Johannes Breyer is a Swiss graphic designer who co-founded Dinamo in 2013 with Fabian Harb.
In late March, just before the release of the Dinamo/AAVVGG collaboration AAVVGG Monument Grotesk, AAVVGG Founder Chris Hanz reached Johannes via SMS in Berlin to reflect on the project, business and Friday afternoons.
Chris Hanz: Hey Johannes - it’s Chris. How’s it going? Did I catch you at a good time?
Johannes Breyer: Heyy Chris – whats up! Yes – good timing. We’re in the middle of uploading a new software onto our website.
JB: Good to be a little distracted Are you in Paris?
Johannes (left) and Fabien (right) conducting a different interview.
CH: Yes, I’m at my apartment in Paris hanging out with Rohe (my dog). Pretty standard Friday afternoon. The team gets into AAVVGG Toronto at 3 CET and then the second workday kicks off.
CH: Aside from software updates, what would I normally be interrupting on a Friday at Dinamo?
JB: On Fridays we usually try facing all the things we realized we didn't manage to get done ;-) Actually, we just recorded a conversation with Fabian about his chair collection for you!
CH: I can’t wait to get into that chair collection content - In thinking about this talk it’s been really interesting for me to compare and contrast the type and furniture
CH: But in terms of similarity to me they are these super niche worlds that no one outside of pays any attention to, but if you’re in it it’s all you think about.
JB: Interesting! Funny enough, I might look at it from a different angle: being interested in type gave me a window for looking at other things, like chairs
JB: Me, personally, am less obsessed with particular things but I’m can get really excited about how all this things link
CH: I can see that. AAVVGG for me has really been a medium to explore different types of design. Certainly we see that our customers might be an architect but they are also really interested in graphic. There’s a natural relationship there.
CH: Because we span so many categories I really like when we end up with a collection of mixed items from the same person.
JB: Yes, that‘s also what I found interesting about the collection you’re offering in your store, and therefore were glad to be invited in, with our rather silly everyday objects!
Haha well thank you - I appreciate that. I don’t think any objects are silly, that’s the point of the store!
By the time anyone reads this, the AAVVGG brand guidelines (if such a doc actually existed) will consist of only “use AAVVGG Monument Grotesk”
Reducing our brand to this one point was an idea I had been sitting on for about 2 years but why did you decide to answer my email and start the collaboration?
For once, it was good timing, because we’re in the process of reviving our “Dinamo Hardware” label, and getting approached by a physical store overlapped nicely with the conversations we were having in the studio
But also, the idea you had of selling a font – a piece of software which is used to (usually), provide a design service for others – more in the fashion of a tangible good, a souvenir or, say, collectors item, felt super nice
I was so glad to get your response.
Oh really – that’s sweet
We’ve worked with so many great/big brands over our 7ish years and I don’t normally put much thought into emails - I just shoot things off. I actually sweated that one.
JB: I guess people can get that impression, that we’re hard to reach or something, but we actually aren’t if the vibe feels right and the idea is genuine
CH: Do you generally find that people come at you with too ambitious or too simple projects?
JB: I think simple or very ambitious can both be really good. What happens though sometimes that there’s just no real fit
JB: Like it doesn't make sense, you’re being invited to a birthday party where you don't know anyone. Do you know what I mean?
CH: Yeah, I get that. You don’t have a role to play
JB: Two questions!
JB: How do you think about legacy – say, if the biz is based on you making the calls, who’ll make them once you’re gone?
Dinamo HQ in Berlin
JB: (BIG ONE)
JB: The other one, how to make sure you choose the “right” stuff?
JB: Like, for example, I myself might have a couple of good ideas left up my sleeve. But not too many!
CH: Haha that is a big question; I guess it's a bit easy though, because I don’t really think about legacy!
CH: People overestimate my attachment to AAVVGG - it's a medium for me to sell products I like, talk about things I want to talk about and work with people such as yourself. But I’m not fixed on it. That's why I will change the logo, the name, the location or move to Paris... it just sort of exists in the form it needs to as it needs to.
CH: I don’t think there is any right way to choose anything. Since it's in the end just my opinion, I can’t really be wrong, even if it doesn’t sell.
CH: Both questions are relevant for you too, I would say! It’s probably nice that the type will outlive us all?
JB: Yeah, it touches on a whole range of topics I’m thinking more about now. What is the soul of a project? Like, I think – when growing a team also – it’s super important to build it around people who share a similar feeling and aspiration. We got really lucky with that.
