Nicolas Bernklau on establishing his bureau as an “umbrella” for graphic and type design projects

Elliott Moody
0 min read

Nicolas Bernklau on establishing his bureau as an “umbrella” for graphic and type design projects

Nicolas Bernklau is a graphic designer with a particular focus on typography. Based in the Swiss city of Lausanne after spells with Jung von Matt and Deutsche & Japaner in Germany, he has officially established his own practice as Bureau Bernklau; providing him with a base to develop bespoke type solutions and graphic design that lives beyond our over-populated, never-ending social media feeds.

EM Hi Nicolas, congrats on the website launch! How does it feel to officially launch Bureau Bernklau?

NB Bonjour Elliott. Thanks for having me. It feels surreal! In a positive way. I think most creatives can agree on the fact that working on your own website constantly gets moved down on the personal to-do list. Anyways, finding the right moment to take the next step in my own design practice and get it out in the world feels great.

EM What came first for you, graphic or type design?

NB Graphic design. I then realised that it bothers me to be limited and only use existing typefaces as the core of my graphic work. I felt creating my own letters brings more possibility, a bigger playground to the work I can do. As I still felt restricted by autodidact knowledge only, I moved to Lausanne to study type design and dive deeper into actual letter shape drawing.

Nicolas Bernklau on establishing his bureau as an “umbrella” for graphic and type design projects

I’m happy to work for any brand as long as I can identify myself with them.

EM Can you give us an insight into working for Jung von Matt and Deutsche & Japaner?

NB I feel like I have learnt a lot in my time at advertising agency Jung von Matt early on in my working life. Even though I found out that I wanted to move more into the graphic design world and later specifically into type design, the principles of advertising help me to verbalise my ideas and concepts in conversation with my clients. I am grateful for the experience I received as an art director working on visual identities of fashion brands and a broad range of clients from different fields such as consumer electronics, broadcasting, mobility etc. Working in a large agency setting also gave me an understanding of processes and procedures while working on large size identity projects for big clients.

Working with Deutsche & Japaner, a graphic design studio from Mannheim led me further into the direction I wanted to go to: identity projects with a strong focus on typography. Having an insight into their holistic approach to finding the best solution for their clients was the best I could have asked for at that time. Interesting clients, super sweet team and setting (with great lunches!) and high standard of visual output. Each project no matter what size got the attention it deserved, often thinking of the whole picture including interior design, scenography. It showed me how type design and custom logotype drawings can be implemented in identity work. No wonder they are working for such a broad variety of clients. Keep up the good work, Ina, David, Julian and Moritz – you’re an inspiration!

EM What led you to launch your own design practice?

NB After working on various freelance projects, always getting asked to send PDF portfolios, I decided that I wanted to have an umbrella for the whole range of my graphic as well as type design work. My aim was to build a platform to continue working with different brands and collaborating with other designers. Therefore I now launched Bureau Bernklau beyond showcasing work on Instagram.

EM What type of projects and brands would you like to do more of now that the Bureau is established?

NB I’d like to intensify type design projects, no matter if full custom typefaces or other identity work such as logotype drawing. I don’t really have dream clients I’d like to work for. I’m happy to work for any brand as long as I can identify myself with them. Well, if Billie Eilish knocked on my door today, it wouldn’t take me long to decide.

EM How does your role as a MA Type Design teaching assistant at ECAL fit in with your studio?

NB I’ve always been interested in getting an insight into teaching as a possible career next to my design practice. The part-time job is a welcome change in the daily routine, working closely with the students and other lecturers. It also gives me the chance to focus on less but more in-depth projects, as my employment comes with certain financial stability. I enjoy having more room to choose my projects thoughtfully and experiment in different directions, in different fields. That also means working on self-initiated typeface projects without a client with the aim of building up a small catalogue of possible retail typefaces.

Nicolas Bernklau on establishing his bureau as an “umbrella” for graphic and type design projects

The market is a bit saturated with small type foundries popping up every other week.

EM So there could be a Bernklau type foundry one day?

NB Could be! Anyway, I have the feeling the market is a bit saturated with small type foundries popping up every other week. So to initiate my own foundry, I’d like to put emphasis on building up a catalogue of well selected, consistent quality typefaces. In contrary to the ‘10 fonts for $10’ approach, which in my opinion doesn’t value the craft of type design enough. At the moment, I prefer focusing on fewer projects, trying to push my typeface Resial and eventually release it on an existing foundry. Let’s see what the future brings.

EM Do you find that teaching has any impact on your commercial work?

NB Teaching itself doesn’t necessarily impact my projects aesthetically but helps me grow as a designer, thanks to the exchange with other teachers and interesting guests we invite to our type design course. Being in touch with students and young professionals on a regular basis also helps me reflect on current movements in type design and sharpen my eye by looking at many different typefaces. It’s very inspiring for my own work.

Nicolas Bernklau on establishing his bureau as an “umbrella” for graphic and type design projects

EM How do you typically start the design of a new typeface?

NB The starting point of a new typeface can be very different. It can be a conceptual or visual idea, the feeling this exact style hasn’t been done yet, revisiting a historic model but interpreting it in a new way, etc. Sometimes you just have an immediate feeling of what feels right for the project or the client, when you read the brief. Then I usually start drawing a few key letters to get the feeling right before expanding the character set.

EM Despite having lots going on, do you manage to find a good balance between work and life?

NB Nowadays I’d say yes. There used to be a time when I didn’t really find a balance, but now I really do value my free time and established a rule of not working on weekends which I can really recommend! Then I try to keep my MacBook closed as much as possible and spend time outside, exploring Switzerland, doing bike trips or going hiking in the mountains. I feel really lucky to live in such a wonderful place.

EM What would you like to learn that you haven’t yet found the time for?

NB I’d like to look a bit deeper into the processes of type development/mastering (because unfortunately a typeface isn’t finished when the curves are all drawn). I’d also love to devote myself more to music, my instruments, producing and eventually learning to play the trumpet. Maybe one day?

Nicolas Bernklau on establishing his bureau as an “umbrella” for graphic and type design projects

EM What would you like to see more and less of in the design industry?

NB I would like to see graphic design as a more valued field in the sense of fair payment. In my opinion, time and effort should be appreciated the same way as it is common in other fields. Why do unpaid pitches or internships still exist? I would also love to see a less homogeneous but more diverse background of designers in leadership positions.

EM What is Lausanne like as a city to work in as a designer?

NB Lausanne is a beautiful place to live in. Very scenic with mountains, the Lac Léman offers an extremely large amount of cultural institutions and events. For me, it is very impressive to live in an environment where culture is valued and graphic and type design is of great importance with a long history and tradition. The best way of getting a sense of what’s going on culturally is by walking through the streets of Lausanne on a Saturday morning, eating a Pain au chocolat from the weekly market.

EM What are you looking forward to this month?

NB Something which seems like a small step but actually means a lot to me is starting to rent a desk in a shared studio. An actual address for Bureau Bernklau rather than working from home. I am looking forward to focusing more on type design and collaborating with Chi-Long Trieu, Office for Typography. I’m also happy to finalise a job I’ve been working on for over a year now. A visual identity for a fragrance brand from Los Angeles consisting of logotype, several letterings and packaging design. Can’t wait to get it out as it is my biggest job to date as an individual designer. Thanks a lot to Belinda and Michael from ephemera for your continuous support and full trust on this project. Also thanks so much for this conversation and for letting me be part of your platform, Elliott.

EM Always a pleasure. Thanks, Nicolas!

Graphic & Type Design

Bureau Bernklau