NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 38

Design Today-I

Spector Books

Jens Mueller

With a tradition of more than 500 years, the city of Leipzig is one of the most distinguished places in Germany for the printing and publishing industry. For centuries the city was the unofficial capital of the so called “black arts“. Geographically located between the Bauhaus-cities Weimar and Dessau, Leipzig has retained its bond to tradition for a long time. For example, Jan Tschichold, who studied at the local design school in the 1920s, received a most traditional education and did not find his modernist approach before leaving Leipzig. After the Second World War the history of Leipzig was determined by the development of the German Democratic Republic. It was not before 1990, when Germany was reunited, that the “Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst“ arose to a new center of avant-garde design in Germany. 

One of the school’s graduates was Markus Dreßen, who studied in Leipzig between 1993 and 1999. Together with the authors and artists Anne König and Jan Wenzel, he began publishing a magazine titled “Spector cut+paste“ in 2001 which marked the formation of “Spector“. All three founders were at this time still working on projects for other publishing houses and it took another seven years until they started to publish own books under the label “Spector Books“. In the short period between 2008 and today, the small company has evolved to the most innovative German publisher of books on the intersection of art, theory and design. More than 150 titles have been published to date. 

The books of “Spector” are not only fascinating because of their incomparable and uncompromising design — they command a substantial quality that characterizes them. The founders say: “To us, literature is just as relevant as photography, dance and performance, urban theory and debates about graphic design.“ This generalist approach sets the Leipzig-based publisher apart from many other independent publishers of the art and design-scene who just focus on visual pleasure. The diversity of Spector’s titles is reflected by the graphic design of their books. It would have been easy to establish their own visual style by designing all of the books themselves. Instead they work with different book designers, all with an individual voice but related through the common idea of contemporary style, and the appreciation of everything that adds new aspects to the medium. The Leipzig design school, where Markus Dressen teaches as a professor generates new innovative book designers that work with “Spector“

The small company also profits from local print workshops with long traditions in high-quality book production and from a vivid network of designers, artists and authors living and working in and around the city of Leipzig. A collective production process is most important to the way “Spector“ works. They naturally involve everyone in the making of a book and quite often test out the possibilities of the medium. Over the years they have expanded into the entrepreneurial side of publishing and, since most of their titles are in English, they have put much effort to the international distribution of their books to reach a worldwide readership. 

The latest publications of “Spector Books“ include different titles like “You Would“, a walk through New York City by photographer Matthias Hamann; “In Reverse: The Houshold“, a design theory book of the Bauhaus-edition; “Nervous Systems“, a contemporary art reflection on big data and digital democracy; and “Cial Drawings“ an artist book with drawings by Peter Tillessen. These four publications convey the contextual diversity of the small publisher that once responded to a question on the financial outcome of their business with: “The wealth that is generated is located within the books“. 

Whilst many years ago Tschichold had to leave the city to encounter the avant-garde, today Leipzig has become the home of some of the most avant-garde publications thanks to “Spector Books“. The visual and intellectual diversity of their program is ongoing proof of the sustainability of the book as a cultural medium. 

An overview of all current “Spector Books“ including the possibilities of worldwide order can be found at

Jens Mueller

Born in Koblenz/Germany, 1982. Apprenticeship in advertising agency and printery. Diploma and Master-Degree in graphic design from University of Applied Sciences Dusseldorf. Since 2007 Designer of stamps for German Ministry of Finance. 2009-2012 partner of „müller,weiland“ design studio. 2013 Winner of international design w „Kieler Woche“, with Karen Weiland. Since 2009 editor of „A5“ book series about graphic design history. Since 2012 Creative Director of "optik" design studio in Düsseldorf. Winner of national and international design awards. Author of several articles and books on graphic design history.

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