AGI was founded in 1951 as an elite club for designers and illustrators who saw the organization as a way of sharing common interests and forging friendship across national and cultural borders.

These core motivations apply today as much as they did then. An annual Congress is held in a different city, usually on a different continent. There are two parts to this gathering: AGI Open, a conference for students and professionals, and AGI Congress, a smaller members-only event.

It will be the first time an AGI event comes to South America. There are already 22 confirmed speakers to the event that will happen in August 18–19, at Auditório Ibirapuera, São Paulo. The organization is on account of a remarkable team of Brazilian designers, that has currently 8 members:


I think this image adequately expresses how we all felt about the AGI Congress in Barcelona this year. The Barcelona team, with Patrick Thomas, Mario Eskenazi, Javier Mariscal and his brothers at Palo Alto, Pablo Martín, Astrid Stavro, Andreu Balius and all the other volunteers delivered a fantastic series of events for us.


AGIOpen was held in the magnificent Coliseum Theatre, packed to the balconies with students and professionals from all over Europe and other parts of the world.


Monday morning opened with the brilliantly witty and ever-amusing Christoph Niemann, here giving us a look at his dreaming life.


Paul Sahre hypnotized the crowd with his mesmerizing graphics, gigantic muttonchops and supernatural abilities. None of us can remember the 15 minutes following his lecture.

Due to my obligations with the IEC, I was unable to see most of AGIOpen, but you can read the glowing reports of it from Eye MagazineGrafik Magazine  and the Design Indaba blog part 1  and part 2


On Tuesday night we were transported up a hill, climbed into gondolas and floated gently down to the beach to the murmer of digital camera-clicks and the occasional muffled scream. It was sunset and the views were spectacular.


The Congress opening party was at a beach bar where we were entertained by gypsies (and Javier Mariscal). The guitar player was extraordinarily good-looking. I'm just saying ...


The Congress took place at Arteria Paral-lel. The most moving presentation was by Alan Kitching who remembered his wife, Celia, and showed the marvellous works they had made together, as well as a book he created about her, Celia Sings.


Some unintended comedy dogged the presentation by guest speaker, architect Carme Pinós, as she struggled with what appeared to be a rather heavy pole she was given as a pointing device after Patrick Thomas proved unable to jump high enough for her purposes.


Those of us who saw it will fondly remember this scene from Alejandro Magallanes' hilarious test of our patience with his animated film. 


What would an AGI Congress be without a boat trip? Well it would be Porto, I suppose, but after last year's lapse/reprieve all was set in motion again with a little trip around the harbour on our way to the secret dockside restaurant at Port Vell. Many little sea creatures were consumed.


New members Joost Grootens (Netherlands) and David Smith (Ireland) meet and quickly become absorbed into the AGI family.


The famed chef Ferran Adrià was one of our special surprise guests. He talked about his uncompromising creative process and desire to keep moving forward in the exploration of new ideas. He is essentailly an experimentalist who works with food and taste rather than a "chef" per se. Most fascinating.




Now I missed this, but another special guest at the Congress was Pep Guardiola, coach/manager of Barcelona Football Club. He was described to me as "A god. One of the most successful coaches in the history of club football. He is the most prolific in terms of trophies-per-year ratio. The current Barcelona team—under his direction—is arguably the greatest in the history of football (American: soccer)." Well, I'm not going to get caught up in any football arguments, so fans of other teams will just have to let that rest. However, football fans at the Congress were suitably impressed by Guardiola's presence! He appeared in conversation with David Trueba, award-winning novelist, film director and screenwriter.


Thursday night was the opening of the Modular exhibit at  Sala Vinçon. Those who had grumbled over the specification restrictions for the project had an "Aha!" moment when they saw how stunning they all looked together on the walls and in the book. The book was designed for the easy collection of autographs, so I decided to be a fan for a change and spent the evening getting signatures from everyone I could find who had contributed a piece.


Ron Arad (right), the famous industrial designer/architect, was another of our surprise guests. After his presentation of his glorious, technologically adventurous work, he stayed with us for the rest of the Congress. He was very taken with our friendly atmosphere and told us that the camaraderie that exists between us could never happen in the architecture or industrial design world. No surprise to me; I've always thought graphic designers are exceptionally lovely people.


Thursday was also Paula Scher & Patrick Thomas's birthday. Of all the photos I've yet seen from the Congress, this is one of my favourites, as Patrick gives Paula a birthday kiss. Do they not look suitably happy?


