The art of being quietly loud

When the adlerschmidt agency has done its work well, nobody notices – and this is a good thing

Florian Adler Photo: Tim de Gruisbourne

If you’ve ever tried to be punctual in Berlin, you’ll surely have had the following experience: you’ve arrived at the address with time to spare, but you still end up being late – because you got lost again in the labyrinth between the first and fourth courtyards. This same risk is involved when you visit Prof. Florian Adler. His agency for communication design is hidden away in the second courtyard of the Bülowbogen commercial complex, staircase D2 – one of six staircases leading to almost 40 different companies.

However, finding your way here is no problem – and you realise that the partner and CEO of „adlerschmidt“ and his colleagues are very good at what they do. Because they developed the guidance system for the labyrinthine complex. „You just have to know what information to provide at what point,“ says Adler. The graphic designer knows all too well that it’s not easy to design information so that it’s comprehensible for as many people as possible: every colour and the shape of every letter conveys something – and this often depends on the cultural context.

For twelve years, Adler has been teaching this to his students. He teaches from experience, as it’s been almost a quarter of a century since he founded the „adlerschmidt“ agency with his colleague Hans-Peter Schmidt. Here, not far from Nollendorfplatz, they and their team create communication strategies as well as web, information and corporate designs for companies, events and locations.

On the door to his office you read the motto „Content without form is impossible.“ Adler is wearing black glasses and a black shirt. His business card is on the desk before him. The letters on the card are in grey and black. The only colour on the card is the red edging. „The colour is subdued, because we’re not the ones in the foreground. We’re not selling ourselves as a brand – rather, we optimise the communication for others.“ Adler has chosen the „Unit“ font. He describes it as „very easy to read, contemporary, striking, but unpretentious.“ Clarity and functionality are important to him.

The designer sensed this at an early stage: when the teacher in his advanced art course told him about Bauhaus, he was hooked. Later on, as a student in an internship under Otl Aicher, the advocate of the functional, this conviction gained maturity. „Only then did I become conscious of what design means,“ says Adler, who distinguishes very clearly between art and design: design always has a defined assignment. Art is free per se, but not design.  „Under Aicher I learned not only to subdue all typographical extravagance to an extreme degree, but also that everything is connected to a question: theoretically I have millions of possibilities for positioning two points within a square in relation to each other. However, every position has a meaning.“

He has applied this principle not only to the guidance system in the Bülowbogen, in which none of the companies appears with its logo on the board in the entranceway. They are all listed in the same font, colour and size. „Otherwise voices would be raised,“ Adler explains. „It’s loud enough as it is. However, when everyone whispers, nobody has to shout.“ In this way, he describes what is difficult about his work. Strictly speaking, it’s paradoxical work, as Adler helps his customers to be visible in a world in which there’s already too much visibility. In an age when everything is crashing and banging, Florian Adler and his colleagues try to keep things quiet – and still get noticed. Where others would put up another sign in a forest full of signs, they try to do without.

That is why they also won the European competition for a tourist guidance system in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The assignment: information and orientation for more than 70 historical sites. Their solution: haptic orientation stones and traditional material such as textile banners and bronze. „No signs“ was the motto. The idea was not to plaster information all over the castles and palaces, but for visitors still to have no problem finding their way to the WC. When Adler and his team have done their work well, everything works but you don’t notice that they were here.

Although they’re involved in many projects outside Berlin, the agency has already been in Schöneberg for seven years, in an area to which many design offices are returning after relocating to the east of Berlin. Friedrichshain and Mitte are becoming too expensive, too full and too touristic. „The area here around Potsdamer Strasse is rapidly gaining in popularity,“ says Adler. „There’s a very vibrant, genuine and multifaceted community here – with many Turkish people. And kerb crawling. There’s something very grounded about it.“ And maybe this is the secret of adlerschmidt: being grounded in an industry in which others often want to take off.

Susanne Hörr
Kluge Köpfe 2013