Ziga Testen about paper
What is your favorite paper and why?
Jo Frenken at the Jan van Eyck Academie introduced me to Royal Print. I was already quite comfortable with using Munken as my standard uncoated choice and Royal Print was all I needed to complement it and we would have been happy together ever after if Sappi (the manufacturer of Royal Print) wouldn’t decide to take it off their program. They told me they were getting a lot of complaints about the paper turning yellow too fast due to its high content of fiber, but for me that was the appeal of it. It seemed less chemically treated than other coated papers and had a natural, pleasant feel to it. I first used it for a small promotional brochure commission to test it out and eventually used it for the publication Surfing the Black. Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema… and It’s Transgressive Moments where I paired it with Munken print, alternating between the two with every subsequent 16 page section of the book. It was a great combination.
Could you give an example of a design you created where paper played a special or particularly functional role?
This is perhaps not the most obvious example, since the printing technique was equally decisive here. Together with Nina Støttrup Larsen we designed a promotional publication announcing a series of conferences for the Jan van Eyck Academie. The individual sheets of the publication could unfold and be used as posters as well. Since they were all purely typographic and very simple, printed in black only, we knew that there is a danger of them appearing too ‘flat’ and dull. We eventually decided to print it on newsprint on a rotation press. The rough texture of the newsprint paper really helped to make the posters look like objects instead of two dimensional surfaces. I think this is really what a good paper selection does. It gives depth to your work, which is no longer just something you were looking at on a screen, but an object.
How important is the choice of paper in your designs? Do you spend a lot of time choosing the paper?
In design there are so many parameters to deal with. Especially when you are designing a book, so many aspects need to work together: the format, the paper weight, the binding; they all have to be perfectly in tune to make an object that feels just right. A small discrepancy, for example when the paper supplier or printer can’t find the paper stock in the weight that you need can really compromise the whole project. For the publication Glotzt Nicht so Romantisch! On Extralegal Space in Belgrade I knew I wanted to use a 70 gsm Munken Print for the inside to make a very light and flexible pocket book, but I really struggled with finding the appropriate cover paper. I had dummies made with alternative stocks since Munken Print only comes in a 150 gsm and 300 gsm in terms of heavier stocks but it just didn’t feel right. I eventually had to settle on the 150 gsm Munken Print which I still feel is too flimsy to properly protect the inside and hold shape. Just this decision took almost a month! In general I am not so obsessed with variety or novelty in my paper choices, I like to work with a limited selection of papers that I know well and know how they behave. I don’t like surprises very much.
Could you mention a designer whose paper choice appeals to you?
I don’t like finger pointing too much, but Holland is truly exceptional in this field. The designers here really seem to hold the tactile qualities of the printed object in high regard. I have never seen so many well considered paper choices as in Holland. I would dare to argue that due to the high quality of binding, printing and a good variety of paper available in Holland, the designers can be more formally restrained. I would often notice that designers elsewhere sometimes simply need to compensate for the lack of production quality with some extravagant design decisions that would conceal the poor production quality.
Is there something missing in the current range of available paper?
I don’t think I have any real authority to speak about demand for paper. I work in such a marginal field of design working predominantly with publications for artists and galleries, that the quantity of my paper order is minimal. The tempo seems to really be dictated by the big consumers of paper in direct marketing and advertising and their views on paper are quite different from mine.
What is your biggest frustration in the field of paper?
I think it is sad that more and more mills are going out of business, resulting in a smaller variety of available papers but also a limited competition which decreases the overall quality. I do think that the situation will stabilize at some point, with the survival of the fittest, and we will need to make do with whatever selection of paper makes the cut. I am temporarily based in Melbourne, Australia and sustainability is another consideration that influences the paper industry much more than in Europe. But that and a relatively undemanding market result in one of the most boring and dull selections of paper I have ever encountered in my professional career.
Is it difficult or easy for designers in your country to find information on paper, paper samples and/or paper collections?
I am originally Slovenian but have been moving a lot in recent years, from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany through China and now Australia. In my experience it is never really a problem to find information about paper samples. To obtain the actual paper for printing however, is completely different, as minimum orders for some stocks in specific weights are generally too big for the projects I work on. Paper suppliers usually import an average selection of what they think will sell well, which also dictates the overall consumption.
How do you see the future of paper?
Paper and printed media is definitely not going to disappear; however we are in a phase of transition in my opinion. Some manufacturers and paper products will probably disappear and I am convinced that we will end up with a much narrower variety of paper stocks and providers. But I guess a resourceful designer will, as always, make do with whatever resources are at hand.