JB: Another one is the shared experience. What we do now, for me, is a continuation of how we started out – inevitably, people who joined Dinamo recently, don’t really feel the same about this. They can imagine it, but it becomes a different thing for them, and that’s good also
JB: Right now I feel like we did a whole bunch of big projects proved that we can do it, basically, and now we’re coming back to the early days: where we printed t-shirts and did lots of smaller projects, projects with friends, and projects who might not really “make sense” – and therefore are so interesting for us.
CH: Do you feel like Dinamo did what it set out to do or are you chasing it still?
CH: From the outside (ie. watching on Instagram) it’s looked really linear; partner up with a friend, launch a studio, move to Berlin, publish some fonts, win some awards, get big clients, make piles of cash. You know, all easy stuff, right?
JB: I’m glad it feels like that, because that’s also what it is, especially the cash lol
JB: It’s linear but also circular I’d say, because – luckily! – we get to do stuff still that we were doing at the beginning, the things we did kind of innocently first without a name, then with a name, then with a legal entity etc
JB: I guess we’re not really a streamlined company, like, it’s still Fabian and I who post totally randomly on instagram – still Fabian and I who post totally randomly on instagram – and on the go, while walking into our lunch break. There‘s no big strategy around it. We started once planning to post stuff online using a scheduling tool, and pre-made posts, but it felt a bit out of touch (with Dinamo) for us and we kept loosing the logins so we eventually dropped it all together
CH: yeah, don't change that!
CH: It always feels like the Dinamo posts are coming basement filled with a bunch of designers nerding out on type - and I’d appreciate an invite
JB: Yeah you caught that right: It’s indeed designers nerding out on type, not type designers nerding out on type. Just recently a couple of properly trained type designers joined Dinamo, and it’s been a humbling experience FOR BOTH SIDES
JB: Do you miss being close to the physical store?
CH: Sometimes. The team there has really gone up a few gears since I left so maybe they don’t need me haha. They have put on some really strong exhibitions in the store in the last few months and I was disappointed to miss them
JB: I think it’s a really good sign if people don't need you anymore – it’s the goal I think!
CH: You guys are super spread out, so this is all pretty basic stuff for your team
JB: Yeah, we’re literally working around the globe, which is amazing in many ways really – because it means the team comes from such varied and different cultural backgrounds, and all those influences are being thrown into the mix
JB: In terms of the workflows, I’d say it‘s not the most ideal situation, because lots of stuff can fall into the cracks. You really have to put work into “how you work”, to make it feel good for everybody and everybody feeling involved. It's a big challenge, maybe our biggest for the years to come!
CH: I’m always really impressed with how much newness you guys are able to get out of type, so I feel like whatever the mix is, it’s working
CH: Like, I always can’t believe that it’s still possible to come up with a new typeface.
JB: Oh yeah sure, the job isn’t done. There’s so many fonts to do, I don't think we’ll manage before we retire (I wanna retire with 50)
JB: As technology changes and the culture evolves, the fonts do, too
JB: Luckily, fonts really live at the – excuse my French – intersection of art and design. There’s the artistic aspects, the secret sauce and intuition, but there‘s also all the tech and software parts of it. It’s code, it has to work and display. That turns the job into a nightmare, but at least it’s varied
JB: What do you think are the biggest challenges for AAVVGG?
CH: Operational challenges are always at the forefront, but also one sort of below the surface; most people assume we are 75% sales 25% operations, but it’s actually flipped
CH: At the same time, we are entering this period of changes at a marketing level; in my opinion you don't need to ‘hear’ me talking about it when you can just see it (in the store, online etc.). I don’t think I should need to explain it, but I’m also viewing the store as a creative platform so we can also shine some light on other people.
CH: So we are taking who we are working with now much more seriously and spending time on those relationships. It's part of the reason I'm in Europe now (even tho we are talking on sms)
JB: Looking forward to the new site! I guess we’ll send you the chair-things early next week!
JB: You’ll see. If you think there’s a limit to how many fonts one can have, there’s no limit to how many chairs Fabian wants to have!
CH: Hahah I’m here now, so let Fabian know to hit me up if he wants to buy anything
JB: hehe I will!!
JB: Nice nice, I gotta dash, our server people are calling me, we’re about to reboot everything!
JB: I hope you find something fruitful in these blue speech bubbles!