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Lecture Irma Boom

By 18-11-2019

One Week About DesignChewing Festival

“A book has to be right: I’m fairly obsessive about that”

Book designer Irma Boom, a guest at DesignChewing festival in TENT Rotterdam, in conversation with host Léon van Geest. An imageless format has been chosen which deepens the dialogue and enables us to learn more about the person behind the globally celebrated designs.

“Make a clear design and do only what you stand for.” Design legend Irma Boom knows exactly what a book should look like and leaves no room at all for compromise. That means that sometimes she finds hate mail in her inbox. Boom’s enormous drive, or ‘obsessiveness’ as she calls it herself, is unstoppable.

Around the age of 30 she noticed that her working rhythm in combination with the pressing deadlines took their toll. She can clearly remember the moment when she decided:

“I’m no longer going to be driven mad by clients, I’m slowing down.” Despite playing around with time, the designer certainly sees the advantages of limitation: I cannot work autonomously. I need clients and limits: I’m a deadline monster.” The love for boundaries is also evident in Boom’s clothing selection and the limited number of fonts she works with. “I’m wearing practically the same gear every day, and I’m working almost exclusively with …”

When Boom picks up a book, she touches it with so much respect that interviewer Léon van Geest says that it almost resembles a hug. Boom:  “Yes, I really like the book. It’s to me a living thing, a utensil.” When she is asked whether in retrospect she is proud of her results, the designer says that to her a book is neither beautiful nor ugly. “It must be correct, true. It must do its job.” The book design for artist Sheila Hicks has certainly done that. “Many people do not understand Sheila’s work, and I wish her that understanding.” Boom therefore pulled everything out of the closet to invite the reader to dive into the book. She made the first page so inviting that you just have to continue browsing. The images of the work are made by a textile photographer, which makes it look like you can touch the fabric.

Despite her carefully thought-out ideas, Boom does not see her design process as strategic. What appears in front of her eyes is more of a clear image of how the end result should be. This arises automatically during the first interview with the client. In fact, the book is then actually made in my head.” She therefore attaches great importance to a personal meeting, and does not accept assignments made by mail. She should simply experience the request as a fun one to perform and there should be a bond of confidence which offers her all freedom.

The Johannes Vermeer Award enabled Boom in 2014 to set up a unique book collection. Including antiques from the Vatican Library. She loves to show these books, but only to those people who pick up the books carelessly. “You are really welcome if you show genuine attention. And only by appointment: it’s my time and I only live once.”

A design festival focused on self-reflection, reflection and criticism
TENT, Witte de Withstraat 50 Rotterdam
15, 16, 17 November

Photos: Paul van der Blom