Other personal projects
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Even though most of the presented projects are actually work related, they are the result of mere personal interest and initiative. To be updated in a regular basis (hopefully...)
The Case of the National Library of Greece
Presentation on the 20th of June 2019 at the 7th International Conference on Typography & Visual Communication (ICTVC), Patras / Greece 19–21.06.2019

Dimitris Papazoglou
George Triantafyllakos

Good evening to everyone. First of all we would like to thank you very much for your presence here and your patience, since this is the last presentation of a very busy and interesting day. I hope that we will be able to help you understand the process and the ideas that guided our work and our overall experience with such an important project.

A team of designers was created by Dimitris Papazoglou and that also included designer George Triantafyllakos, Professor George Matthiopoulos and designer Axel Peemöller. Our goal was to develop a proposal for the new visual identity of the National Library of Greece, on the occasion of its transition from the iconic Vallianeio building in the center of Athens, to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC). The former designed by Ernst Ziller in 1888 and the latter designed by one of the most iconic architects of our time, Renzo Piano, in 2016.

The need to set up such a disparate team has clearly emerged after an evaluation of the size and the complexity of this project. Although this posed a great challenge since it was the first time that all of us would work together, the outcome was very positive and fruitful and the way we collaborated allowed each one of us to play an important role to the project.

The competition for the design of the new visual identity of the National Library of Greece was an unprecedented event in the Greek design scene. It was greatly supported by the Greek Graphic Design Association from its very beginning and throughout its completion. And it is rather sad – and probably ironic too – that it proved to be the Association’s swan song. In any case we owe gratitude to Mr. Tzanetos Petropouleas, both for his help during the organization of this competition and for his significant support and collaboration throughout the completion of the project.

5 teams and design studios were selected to the final stage of the competition. For anyone interested in seeing the rest of the proposals you can do so by visiting this web address.

Before discussing our design process and its outcome, one thing that is worth noting is that there is a paradox on the way a design team is obliged to work during a design competition. The communication between the designers and the client is reduced to a minimum; the designers have to work in vitro, behind closed doors and return with a complete and successful proposal. This is something tricky and entails great risks for both the designers and the client. This is something that all participants had to face and was definitely a great difficulty for everyone involved.

From the beginning of the design process we worked simultaneously towards two different directions: a design and a conceptual exploration. This concurrent exploratory process is necessary and unavoidable in the context of a design competition and perhaps in any given design problem (given that design is in fact an iterative process of exploring different spaces in order to frame the design problem). None of us, however, saw a “solution” to our design problem among these, otherwise interesting, but eventually inadequate graphic objects.

The reason is that we realized from a very early stage of our design explorations that we were dealing with a project that is unique in more than one ways, with two issues emerging from the beginning as really important:

What is a Library today (who are its true users, what role does it play in the Greek society, how does it highlight and preserve its unique traits, what does actually constitutes a Library today in an age of ubiquitous data and infinite flow of information?, and eventually, what constitutes a National Library?), and (2) What is the actual content (both tangible and abstract/immaterial) that a Library addresses, protects, preserves, and presents to the public? And, most importantly given the design problem at hand, how can the answers to all these questions be captured/imprinted on its image, its visual identity?

From Homer and Dante, from Rigas Feraios and Marx, to Brecht and Kazantzakis, Elytis, Umberto Eco, Kiki Dimoula and George Ikaros Babassakis, the Library is asked to accumulate and incorporate inside its body an excessively large amount of diverse content dealing with an extremely wide range of subject matters and coming from different starting points (historically, aesthetically, politically, and so on).

This multiplicity is aesthetically reflected in its real objects, in the books themselves. So an important question emerges: How can a single graphic object, a symbol, a univocal mark capture the diversity and breadth of content and form in a holistic and timeless way? We understood that this was impossible and from early on we focused our efforts on developing a deeper understanding of what the/a Library is.

We came to the following principle conclusion; Our axiom: Both the Library, as a universal institution, and NLG in particular are at a historically critical point; they exist and function in a hovering state, in a space between a plethora of opposing forces. In a place between: the past and the future, the old and the new, the classic and the modern, the closed and the open, the visible and the invisible, the personal and the public, between protection (preservation) and diffusion, between the material (book) and the intangible (knowledge), the analog and the digital, the real and the imaginary, the national and the global.

