Israeli Design. Kobi Franco Design
In form 259 we explore the design in a country that is mainly present in the media because of its political conflicts: Israel. At the same time it has to offer a vibrant and multifaceted design scene, at whose protagonists we took a closer look. You can find more portraits of Israeli designers and studios both in form 259 and form Dossiers.
Kobi Franco opened his graphic design studio in 2002 with a specialisation in art, architecture, design, photography and music – covering the whole scope of the cultural scene. With his work he strives to creatively deal with the many challenges like different writing systems and at the same time enjoys the chance to actively contribute to the relatively young design culture in Israel.
Studio: Kobi Franco Design
Year of foundation: 2002
Fields of work: books and catalogue design, exhibition design, branding
Clients: artistic and cultural sector, e.g. The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, Design Museum Holon, Shpilman Institute for Photography, Tel Aviv University, The Israel Cartoon Museum, The Israel Community of Designers, Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv
In your opinion, what is special about design in Israel?
First, of course, the use of the Hebrew type. Unlike the Latin type that exists in many languages, the use of Hebrew type exists only in Israel. In terms of type, Israeli designers face many challenges: the quality of Hebrew type is limited, the Hebrew type is based on harder shapes and is challenging to work with, the cultural spectrum requires bilingual and sometimes trilingual languages use (English, Hebrew and Arabic).
Second, as a relatively young state, driven by a cultural concept that defines the Jewish people as “The Nation of the Book” attending to the written word rather than the visual image, the design culture in Israel is still in its infancy. Most people are not aware of the importance of design and as the designer, often, one has to convince and justify the importance. In addition, as a small state with a small cultural market and budget, the variety of quality papers is very limited. In the cultural field which has an emphasis on the quality of printing, Israeli designers have to find creative ways of using the limited range of materials.
What characterises your work respectively your design and style?
It may not always be present in the final products, but I think my design concepts range between poles. On the one hand, you can find simple, functional, organised, mathematical, and even programmed design in my work. But on the other hand I’m attracted to decorative ornamentation, strong colours, and even a lack of functionality. In my way, I try to find logic, harmony, and a grid within the chaos. Also, I am very much drawn to “random design”, that means to let the design decisions be created randomly, based more on form rather than on content.
How do you handle the different writing systems operated in Israel?
Israel has three official languages: Hebrew, Arabic and English. Most of the projects in the cultural field require the use of only Hebrew and English, so the bilingual approach is obliging. In designing posters or other formats in which there is a use of only titles or short text you can break the grammar and straighten the two languages side by side. It organises the mess created by the different reading directions. In book design the dialogue between the languages is more complex and it is impossible to play with the reading directions.
In most cases one dominant language is chosen – usually this is Hebrew –, in order to establish the numbering direction. The friendly approach to the English reader would be the use of two entrances to the book, one from the Hebrew reading side and one from the English side. Another reading option is designing it like a calendar catalogue. In that case the two languages appear together.
Another important issue is the difference between the lengths of the languages. English text is 1.5 times longer, this creates an asymmetrical relation and demands creative solutions.
How did you decide to specialise on clients from a mainly cultural domain?
Already as a student I was surrounded by artists, photographers, and architects and some have become my best friends. It was only natural that when one of them had an exhibition or needed a designer that I was the one. At the same time commercial projects never interested me and naturally I was drawn to the field of culture and art. As a designer, as well as providing design services, I see my work as artistic, embodying my visual, aesthetic, and creative concepts. Curators, gallery owners, artists, architects etc. are more open to the creative dialogue and even to an experimental approach and so it is more interesting and more appealing to me.
Did this cultural domain shape you style?
As a designer who creates graphic solutions for an artist or an exhibition, I need to make room for artistic products and images. The design should be transparent to a certain extent and has to manifest itself in a more creative and sophisticated way – this concept suites my design orientation best. The distance I take from commercial projects enables me to develop my own design language within the cultural domain.
Which writing system do you prefer to work with and why?
Hebrew letters are based on a square shaped form, which creates a stiffer and less harmonious form than with the Latin letters. Therefore, as a designer, you could say, it is easier to design with Latin types. Furthermore, there are very few high-quality types in Hebrew, making it a bit difficult to work with. Despite the fact that I enjoy working with Hebrew and finding creative solutions to the bilingual design, sometimes, I must say, it is very refreshing to design only with English and avoid the bilingual complexity.