‘I want people to see from a different angle…’

Observer Design: Graphic designer Mirko Borsche has stamped his style on everything from Nike to the newspapers. Here he explains why print will survive, how ugly lines work and why he’s destined to fail…

“It’s just about big balls. Very simple. We are working in an industry where the marketing department gives the lead to designers, even to journalists – what they have to write, how they have to spell it, the trigger words – my opinion is that it’s because people who run brands have lost their balls completely.”

It’s no surprise that German graphic designer Mirko Borsche has earned a reputation as something of a provocateur. His opinions are as attention grabbbing as his studio’s diverse projects. Borsche and his team at Bureau Borsche has created websites and logos for fashion houses Balenciaga and Givenchy, and the acid-meets-classicism season guides and posters for the Bavarian State Opera. There’s also his award-winning work as creative director for newspaper Die Zeit, where Borsche has worked since 2007.

Red alert: Borsche’s new logotype for The Face.
 Red alert: Borsche’s new logotype for The Face. Photograph: The Face

Bureau Borsche has had a big year. In May the studio’s art commission for the Venice Pavillion at the Biennale contaminated the whole city with neon green idents. The art piece played to the biennale theme of fake news by stamping Borsche’s work on everything from flags to plastic bags, as if the artwork were a Venice logo. They also created the logotype for the high profile relaunch of style magazine The Face.

Borsche misspent his youth as a graffiti artist in his native Munich (“bombing trains and walls influenced me a lot”) but went on to study graphic design at Kingston University, London, and the University of Applied Sciences Augsburg, Germany. After five years as an art director in advertising for clients including Levi’s, MTV and Mercedes-Benz, he co-founded the style magazine NEON and art directed Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazinbefore launching his own graphic design studio in 2007. Bureau Borsche has operated out of his Munich HQ ever since. Though he enjoys the role of agitator Borsche hates designers with huge egos who impose their own aesthetic on brands – “the worst thing ever,” he insists.

This is certainly true of the job he is perhaps best known for: his award-winning creative direction for German newspaper Die Zeit and its supplement, Zeit Magazin. Borsche’s design for the paper is classic and “humble” but allows for unexpected twists in the use of photography and typography “to provoke people or make them see things from a different angle”. By example, he cites the “very crappy illustrations” by Martin Fengelwhich feature on Harald Martenstein’s column.

Borsche’s logo for Balenciaga, seen in Stockholm.
 Borsche’s logo for Balenciaga, seen in Stockholm. Photograph: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

“He’s a photographer friend of mine,” he hastens to point out. “He’s not an illustrator at all, which you can see! But I just felt he had a really nice sense of humour and a way of telling things just with a few ugly lines – and it worked out really well.”

He is full of praise for the “quite radical” editorial team who opted to invest in print when the rest of the world was heralding its demise. “It could have gone wrong but they said, ‘Our hero is the product, and if the product gets shitty we’re going to sell less’. And, what people don’t see when they say print is going to die is that, once the print product closes, the website is going to close too because it doesn’t make any money.”

His poster for the Bavarian State Opera.
 His poster for the Bavarian State Opera.

As for the logotype for The Face magazine, does he worry about upsetting original Face designer Neville Brody , one of the iconic figures of his industry? “The thing is, nobody’s going to like it anyway,” laughs Borsche. “So I didn’t really think about that. I just wanted to have the same aesthetic and feeling, but it’s quite hard to recreate that … editorial design is so much more developed today, so even if everyone remembers how brilliant The Facewas, it can look a bit outdated now.’

Perhaps surprisingly, he singles out Nike as one of his favourite clients in terms of attitude to branding. “People always say, ‘Oh Nike are so far ahead of us.’ You know why? Because Nike just trust the person they’re working with – they let you actually ‘Just do it’! If you say to them, ‘I think we should have no swoosh’, they say, ‘Yeah, OK. If that works out for that design, perfect.’ There’s not a lot of brands in the world that think that way. Apple used to be like that. If you look at European brands, most of them are still stuck in this 80s or 90s idea of marketing – you do the same things over and over again. And they haven’t realised that nobody – nobody – is interested in advertising any more.”