Adi Stern: I remember (not)

Adi Stern‘s presentation, I Remember (Not), like his approach to design, was all about balance. The Jerusalem-based designer structured his talk around three very different projects ranging from “fun” to “not so fun.” But all beautiful and important.

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The first project he showed was the logotype for the Design Museum Holon, the only design museum in Israel. The logotype needed to be a symbol of the museum, but not the building itself, the ability to be set in any color, and a trilingual system.

“We wanted to capture the spirit of this building,” Stern explained.

He added that it was an important cultural and political decision to make the system trilingual to include Arabic.

“All scripts have the same visual weight, hierarchy, presence and nature.” he said. This meant designing the Hebrew with a midway x-height, since its a monocase script, to balance with other scripts.

Another visual communication decision was to “use the whole wall as a sign, as a poster” and create a three-dimensional effect painting white arrows onto the white walls. He felt successful with this choice when a contractor called frantically, days before opening, to see when he’d paint the arrows. He knew that by doing something so strange that people noticed it he’d made the right design decision.

The next project was much more somber, but of deep personal importance to Stern, whose mother is a Holocaust survivor. Taking on the project to design the visual communication aspects of Block 27 at Auschwitz Memorial and Museum, Stern was “designing, shaping memory and my own personal roots.”

In addition to the normal design hurdles of any project, the team faced the added challenge that “commemorating the Holocaust is a very complex issue. We wanted to remember the victims and tell a story.” After acknowledging that “it [was] our moral duty to do this project. We [had] to do this project and do it differently,” they set out to create something meaningful and universal to influence visitors through visual communication.

As the exhibition falls at the end of the tour of the site, visitors arrive physically and mentally exhausted. Additionally, the majority of visitors are European youth. The exhibit needed to be designed to generate discussion and reflection for this audience.

They also faced some major dilemmas in design ethics. “There was the gap between the horrific content and the fact that we need to make it look good [visually],” Stern said. “In order to communicate with a young audience, who doesn’t really want to be there, you have to be attractive and contemporary.” Additionally, they needed to create a broad, clear, accessible message without paying the price of generalization. “Graphic design is about generalizing, we do that all the time,” Stern said.

Adi Stern

Adi Stern

Prof. Adi Stern is a graphic designer, type designer and a design educator and has served as the head of the department of visual communication at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem since 2008. He runs his own design studio specializing in both the design for cultural institutions, and in book design and typography. He is a graduate of the Master in Typeface Design program at the University of Reading, UK. Adi writes, consults and lectures on the design and history of the Hebrew letter. Many of his works were exhibited internationally and won awards worldwide, including the Tokyo TDC Award and the New York ADC Silver and Bronze awards.
After addressing these challenges, Stern guided the audience through three of the rooms his team designed for the project. With multimedia visuals and sound, the team designed an experience to walk visitors from a room depicting the everyday lives of the Jewish community between the wars, to a room depicting the Nazi ideology with loud noise and video creating a “heavy feel of oppression and stress,” to the “Extermination Room” where there is a “withering silence – the unheard sound of a systematic murdering machine.”

In this last room, the team faced a major design challenge of creating a massive infographic map of Europe to show the killing sites. They modeled it as a “black stain…a non-erasable stain.”

Finally, Stern took on the challenge of designing the book of names, which currently contains over 4.2 million victim names documented over decades. Stern designed it as an “internal tombstone” and created a typeface in three languages and two scripts for the project.

“This was perhaps the most meaningful project I ever did,” he said. “The names of my relatives set in a typeface that I hand-crafted.”

Stern wanted to end his presentation on a more upbeat note, so he focused the final section on the process behind his typeface, Noam, the first typeface with its Hebrew and Latin scripts designed simultaneously. His goal is to create a coherent family that holds each script in balance, yet allows each to function independently.

“Achieving this evenness was my goal,” Stern said.

Text: Meghan Arnold