Analog Algorithm by Christoph Grünberger

by Lucas Czarnecki
When reviewing a book, it is natural to draw comparisons between it and others like it. Books on color, for instance, I automatically compare with Albers; books on writing with Strunk and White; books on typography with Bringhurst. So when Christoph Grünberger’s Analog Algorithm—a book nominally about creating grids and then designing with those grids—crossed my desk, I thought I might pull out Muller-Brockmann’s Grid Systems in Graphic Design or Gerstner’s Designing Programmes. Pleasantly, surprisingly, and perhaps conveniently, no comparisons were necessary or possible. Analog Algorithm is a thing entirely unto itself.

Exacting in its delivery and restraints, yet courageous in its scope and explorations, Analog Algorithm manages to be both clinical and playful. The book opens with the text “BEGIN TRANSMISSION” then continues on the next page with a grid-analysis of the façade of a building: Palast Der Republik in Berlin. It is a start which tells the reader right away that he is in for a unique experience.

Each of the four chapters looks at creating and using grid systems based on one of four types of things: forms (of the abstract variety), characters, objects, and images. The pages and experiments build on one another such that the methods and “algorithms” learned in the first chapter are used on increasingly complex subjects and in increasingly complex ways. Indeed, recursion is among the core themes of Grünberger’s book, with concepts revisited again and again. For example, after moving on from the character-based grids chapter, the reader crafts several alphabet designs in the object-based and image-based chapters, including from the structure of a tape-deck.

Despite the recursive nature of Analog Algorithm, it is far from tiring. It repeats in the way that a beautiful song builds on itself, adding layers of interest and delight. Also, I chose quite specifically to say “the reader crafts” (as opposed to “Grünberger crafts”) because the book feels more like a workbook than a text book; it feels like attending a course in grids, permutation, and algorithms lead by a talented if eccentric teacher.

Three factors contribute to that sense of engagement: the strikingly unique content itself, the pages with cut lines which seem to imply Grünberger expects readers to deconstruct his book, and the very minimal text.

Analysis of the text takes us across the threshold to discussing the design of the book itself, but before that: The text is sparse and appears mostly in a set of codes established at the beginning: alg means algorithm, diag diagonal, rdm random, and so on. In total, there are 17 of these codes in the book, which may be daunting at first—but they are quick to learn.

Onto the design: It’s black, white, and red (Pantone 485 to be exact) throughout, with some full color pages that attract fingerprints. Nothing bothers me more than a glossy black page with smudges on it. The book is gorgeous regardless, with colorized photos and grids blending into and standing out from the background in a natural way. The text—aside from the alphabets created in the book—is set in thd Sentient.

Sentient is an all-caps typeface inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey which was designed by Tim Hutchinson and MuirMcNeil. The 2001 influence throughout the book is clear: From the color palette to the little codes reminiscent of HAL 9000’s monitors. What’s more, the trailer video for the book (yes, Analog Algorithm has a trailer video) draws heavy inspiration from the Kubrick masterpiece.

The book is thick, at 304 pages, with flaps to help you keep your place. I would have liked to see a book of this stature and application published with a hard cover or case, but it feels sturdy enough.

Grünberger’s Analog Algorithm is a rare kind of book. It touches on something so integral to contemporary design—grids—in a way that evades nearly every precedent. Sometimes you pick up a book and know much of the material already: You learn a thing or two, but put it down feeling only marginally improved. Analog Algorithm does the opposite: You pick it up expecting something familiar but find far more.

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