The following is an edited version of the interview between Studio Dumbar’s Liza Enebeis and Adrian Shaughnessy that appears in Manuals 2: Design & Identity Guidelines. Our Kickstarter campaign to republish Manuals 2 is live now! With your help we can bring this important book back into print.
Liza Enebeis has been at Studio Dumbar since 2008 and is now a partner and Creative Director. After graduating from the Parsons School of Design in New York and the Royal College of Art she began her career at Pentagram in London, remaining there for several years. In 2003 she relocated to the Netherlands. Enebeis also co-founded the typography and design podcast channel, Typeradio, and regularly posts work to Instagram via Books Love Liza.
The images shown here are of Studio Dumbar’s manuals for the Dutch Police and the postal service, PTT. Both are discussed below.
Adrian Shaughnessy: Printed standards manuals are a thing of the past – today, brand guidelines are most commonly produced as PDF or online instructions. What have we gained and what have we lost as a result?
Liza Enebeis: We have probably gained more than we’ve lost. You can distribute digital guidelines at higher speed; you can update them, correct them and re-adjust them in an instant; all without incurring huge extra costs. And they offer much more functionality because you can simply download files. With the changes in the media landscape, it is almost inevitable that guidelines also have to change. We have so many more applications to consider than 20 years ago – online playing a large part in this.
Currently the number of print applications of an identity has reduced drastically. For example, it would be strange to have a printed manual for a company that only prints a letterhead. Of course, a printed manual can still have its specific use, for example when it comes to colour referencing. But overall I think we are nostalgic for print – we miss the tactility and a confirmation of existence.
In the past the printed manual was seen as the cherry on top of the identity. It was the initiation of the rollout, and it was treated and regarded as one of the most important design items of the identity. And that is what is very different currently: printed manuals no longer have the status they used to have. The question is: why don’t online guidelines have the same impact as the printed ones? Surely it’s possible to capture the essence of the NYC Transit Authority guidelines, for example, in an online version too?
AS: In the age of adaptable and flexible digital identities, do we still need manuals of any kind?
LE: Adaptable and flexible doesn’t mean ‘Do whatever you want’ – even the identities that look or feel completely free have guides and checks and balances on how to achieve that. I find it fascinating and a great challenge to be able to create an identity that even though it looks relatively complex or free, has a very simple system of implementation behind it.
I find it a pity when an identity becomes simplified, not in a positive sense, to serve the guidelines – sometimes you see designers cut corners because they can’t find the answer to interpreting their identity into a system that can be easily interpreted by others.
AS: How would you describe your approach manuals at Studio Dumbar?
LE: Just like every other project, we approach each company guideline differently. We always ask ourselves: What is really necessary in order for this identity to have continuity and consistency in the most successful way? Who is the audience – designers, communications managers, etc.? Is the manual a PDF only, or is it an interactive website with downloadable templates? All this information helps define our parameters.
In very general terms, you could say there are roughly two parts to our work. Part one is the concrete instructions, such as logo, colour specifications, grid, photography and graphic language. Part two is capturing the spirit. This can be done in many ways, through visual examples and/or keywords. And of course the manual itself, whether online or a PDF, should be treated as part of the identity.
AS: Do you have a favourite Studio Dumbar manual?
I would say the Dutch Police [five images shown above]. I find it hard to divide the identity from the manual. I still look at the Dutch Police identity and I’m really impressed; I have not seen any other police identity that beats it. Another favourite is the PTT (subsequently TNT Post, the Dutch national postal company) manual [two image shown below], but that’s for more nostalgic reasons.
During my first day at Dumbar as an intern, I was given the PTT manual to read. It was one of the most recent projects at that time, and everyone in the studio was really proud of it. As I looked through it I regretted applying for an internship at Dumbar – all I could think was, ‘This is the most hideous and boring thing I have ever seen, and can someone please get me out of here!’ The PTT manual will always remind me of that day.
AS: This is the second volume of classic manuals produced by Unit Editions. Much to our surprise, the first proved madly successful. What do you think is the attraction of these dusty volumes? Nostalgia? Rejection of the digital?
LE: I think the selection is what makes them successful: the identities that are showcased are very powerful. Plus each manual is designed to last; they are not disposable. They are milestones within the identities themselves – a proof that they exist.
Maybe that’s what we miss: the longevity of the work we do. The NYC Transit manual was issued in 1970 and it still exists almost intact. You can recognise the care that has been put into designing it – unlike the PDF guidelines you see now. These manuals are also rare objects: there were only a handful of people who had access to them, especially if they only existed in print.
Plus having a glimpse behind the building blocks of an identity is rare. You see so many blogs regurgitating the same work over and over, logo after logo, but you never see the manuals behind them.
This is an edited extract from the interview with Liza Enebeis that appears in Manuals 2. With your help we can republish the book – visit our Kickstarter to find out more about the publication and to see the rewards available.