A timeless state; a perpetual transition. A receptive space that manages to embrace and connect all of these opposing forces, allowing them to be present and in sync and eventually be the very elements that constitute the Library as a single, complete entity. Note: The concept of the liminal space was introduced at the beginning of the 20th century in the field of Anthropology. It refers to a state of ambiguity in which a member of the group enters during a ritual; a state where her former and current being co-exist simultaneously. In recent years several people started using the concept with broader interpretations in other scientific areas such as the Political Sciences, Sociology, Communication Theory, Architecture, etc.

So if one would think that this transitional state in which the Library is situated could be captured by such an image...

In fact the Library (both NLG and the Library as a global institution in the Age of Information) is in a state of perpetual transition and balance that is more accurately depicted with an image like this.

This conceptual framework was the basis that guided our design exploration and eventually our final proposal for the NLG’s new visual identity. A visual identity that (a) brings the content upfront, making it the protagonist of the Library’s communication, and that (b) is not based on a simple univocal mark but instead it is developed via a detailed visual language structured on and by the same material from which the Library is comprised of and that it addresses: Typography as the primary and most important medium for the representation of Logos (Λόγος) as Image.

(Question to the audience): If I asked you where are each one of those Libraries located, what would you say?

The proposed solution exploits the inherent power of typography to convey cultural / political / social and design concepts, ideas and trends with impeccable elegance and expressiveness.

Two typefaces with different morphology and historical origins work together to create a strong visual counterpoint, a visual hybrid/amalgam that (a) acts as a design metaphor of the Library’s liminal state, and (b) manages to include in a rather expressive and comprehensive way references and trends from different historical periods of Greek and world History.

The Library’s acronyms (ΕΒΕ in Greek and NLG in English) are promoted and highlighted so as to be used as discrete graphic items and thus become an important part of the visual language. The fact that these acronyms are part of the everyday experience of the Library’s communication (either within or outside of the organization), makes them important organic elements of communication that can be used both aesthetically and functionally, in a way similar to a bookplate or ex-libris or a seal of approval (κτητορικά σήματα) that sign and confer authority and validity on the content of communication.

So what we actually decided to create was a visual language; one that derives from a typographically rich visual alphabet (a set of typographic tools) and a correspondingly rich visual syntax (a set of typesetting rules).

First of all, the use of a rich set of special characters and symbols manages to enrich this visual language and enhance its overall impression.

On the other hand, the visual syntax rules support the development of a multifaceted and rich visual language, through: (a) the concurrent use of the Greek and Latin script in all of the applications, (b) typographic hierarchy and classification of information (via size relations and typographical morphology), (c) the exploitation of a variety of classical typographical conventions that label and markup the content (e.g. extensive use of auxiliary typographic symbols, references, prominent puncuation, use of italics in names or titles, and so on), (Visual Syntax Sample)

(d) the ability to adapt on different surfaces with different quantity and quality of information with different text alignments,

and (e) the synergy of images and text in an organic way.

Eventually, this visual language gave birth to the final logotype of the Library. Its strength lies in its autonomy and self-sufficiency, both as content and as image. Overall, (a) the direct reference to the name/title of the Library (important for its successful integration and the establishment of its position in its new environment), (b) the consistency of its morphology with the visual language and (c) the concurrent use of the two scripts, manage to create a distinct and dynamic logotype that is able to differentiate and highlight the role of the Library in its new environment.

As part of the implementation of the visual identity of the Library, several print and digital applications have been developed.

Our ambition is that the visual identity of the NLG will not restrict but on the contrary, give the freedom to the future designers to design creatively as visual authors. The way it is built does not define an exact system of typesetting rules which one must apply with strictness and inflexibility. The future designer should use the Library’s visual alphabet and its grammar to express his creativity with boldness; the proposed design system ensures that the Library’s main thesis (that the Library’s state is a state of perpetual transition, a liminal state) will emerge as a dominant trait and part of its very nature (a thesis that has been fully embraced and endorsed by the NLG management and its staff).

By looking at an analogy, we see this visual identity as an open-source project, a human-centered design framework for an open institution, one that belongs to everyone and which seeks to remain open and receptive. NLG is ready and open to this prospect. We hope that the future designers will embrace and support it with the same passion the Library did, if and when it’s needed.

Thank you for your patience and attention.

George D. Matthiopoulos
Dimitris Papazoglou
George Triantafyllakos
Axel Peemoeller