Friday was our day off, and while I slept in and went to the wonderful Museu Frederic Marés, it would appear that several people showed up for the AGI Tennis Open. I know that Jan Wilker is very, very competitive and I wouldn't want to go up against him in anything. But can someone tell me, did Anthon Beeke change into his shorts and give these guys a run for their money?


Friday night was movie night! This was held at the Estrella Damm brewery, so  there was a lot of beer plus popcorn and hotdogs! We watched the recent Herbert Matter film, a few minutes of Stefan Sagmeister's Happy Film, titles from Arnold Schwartzman, and upstairs were some smaller films and "the making of" Javier Mariscal's wonderful Chico & Rita.


On Saturday we got down to serious business in the morning and afternoon with the General Assembly. A very proper report of those proceedings will be coming in the near future.


While the room above looks very severe, it was housed in a gorgeous old library with a beautiful courtyard outside. During breaks in the General Assembly we returned to the usual AGI business of socializing.


Whoa! Was ist das? Saturday night was the final party held at Palo Alto, the beautiful complex of offices, courtyards and gardens that houses Estudio Mariscal. This final night was a full-on Mariscal production. As we wandered through the main courtyard we became aware of strange goings-on in various nooks and crannies. Theatre, dance and music awaited us at every turn. 


We funnelled from the courtyard into a large concrete building where more performances took place. The last was this strange-looking man with an amplifier rigged to be sensitive to light, and a bunch of wah-wah pedals which he controlled to make very loud, reverberating feedback sound. Awesome! I spoke to him afterward, and this was his first performance. He was very sweet and not weird at all.


After the wall of sound, we were ushered out into a beautiful garden area flooded with lights and lined with long tables. The food, I remember, was excellent, but the conversation even better. This is what I love about AGI: all of these brilliant designers from different countries, talking and laughing together.






After dinner, there were fireworks and Chinese drummers in the garden with a lion which proceeded to do the lion dance up and down the rows of tables. This was Spain's official passing of the baton to Hong Kong for next year's Congress and AGIOpen. Someone from the Spanish team whispered to me "You ain't seen nothin' yet" - or something to that effect.


The Chinese drummers were followed by a wilder, looser band of drummers, and with a beat that was impossible to ignore we were led out of the garden area by this band and a couple of "demons" on stilts carrying torches of fire.


We were herded into the main open courtyard and met by more demons on the ground and on stilts carrying fireworks and dancing to the music. 


What followed was an astonishing display of fireworks which were held by hand or on poles, showering us with sparks! It was absolutely fantastic! Like being right inside a fireworks display! It was particularly exciting because it was completely insane! This would never, ever be allowed in North America, and I happen to be particularly fond of the things that North Americans consider to be too dangerous to be enjoyed. I was slightly worried about whatever my Japanese dress was made out of but I figured if I went up in flames there would be lots of people to put me out.


After the smoke cleared we were led to another courtyard and building with lots - and I mean lots and lots of liquor. Plus a live Cuban band!


Oh yes, there was dancing! Anthon Beeke and Anette Lenz are doing the Monster Mash, while Melchior Imboden prefers to Waltz...




I made several new friends this year, and here I am with one of them, Alvin Chan; and I'm wearing a fantastic silver scarf given to me by Cordula Alessandri.

If you were in Barcelona this year, I hope this helps you remember the days and nights. And if not, well, Hong Kong in 2012, n'est-ce pas?

Marian Bantjes 


Barcelona = Mario Eskenazi

Designers in Barcelona joke that Barcelona IS Mario Eskenazi. Wherever you turn it seems there is a design by Mario. Of course it helps that he did the identity for Banc Sabadell, and the city garbage, recycling & cleaning services with big and little trucks and containers all over the city. 

Eskenazi 5

But also, through his long-standing relationship with Grupo Tragaluz, he's created the design work for many of Barcelona's best hotels and restaurants. I was in Barcelona in June and just walking down the street I took the opportunity to photograph Mario in front of some of his designs.

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Here he is in front of the wonderful Hotel OMM.

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And his fantastic work for the restaurant Mordisco.

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Another restaurant La Xina.

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and Bar Lobo. Had we gone one street over I could have got him in front of a few more. And of course in October 2011, we will be surrounded by more of the work that he did for the AGI Congress.

 Mario is originally from Argentina, but has lived and worked in Barcelona since 1974. He is a self-described hippie, who does some of the biggest and best commercial work in Barcelona, with a restrained, modernist sensibility. He has a weakness for stencil fonts, but always used with a crispness and order that belies their radical origins. A bit like Mario.

