Lena Weber: “It’s important to think about limitations”

Talked to a creative coder, type designer, creative coding tutor about the programmers’ way of thinking, modular typefaces, and what the term “ambiguous aesthetics” actually means

May 9, 2024

You’ve graduated from Weimar Bauhaus University. Is it where you first started coding?

Yes, the curriculum is very customisable and encourages students to explore their own paths and develop niche interests in the realm of graphic design. I came in contact with creative coding super early in my studies and it fascinated me, so I started to dive into learning to code.

Your website says you’re creating typefaces and graphic systems. What does the term graphic system mean for you?

I love to work with reusable components in my designs. I like to design building blocks and modular shape sets that are derived from the same visual language / set of rules, interact and connect with each other but are not readable per se. They share a lot of qualities that you would use to make a typeface but are purely graphical. Poster Mono is the first of those sets that I have ever made, and I still find new ways to apply it in my practice to this day. It’s super inspiring to me to explore different possibilities within a fixed system.


Poster Mono in a zine designed in collaboartion with Tamara Knapp

3 Poster Mono wooden letters

Which programming tools/languages do you prefer working with?

Last year I focused on Python, but now I’m really getting into Processing again.

Which one would you recommend to start with to people who have no coding experience?

Definitely Processing. It makes it really easy to render visuals on a canvas and it is made for designers learning to code specifically. There are a lot of resources, good documentation, and a great community. It can be used to make the simplest scripts but also can handle very complex and advanced projects.

It’s a Match lecture series announcement, created with Processing

Animated posters for Sei-Ne Senses exhibition, created with Processing

Do you consider coding an essential skill for a designer?

Hmm, yes and no. I’m very passionate about it so I think it opens up a completely new kind of creativity. The design profession turned digital very radically in the last 25 years, so I think it is quite inspiring to actually learn to communicate with a computer one level below the top interface.

Not all designers need to code, but cultivating a system-based thinking approach that can be translated into analogue practices is quite important.

Which programming-focused type designers would you recommend to follow on Instagram As some members of our team are living in Russia we have to follow the Russian law. According to the law, every time we post links to Instagram or Facebook we have to mention the fact that these socials belong to Meta, which was recognized as extremist by the Ministry of Justice if the Russian Federation?

Here’s my list: Omid Nemalhabib, André Burnier, Burrow Lab,Daniel Maarleveld, Wei Huang.

Do you think it’s important for a designer to have limitations in their work?

I think first and foremost it is important to understand existing limitations and think about them. They present themselves as excellent opportunities for design decisions: do I want to lean into a limitation or do I want to purposefully juxtapose them with my aesthetic and message? If, for example, a project emerges from a very digital place, I ask myself: do I want to fully celebrate that by using colors that can only exist digitally or hide it by faking a more soft analogue feel?

How do you conduct research for your projects — do you start with the theoretical or the visual part?

I usually have a very visual idea first, the themes of which I then analyze and research. I like to «search as many aspects» as possible about a topic, meaning that I focus on quantity rather than quality in the collection of topics I build. I look for the ones that inspire and motivate me the most, and develop and build on the idea I had in the beginning.

Could you define Ambiguous Aesthetics that your thesis was dedicated to in a couple of sentences?

Ambiguous Aesthetic is the aesthetic I aim for when coding visuals. My research has dealt a lot with Max Bense’s information aesthetics, in the end I came to the conclusion that I see programmed graphics simultaneously emitting two interpretations. First: interpretable as a means of communication (What forms do I recognise in abstracts? What is the message of the graphic? What is its effect?) And second: as a simple data visualization of the script used (What are the rules of the algorithm? What data has been used?). According to my thesis, when these two aspects are balanced, the «ambiguity of programmed images» sets in. The «in-between» of these two interpretations is exactly what makes programmed graphics exciting for me.

4 From Lena’s thesis research dedicated to Ambiguous Aesthetics

12 From Lena’s thesis research dedicated to Ambiguous Aesthetics

5 Bit International Magazine cover, where Benze’s theory was published. Image source: Monoskop

Could Ambiguous Aesthetics emerge in a non-programmed environment?

I think so. If one interprets programming as following a list of instructions and logical structures, coded themes can emerge in analogue environments as well. The essential part for me is the balance between visual communication and the recognisability of underlying systems.

Seems that you’re mostly interested in modular typefaces, why?

I simply fell in love with the concept of building shapes with a system. Designing the components themselves is fun but designing how they interact, especially if it’s in some unexpected way, is what I really enjoy when building a typeface. I suppose it’s a translation of what thinking like a programmer can do to inspire workflows outside of coding.

Why did you decide to start your own foundry rather than sell your fonts on other labels?

The Monomodular foundry is a place where I collect and showcase all of my experimental typefaces. To me it’s both an archive and a showroom. I wouldn’t be opposed to offering my typefaces on other labels as well, it’s something I would like to try!

Wim Typeface

Wim Typeface

Gradial typeface, which was a part of your master thesis, is a color font. What do you think about the future of color fonts?

I think color fonts are a really exciting niche within type design. They offer a huge playground to create eye-catching effects, especially on the Web. In the last 10 years, the threshold for independent type designers to design and release new typefaces onto the market has fallen. Typeface-giants that are made to last for decades share a new typo landscape with bolder, more specialised typefaces that are released as experiments. Type design and graphic design are merging, so a font can cover both: visual and type.

Gradial Typeface

Gradial Typeface

You teach a lot. Is teaching important for you as a designer?

I think teaching is super inspiring because it gives everyone time to really focus on one topic and develop special skills. At universities, students often move along the boundaries between different design disciplines and that is something that I’m really passionate about. Teaching coding is special because with beginners you really step into a completely new way of thinking, this opens up a new access to creativity for designers. I would love to teach in a more Type × Code -focused course!

Lena Weber