Steffen Wagner Talks Us Through His Funky Typography and Creating ‘Thoughts in Frames’

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Some folks are just born to be designers, and you can't really imagine them doing anything else other than producing the incredible work they do. Likely, they're the same folks who are content to doodle day and night and have no idea about whatever ridiculous Netflix show you're currently binging. Chances are, Steffen Wagner just might be that kind of creative.

Steffen Wagner is a graphic designer and product designer based in Berlin. With a strong interest in typography and expressive design, you'll find that his works are striking and full of playful type. While he's worked with many brands, like cosmetic line deValfierno and men's luxury shoe and accessory line Melgano, many of his personal projects feature muted tones, dynamic typography, and whimsical geometrical shapes, proving that he can do a little bit of everything.

We sat down with Steffen to hear more about how he creates his fantastical type pieces and the thought processes and inspiration behind much of his work.

Your works feature a lot of muted tones; what is your thought process behind implementing these hues?

I always try to create strong, harmonious, and pleasant contrasts for the beholder's eye. I am on the way to slowly becoming a little brighter with my tones and am approaching somewhat more robust, more provocative contrasts. I think you could describe my color palette as funky-retro.

Can you explain the thoughts wandering through your mind when you sit down with a blank canvas?

When I sit in front of a blank canvas, my thoughts are circulating, circulating, and circulating. The thoughts roll over! But here, it's essential to start simply. Once you are in this process, more and better ideas emerge. On the one hand, I try to visualize the word, the quote, or a value. On the other hand, the artwork itself should reflect precisely this value and point it out, sometimes obviously, sometimes hidden.

Who do you create your prints for?

I create my prints for galleries, shops, and for all people who want to make their home a little more artistic and want to hang specific messages, with which they can identify themselves, in the form of artworks on the walls. You could say that I create "thoughts in frames."

It appears that your brand work for clients takes an entirely different visual approach than that of your personal work. Do you ever have to fight the urge to implement your own style for your clients?

Yes, absolutely! I struggle with that over and over again. One of the other times, I've tried to bring in my style as a suggestion, but that didn't work too often. It's better now that I am now receiving inquiries from Galleries, Shops, and Magazines that relate precisely to my style and want this in the commission work. What began as a hobby and a balance to my previous work is now developing into my main activity. And that was exactly my dream.

Who is your dream client?

My big dream client is the New Yorker. I could imagine a design for this famous magazine. But I am happy about all other clients and jobs I receive because there are so many good ideas, values, and spaces they create. I love to learn new and different things. My little dream clients are all the people out there who can relate to my art and identify with the messages and thoughts I create and stand for.

What artist do you admire?

There are so many brilliant artists I admire and who inspire and influence my work. I think the most impressive artists are representatives of cubism like the early Mondrian and, of course, Picasso. I love the works of these artists.

I've noticed that your prints often include sayings through funky typography. Do you come up with these words before or after you begin? What is the meaning behind the words you choose?

Usually, I come up with these words before I begin; I have a vast collection of sayings, phrases, quotes, values, and thoughts I stand for that catch or inspire me. Almost all of them reflect my own experiences and ideas about life, the world, the people, any perspectives, and my perspective. As I said, the thoughts roll over, especially when I am thinking about many things. I have to collect all the thoughts, which come to my mind in very different situations. My artworks reflect attitude in life and can be thought-provoking.

If you could pinpoint your graphic aesthetic in three descriptive words, what would they be and why?

Playful, striking, and thought-out.

I always play with letters in all their forms until abstract forms are almost not readable anymore. Because of that and the point that you have to look at it maybe a little longer than usual to recognize what the artwork says, they are striking. I often use hidden elements that the viewer does not perceive directly, but that may be subconscious. Almost all of my work is very well thought out.

If you weren't a graphic designer, what would you do and why?

If I weren't a graphic designer, I would be a graphic designer.

If I were not a graphic designer, I would be a window cleaner or sitting at a till and either conjuring up letters from the cleaning foam or making small doodles on the receipts. So I had the wish to be a graphic designer. I can't imagine anything else because I found my passion. This is what I love to do.