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He's got a wonderful studio in the heart of Barcelona, with a staff of four. To reach it, you go up a beautiful, old, rumbling elevator. Whenever I've been, Mario is waiting at the door to his high-ceilinged studio, usually with light streaming in across the warm wooden floors. The walls are lined with books and ephemera, and he's got the most wicked-looking paper cutter I've ever seen. 

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And this is the view from his window and balcony: of the Barcelona Cathedral! The glow of computer light shines down onto mediaeval walls.

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This is where Mario sits.

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And here's his collection of "caganers". Ask him about them when you see him in Barcelona.

I met Mario at my first AGI Congress, 2 years ago in Istanbul, and we've been great friends ever since. When you come to Barcelona, keep an eye out for his work, and of course for Mario himself.

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Mario Eskenazi & Marian Bantjes.

Fifteen Years with Grafist

Between 1995 and 1999, I have served as Vice-President at the Board of Directors for ICOGRADA, The International Council of Graphic Design Associations. During those years I collaborated with the Israeli designer and educator David Grossman who’d been the Treasurer and later became the President of the same board, in planning a project: Icograda Regional Design Education Collaboration Programme.  Our primary motivation behind initiating such a programme was to enable a meeting of designers, educators and graphic design students from neighbouring countries. As designers from developing countries, we’d already been following design products and designers from the USA and European countries. However, we were incognizant of the current situation in countries that were closest to us. Until then, we had listened with admiration to our colleagues from the USA, Japan, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Our gaze had been undoubtedly directed towards the West. 

We decided to hold the pilot project of the Regional Design Education Collaboration Programme in Israel and Turkey. Grossman was somewhat experienced in the field as he’d been running for the last three years a design education event called Festivital, at the Vital Design School which he’d founded in Tel Aviv with his partner Yaki Molcho and offered courses in graphic design, illustration, photography and industrial design. Festivital had a programme of workshops led by internationally renowned guest designers to which only Vital students were welcome, and then seminars that were open to the general public. 


 I discussed the matter with my colleagues at the Graphics Department of Mimar Sinan University and the Turkish Society of Graphic Design, offering them a proposal to organize an international event in collaboration with Vital, as part of the ICOGRADA programme. My proposition was enthusiastically received and agreed upon. Our first activity was to go to Tel Aviv in February 1997 with a group of 11 students from various different universities to participate in Festivital. The students attended workshops led by Erik Spiekermann, Siobhan Keanay, Lawrence Zeegen and David Carson and were offered accommodation with the Israeli students’ in their homes. We held in Tel Aviv the “Posters from Turkey” exhbition organization organized by the Turkish Society of Graphic Design. I also held a workshop where I had the opportunity to meet Israeli students, and gave a speech at the Design Seminar. We allocated Saturday (Festivital’s programme was halted due to the Israeli offical holiday which starts on Friday afternoon and ends on Sunday morning) for a visit to Jerusalem. After an exhilarating 10 days of enjoying new experiences and making new friends at this event, we returned to Turkey and kicked off the planning phase of the event we would organize in Istanbul. The students who’d attended Festivital had thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from the experience. 

 Organizing an international graphic design education event required know-how, experience and financial resources. We had very little know-how and experience; and literally no money. Our university’s resources were far from adequate. Nevertheless we wanted to realize this dream and believed that we could. 

Icograda’s Board of Directors chose a different city every three months to host their meeting and Istanbul was scheduled for Spring 1997. We approached this as a valuable opportunity and decided to hold the 1st Grafist/Istanbul International Graphic Design Week on 4th-9th of April, the scheduled dates of the Icograda meeting. This would allow us to  invite Icodgrada board members to the event as guest speakers and conveniently save us the transport and accommodation fees for the guests. Aykut Köksal, Esen Karol, Paul McMillen (a long-time resident of İstanbul) and Yossi Lemel (whom we’d met in Tel Aviv and who suggested to self-subsidize) agreed to lead workshops. Bülent Erkmen and the photographer couple Barbara and Zafer Baran (who lived in the UK) contributed to the seminar as speakers. According to our programme, four workshops were scheduled to run from Monday to Thursday and the final day of the week would be reserved for two seminars to be held on two separate locations, Mimar Sinan University and Marmara University. We also included an exhbition project curated by German designer Helmut Langer: Fax Posters Against Nuclear Trials. The 1st Grafist was attended by twelve students from Israel who were given accommodation in our students’ homes. In conclusion, it was by a very limited means that we managed to organize the Istanbul International Graphic Design Week. But as we had planned, the Grafist organization became in itself a model for Icograda who then went on to organize regional design events a few times a year in different parts of the world.  

