornament this follows the universal urge of people to decorate. Even older than symbols and signs are the patterns that early mankind used to decorate their pottery, skin, weapons, clothing and dwellings. The patterns inscribed on shards and metal objects are still able to tell us which group made the artefact, and in which period. A wide variety of decorative styles and motifs have been developed for architecture and the applied arts. Ornamentation is a powerful instrument for exciting and directing people’s desire and interest. An enchanting element – a form of visual magic – that comes into play whenever something is designed. Far from being a side issue, ornamentation is actually a powerful and indispensable ingredient.

A construction is a whole that is traceable (reversible) assembled from two or more parts. In each design, parts (signs, symbols and ornaments) are merged. Which parts, in which way and for what purpose? The Department of Construction examins how they’re utilised. This means looking into the whole within which the elements are used. There needs to be an idea of cohesion, an editorial form of imagination. It’s all about the concept, which can integrate the different elements and determine to which extent they work together. The department is devoted to the various editorial concepts that can be used to assemble a design’s building blocks into a cohesive work.

No matter how practical or applied a graphic design is, it will always appeal to our poetic capacities through its choice of colours, shapes and materials and the emotional responses these qualities provoke through our touch, eyes, ears and nose. Something evoked via round-about, metaphorical effect; something that can be thought and felt without having to be said out loud. The designer manipulates the physical properties of the ink, paper, binding, printing technique, forms and lines in order to draw out a specific feeling, idea, joke, question – or preferably a mixture of the aforementioned. This department is devoted to the many ways in which the designer can exploit this potential. Here find the line, direction, shape, size, texture, value, color, technique, grid, composition: the 'pallet' of the designer.

A game is an activity, outside the ordinary daily activities, in which one or more people participate, as entertainment and / or to fully utilize one or more skills or talents, with an uncertain outcome. The graphic designer plays a game with clients, predecessors, colleagues and audience. And the whole objective is to get other people involved. And sometimes, you can do this by presenting the audience with a puzzle, forced to guess which rules may apply. The design can form an inviting magic circle that you want to step into to participate, to think along and join the discussion about issues of all kinds. In this department, the design’s ability to titillate and manipulate the viewer’s perceptions and responses seamlessly flows into his or her engagement in a form of living culture – regardless of how serious this game’s stakes are.

One aspect of the graphic designer’s work is portraying the times in which he lives – intentionally or unintentionally. Of course, this is only half of the story, because there’s no reason why a designer would have to adopt a passive role in all of this. In fact: there’s a strong tradition to visualise dreams and ambitions and as-yet-imaginary possibilities and link them to everyday reality. The designer's work always follows the rules that arise in attempts to explain the world. This Department of Order is about the drive to find new images, forms, words and styles that express world views or change, and expedite and steer the associated historical events.

Of course, the present-day and historical Craft of graphic design also deserves its own Department, full of examples from the past and the present that have an impact on and significance for our own times and possibly the future, that ensures continous commitment to the profession. One way of looking at graphic design is to focus on the ongoing relevance of its production. This department shows a variety of examples. In the craftsman’s dedication to his profession, all historical periods have the same weight – meaning that today’s and tomorrow’s inventions are no more and no less exciting than those made 600 years ago.

This department is about communicative dynamics that surround the design of websites, books, magazines and posters. In a sense, the dialogue always creeps into the design: that between the client and the maker, between the person addressed and the rest, between the known examples and the new design. The designer relates to this and this determines the outcome of his work. In any place on earth, and at any time, there all millions of different ways to practise the profession. This department is all about the question: What do you want to achieve with your work? In other words, it boils down to what graphic designers make of their era and circumstances, their personal backgrounds and ideas. And which choices they make in their day-to-day practice.

Richard Niessen