Manuel Raeder is best recognized as the long-standing graphic designer for German fashion label BLESS, a brand whose public identity is as unusual and open-ended as the clothing they make; his formal and conceptual fingerprints appear clearly only if the receiver holistically investigates the full spectrum of his projects, collaborators, and clients. This includes publishing houses such as Walther König and Sternberg, artists like Michael Krebber and Sergej Jenson, and the imprints he mans with fellow designer Manuel Goller, such as My Bauhaus is Better Than Yours and Bom Dia Boa Tarde Boa Noite. Raeder's constance is consciousness: a willingness to engage with material he is working on and respond to it in the moment, with no allegiance to what he did yesterday or what he will do tomorrow.

What was your experience like in school?
When I started to study in London I was a little bit naïve. I didn’t really know what graphic design was. It seemed more free than a course like sculpture or painting. I didn’t know what I was gonna do, or what was gonna happen. That didn’t really matter so much because afterwards at the Jan van Eyck Academy it was much more about me defining my own profession, or defining my own practice in a way. There I started getting into theory, experimenting with printing and different things, and book making, figuring out how to bring those together.
Was the plan to work as a graphic designer? 
No, it happened organically. When I was living in London I started working with friends, people who were surrounding me. Most of them were either involved with music or with the fine arts. Friends asked me to start doing fliers for gigs, artists started making me do invitations for exhibitions, things like that. 
And it led to more projects?
I started working with some magazines, doing some interviews with artists, musicians, eventually doing the layout of the magazine...
What’s your relationship with the artists you collaborate with?
Every time it’s different. There are no set rules for it. It really varies.  There are some artists that I’ve now made the fifth or sixth book with. After such a long time you have a totally different level of communication. It’s usually about trust. Sometimes it might take time, sometimes it can be very fast, sometimes it could happen within one or two weeks. Sometimes it can take years to create a  space of mutual understanding.
Is there something in this dynamic that  was actively and consciously pursued?
It became very clear when I was at the Jan van Eyck  Academy, because I had already worked for a while in design. I was still very young, and hadn’t had much experience, but I wasn’t convinced about a profession that tries to persuade itself through pushing through an aesthetic, making it’s aesthetic look nice and labeling it as a way to survive. I thought “Oh my god, if I work in this profession I’m gonna be bored. I’m gonna be so bored doing the same thing over and over, so how can I create a praxis for me that I find challenging?” This question has always been present in my head since I started working as a designer: How can I detach this praxis and make it suit me and not me suit the praxis?  I started looking at different things, like how books were made in the 60s and 70s; Fluxus, conceptual art books, and so on. I found it interesting that even when a designer works outside of the parameters they are usually trained in, a book can still work as a carrier of condensed information. It’s not the typeface, or the color, or the grid, but the structure that surrounds it such as editorial questions, or how it comes together more generally. This is what I still enjoy now, and this is what I have been busy with the last ten years. 
What is My Bauhaus is Better Than Yours?
It’s basically a collective. It started as a thesis project for some students at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. I was advisor for their BA, so I was an advisor for this project. The idea developed into a company that could go beyond this final exam and have it’s own life. There are two founders, Manuel Goller and Daniel Burchard, and then there are other associated people who work on it. The idea is that it enables production of furniture and distribution in a more independent way. So they have some of my furniture in the program, but it’s not my company in that sense.
What is your relationship to Bauhaus?
Well, the title My Bauhaus is Better Than Yours is of course a very ironic joke. It relates to what is accepted as a classic design standard. Especially in Germany, where Bauhaus is considered a classic, people are not so open to new young design or things that might be out of the ordinary. The title is saying that something new, a new way of thinking might actually be a new classic. In German design there is very little risk, especially in graphic design and furniture. Design is historically linked to a commercial aspect that has more to do with promotion. But design is not about that, it’s also about human beings, and relationships. It’s about how someone relates to an object, and what this object means or what it says. There are lot of young contemporary designers that are still thinking about these things, expanding on these ideas, and suiting them to a more contemporary context.
How did you get involved with BLESS?
It was quite a coincidence. A mutual friend always said that we should get to know each other because the way I was thinking about graphic design was very much related to how they were thinking in fashion. I had never heard about them, I didn’t know who they were, and I had never worked in fashion before. My friend told me to call them when I was in Berlin or Paris. At one point I was in Berlin for a visit and ended up meeting Ines Kaag at her studio. It turned out that we’re from the same village in the south of Germany. We never knew each other, but there was an immediate, strong connection. Our perception about the world and design were connected. We became very close friends. One week later, they asked me if I wanted to do the book about ten years of BLESS. I said, “Yeah, of course, I would love to,” but I had never really heard about BLESS. They started showing me their stuff and I began working on the book. Two weeks later they called me again and said, “hey do you want to do all our graphic design?” That’s how the collaboration started growing over the years.
That’s when BLESS really established itself. How did you incorporate yourself into what they were doing? Were you riffing on what they had already established?