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Having thus begun as an educational event in 1997, Grafist is now celebrating its 15th year. The Vital School Of Design founded by David Grossman and Yaki Molcho had to be merged with another state school according to Israeli law; and Festivital is no longer organized. Grafist, however, continued to develop and came to be known as one of the most important graphic design education events to take place internationally. Many designers, design educators and students from different parts of the world passed through Istanbul on account of Grafist; and most of those students are now working as design professionals in their respective countries. It would hardly be an exaggeration to speak of a “Grafist Generation” existing now in Turkey and in the world.  


Those involved in graphic design education know full well about the benefits of intensive workshops, seminars, debates, exhibitions, workplace visits that accompany a routine training programme. So schools often include such extra-curricular activities to their programme. 

Workshops are one of the fundamental building blocks of Grafist. In 15 years, around 2500 students received training in nearly 100 workshops. At the beginning workshops were open to anyone who wished to attend. But in our third year, when we received a group of 90 students visiting from Lebanon, we were positively confounded, as the available space in our workshops was rather limited. In response to this high level of demand from the universities, we were obliged to define a quota of maximum 20 people to attend each workshop. Even then, we sometimes had more than 30 students attending a workshop. Frankly speaking, we never had the heart to turn anyone away. 

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 The distribution of participants across the workshops was carried out with a consideration of the fair and balanced spread of different nationalities and schools. Our main objective was to give students an opportunity to interact with different cultures, overcome prejudices and enjoy working, learning and creating together. 

The works created during these four days of workshops were formerly being exhibited on wall panels in classrooms to be presented in meetings. But through the years, we witnessed a growing interest in these presentations and finally we could no longer fit inside the classrooms. In the end, the presentation of the works was moved to the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University’s auditorium. 


The Sedat Hakkı Eldem Auditorium at the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University can seat 300 people. Every year, for the Grafist Seminar, we welcome here an audience of 400. Students, educators and professionals travelling from many parts of the world and many cities in Turkey including Istanbul, Izmir, Eskişehir, Mersin, Adana, Isparta and Erzurum, to follow this seminar, fill up the entire auditorium. To the extent that there’s no room for manoeuver, so to speak... The world’s most well-known designers give speeches here, show their works and share their experiences. Fukuda, Massin, Piippo, Tartakover, Erkmen, Loesch, Momayez, Altıntaş, Jordan, Troxler, Orosz, Madrelle, Boom, Beeke, Fletcher, Arvanitis, Logvin and many others passed through this hall meeting young people. The Grafist seminar is a true celebration. 

Exhibitions, projects

In these fifteen years of Grafist, we held exhibitions in a number of galleries for nearly 100 artists. As opposed to workshops and seminars which we had to squeeze in the space of a week, the exhibitions could be spread out over two weeks to a month to be enjoyed by a large audience. We programmed exhibitions such as the Korean Posters, Posters Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of  Israel’s  Founding, Posters of Faxes Against Nuclear Trials, Beer Mats, Packaging Design from Japan, Emigre, Five Polish Poster Designers along with many other personal shows. We held a commemorative exhibition entitled “Forget-me-not”  in honour of those artists who’d once been guests of Grafist and are no longer with us, like Alan Fletcher, Morteza Momayez and Shigeo Fukuda. Special exhibitions were held for the works of Adrian Frutiger and Pierre Mendel who could not travel to Istanbul on account of their health. The poster project entitled “İstanbul as felt by...” was organized in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Grafist and welcomed the contribution of all designers whose labour had been very much appreciated in the course of Grafist history. 


Young designers and Grafist

We have been especially mindful about enabling young designers’ active participation in the Grafist programmes, encouraging them to be more than spectators, to assume leading positions as creators and organizors. The organization of Grafist is managed by our young colleagues. Young professionals from several different countries realized their own exhibition project  as part of the “Next Generation” programme and gave presentations in seminars. At the Grafist workshops, research assistants from various universities get the opportunity to assist the workshop leaders; they then go back to their respective academies and share their experience with the professors and students there. Every year, in at least one workshop, young designers are also given the chance to run their own workshops. Finally; in the process of selecting guests to invite to Grafist,  we always include young professionals from different countries. 


Grafist’s guests

We aim to achieve a healthy balance of experiences, genders, countries and areas of expertise in our selection of guests; striving towards diversity by bringing together the young and the mature, women and men, neighbouring countries and distant lands, unknown and renowned designers in the same programme. We also take pains to include many fields of expertise like poster design, publication design, illustration, multimedia, design history and theory in our programme. 

