Marian Bantjes’ Wonderland - Design Bureau

Marian Bantjes

Marian Bantjes' I Wonder

Marian Bantjes' I Wonder

Marian Bantjes' I Wonder

Marian Bantjes for The National

Marian Bantjes for Saks Fifth Avenue

Marian Bantjes for Saks Fifth Avenue

Marian Bantjes’ Wonderland

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Call Marian Bantjes’ designs what you will, but just don’t call her work pretty. It seems the self-described graphic artist would rather someone use the word ugly than the dreaded “p” word when describing her work. The people who use the word are part of a group Bantjes has deemed the “unicorn set.” She gives no further explanation as to what is so wrong about this group, but it’s clear after speaking with her for a short time that she’s not shooting for pretty. “I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about that word in connection with my work,” she says. “It may be pretty, but it’s not brainless. I want my work to awaken curiosity, to inspire awe. I want it to fill people with wonder.”

Bantjes had great success early in her career, the type that many young graphic designers only hope for. She was the co-owner and creative force behind Digitoplis, a design firm in Vancouver, Canada, where her work gained her critical acclaim in and around the city. However, after the excitement of doing strategic design in a corporate environment wore off, the work Marian was doing became creatively draining, and she realized she was beginning to despise graphic design. After this revelation, Bantjes began taking her work in a more personal direction, much to the chagrin of her business partner. “I needed to have control over my work. I detested dealing with bullshit copy editors and bullshit changes; I just couldn’t fucking stand it anymore. This made me entirely unsuitable as a designer,” says Bantjes with a laugh. “It was like I turned 40 and went into a full-blown midlife crisis. I imagined myself on my deathbed thinking ‘is this what I want my design legacy to be?’ and the only answer I had was, ‘absolutely not’.” Eventually, she and her business partner parted ways, and Bantjes began her solo career as a designer.

“For the past couple of decades there has been continued praise for clean and simple design—I just find it tediously boring.”

It was in the midst of trying to find and evoke a sense of wonder in her personal work that the idea for her appropriately-titled book I Wonder was born. I Wonder is a feast for the eyes of design aficionados and casual observers alike. Page after page, the intricate works in I Wonder all but slap the reader in the face with thoughtful, intricate detailing—from the strangely beautiful pattern she derived from illuminated manuscripts (created by monks in the 12th century), to an ornate design she created using only macaroni noodles (forever putting to shame macaroni wreaths created by second-grade classes every Christmas).

Bantjes’s early design “education” as a book typesetter is evident in the book, easily recognized by the purposeful layouts and typography found on each page. Her highly ornamental style and obsessive hand-work can, at times, seem as strange as it does precise and logical—an aspect of her work of which she is very proud. “Because of my background, I think I am surprisingly logical when I design,” Bantjes explains. “I would probably make an amazing interface designer, but I’m not above fucking it up. I’m just not a big fan of design that requires no thought.”

Along with her illustrations, Bantjes included articles she has previously written for the now-defunct graphic design blog, “Speak Up.” “I liked these articles and I believed they had a future, but I felt presenting them in the format of text and then image was limiting. I didn’t want the articles to stand alone and then have the images be something you refer to. I wanted them to live together.” In the book, Bantjes has created a symbiotic relationship between the text and the images. The text, which explains her design process, opinions on design and her vision for her work, dances within her hand-scrawled drawings and creations. The result is powerful. “I don’t know why illustrations have to become immature as we get older; the older we get, the more the illustrations begin to disappear. I think each makes the other more alive when they are coupled.”

In speaking with Bantjes, she makes it clear how she feels about a majority of contemporary design. “It’s boring,” she says. “For the past couple of decades there has been continued praise for clean and simple design—I just find it tediously boring.” Fortunately for her, boring is definitely not a word that comes to mind when describing I Wonder. One might even go as far as to call her book the dreaded “p” word—just not to her face. Her “pretty with a brain” work is reminiscent of designs from an era past—work that required more than a basic knowledge of a computer program. “Design was done by artists back then,” Bantjes says, while recalling graphic design from the ’20s through the ’50s. “The sense of balance between the colors and the art was inventive and inspired. It’s just crazy, and you look at these pieces and you think ‘what the fuck is that?’”

By Sarah Ferguson, a freelance writer and graphic designer currently residing in Minneapolis.


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