The first collection we started working on together was number 23. They already had 22 collections where they had worked with other graphic designers, and a lot of it was actually them doing things themselves. Eventually they found that they had no time to do it, so they really needed someone that they could maintain a dialogue with. The company was growing at that point and they began doing projects every six months in Paris. They have always had a very strong opinion about what design is. The first thing we worked on together was the look book, which came out every six months. BLESS doesn’t have classic fashion shows where models walk on the catwalk, where the clothes are presented by tall, slim models. Instead they invite all their friends to come to the show and wear the clothes. So almost every show has the same faces. Whether it’s a dinner or a football match, the people wear the clothes and the press is invited. So I thought we should consider the look book in the same way. It’s a way to escape the industry so that it’s not about the reaffirmation of clichés. How could the photographic language of the look book function in the same way as their collections & shows do. We came up with the idea of collaborating with magazines. We could insert the look book into existing magazines. This way we could sometimes publish it in a magazine about cars, or a magazine about food, animals, photography, art or fashion. It could escape form standardized forms of distribution and reach another audience.
These things are a big part of what make BLESS.
Since they very beginning of BLESS, there was always a great deal of concern as to how to represent an image. BLESS never wanted to have the staged photography and high-end fashion shoots where everything was staged and fake just for that specific moment. It’s important to consider how the woman wearing clothes in the fashion show is represented. These are questions that have always been present for BLESS. So after the shows they started asking for pictures from all the people that attended who had their own cameras. With those pictures we began constructing the look book, so it was an image that was much more related to the people who attended, rather than the image constructed by a photographer hired to produce a fancy nice picture. The nice thing was also that you could see over the years the same people in each show. Then we started saying “why don’t we start thinking about making a pattern from it?” The images and language created by the shows would enter the collection again. I started getting involved in textile designs, and we started making textiles from each look book that would then come out in the next collection.
So your work actually became the content of the fashion side of things.
There’s a cycle. Like a lot of my work, it’s about continuity, not just the five minutes in Paris when the collection is presented. It’s also about your life and how you continue it, and how you can have certain continuity through that.
It seems like there are a lot of norms that you’re challenging on a regular basis. This in itself isn’t so surprising, but the fact that you manage to be so productive despite that is unusual. Most people I know that are active thinking this way don’t actually end up making much. It seems like you’re the opposite.
Thanks, that’s a very nice comment. I think it’s very important to say no. At the same time I think it’s also important to create things, to have an alternative. If you start thinking about the economy, capitalism, and even the art world, it’s important to have a standpoint, and yet to still try and propose alternatives. This became more evident with the economic crisis and people being unhappy about many things such as the distribution of labor and wealth. I think it’s very crucial to produce in order to figure out an alternative way of working. What could be an alternative set up for producing, of designing in relation to that? Also the effect it has on the environment, the effect it has on the labor force, the effect it has on distribution…
Where do these philosophies come from?
Well, it’s a combination of course. There is not one specific writer, or movie, or dialogue. We’re all human beings on the planet and there are many things that influence us. A lot of it relates to personal experiences I have with friends, people, family. If you are a designer suddenly under the pressure to produce very heavily and every six months, and this is not good for you anymore, you don’t feel it’s right, and it makes you tired or exhausted, then you need to find a way to change this. Could you do it in a different way, or should you just say no, or quit? These questions are very present for me.
This reminds me of that early piece you did where you wrote “I could have taken an image blown it up big and put bold type on it. But I chose not to.”  It sounds like you were frustrated.
Yes, this text totally originates from that. It’s a common and cliché perception that things that are said bold, or in big letters, or with a very big bright colors are more important than things that might be small. It’s visible on any level, such as architecture. A big building that has cost millions of euros, you know will receive a lot more attention than an organic self-built structure. It’s about validation. So you have a huge building, very fancy, and glossy and people love it, but they would never pay attention to to a beautifully constructed fence made of cacti that’s been there already for many years, growing slowly. Something constructed organically, like people.
How is your studio structured? You have people helping you, right? How do you delegate?
Typically there are two people that work here, Manuel Goller and Santiago da Silva. But it varies. There are no set rules. For example if Manuel is in the studio, he knows what to do, or to generate his own project. I try to make it so everyone always has their own projects. We’ve had interns here that have basically done a whole biennial. Through curiosity he or she started taking over the whole project and doing almost all the design. The editions for the Biennial came out of this dialogue. It’s a three-way relationship. It’s not just about me, it’s about the artists we collaborate with, the curator, and what position the design takes in relation. And this can all be accomplished through dialogue and discussion, and these decisions can then evolve. And if someone has a very strong personality behind that, even someone that joins the studio and says, “look, we should do this in this typeface.” I think that’s really good. I will not go against it. This is what I mean when I say that you can still then make decisions collaboratively and negotiate things through a dialogue.
What’s your home environment like? Do you live with the objects you make?
You would be disappointed. It’s very simple. I’m not so obsessed with design in that sense. I don’t have any known designer furniture in my home if that’s what you mean. I have one of the Group Affinity Benchesin my kitchen even though it gets a bit annoying after I sit on it for a while.
Are you a spiritual person?
Not really. I try to practice Aikido on a regular basis.
How long have you done that for?
Seven years now.
You did an interview with the Aikido  teacher from Paris in the BLESS book.
Both the founders of BLESS have practiced Aikido for many years.  The interview was to thank them them for introducing me to Aikido.
What is Aikido?
It’s a Japanese marital art that is quite young. It was founded during the war. The idea is that you basically don’t answer any violence with more violence. It’s about someone wanting to hurt you, but you’re basically already air, they cannot even attack you. I don’t know if this explains it. It has a lot to do with very round movements. It looks a bit like dancing with two people that do it very well.