Grafist is an organization based on the voluntary spirit. Those who work for Grafist do not receive any payment for the work they do. Travel, food and accommodation expenses of guests travelling from abroad and other cities are covered by the organization, but apart from we are not able to make any other payments of fees. The guest students meet their own travel and accommodation expenses, but attendance to the workshops remains free of charge. 


Grafist events are documented as much as possible through publications which began as simple brochures and evolved into a book in 2001. The Grafist Book (15.5 x 23cm) is published every year in both Turkish and English and includes event information, the guest designers’ works and interviews held with them. The editing, design and production as well as the interviews are being handled by our young colleagues. Alongside the Grafist books, a number of special publications including a brochure entitled “Packaging: Design For Sale”, a book “50 Questions, 50 Answers / An interview by e-mail with Rudy Vanderlans (Emigre)”  and “Panic At Times of Getting Lost On the Streets” which was prepared by the students, were published during the years. 

 Grafist Archive

It’s become a celebrated tradition that our guest designers kindly donate some of the works they bring to Istanbul to be exhibited. Thanks to this generous contribution from our guests, we are compiling a rich archive of graphic design which keeps growing both in size and diversity with the valuable addition of autographed books, correspondence letters, samples of handwriting, business cards, paper napkins with dinner-time scribblings, gifts, photographs and videos taken during Grafist activities, seminar records, and students’ works produced at the workshops. Some of the treasured items include the typographic installation created by Rene Knip for Grafist 12, Alan Fletcher’s original print, posters designed and printed by Fukuda and Kari Piippo for the special occasion of their visit to Istanbul, Alain Le Quernec’s giant sized posters and Andrey Logvin’s original sketches... Fifteen years of age, Grafist has already created a great deal of history. 

 How it’s done

Grafist is the first and only example of its kind in Turkey. Organizing an international graphic design event is an expensive and laborious task that requires know-how and experience. Grafist’s organizors were aware of the challenges when they set off on this path. Nevertheless, they were resolved to raise the quality of graphic design education, and contribute towards design students’ and young professionals’ experiences in building relationships with the rest of the world. 

All of Grafist’s expenditure has been met through sponsorship. We’ve been supported by enterprises and private persons. No financial contributions were demanded from the participating students and their universities. The hosting university MSFAU assigned its studios, exhibition and conference halls for our use. Among the collaborating institutions, Icograda, AGI / Alliance Graphique Internationale, Turkish Society of Graphic Design, Bikem Özsunay Graphic Design Foundation, Dutch Consulate of Istanbul are especially noteworthy for their valuable support. 

 The Future of Graphic Design Education

In 2000, Icograda published the “Graphic Design Education Manifesto” which re-defined, as we entered the Third Millennium, the concepts of graphic design, designer and design education. In the organization of Grafist and creating the programme, we are always mindful of the definitions and principles stated in the manifesto. In closing, we think it would be beneficial to remind ourselves once again the section in the manifesto regarding education:  

“(future of design education)The new design program includes the following dimensions:

  • image, text, movement, time, sound and interactivity.
  • Design education should focus on critical mentality combined with tools to communicate.
  • It should nurture a self-reflective attitude and ability.
  • The new program should foster strategies and methods for communication and collaboration.
  • Theory and design history should be an integral part of design education.
  • Design research should increase the production of design knowledge in order to enhance design performance through understanding cognition and emotion, physical and social and cultural human factors.
  • More than ever, design education must prepare students for change. To this end, it must move from being teaching-centered to a learning-centered environment which enables students to experiment and to develop their own potential in and beyond academic programs.

 Thus the role of design educator shifts from that of only knowledge provider to that of a person who inspires and facilitates orientation for a more substantial practice.”


Theo Dimson

Theo Dimson

Order, Disorder and Notgeld

New Yorkers love to jaywalk. What the green traffic light is to an out-of-towner, what a matador's red cape is to a bull, the yellow light is to a New Yorker. That yellow light is a challenge, a dare-and what dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker would ever turn down a dare? So when the traffic light turns yellow, off goes your New Yorker, sprinting to beat the cars and dodge the herd running from the opposite side.

Type For Rent

Soon after the use of the internet exploded, everyone realised that all organisations needed both a representation in the 'concrete' world of print as well as one in the superfluous digital universe of the internet.


The first computer we bought in my former design practice was a computer for bookkeeping and secretarial work. For us, it was an extremely expensive machine, but it was cute looking and small. The text on the tiny screen was a green - an illuminated version of the traditional typewriter type - with a blinking 'cursor' indicating where you could add or delete text.

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