For our September edition’s design special, established designers nominate emerging talent in the field. For this third segment of our interview series with the nominees, you can read about Muller Van Severe’s choice, Sven Beirnaerts.

Sven Beirnaert


Stan Douglas, The Secret Agent, cover-design, Ludion (publisher) 2015 © Atelier Sven Beirnaert.

How would you best describe what you do?

I am a book designer and typographer interested in art, architecture and the like. Accordingly, I mostly make books about art, photography or architecture. I design both the inside and outside of books, working with national and international publishing houses such as Lannoo, Ludion, Kannibaal, Luster, Hatje Cantz, Aperture, Public Space, Schirmer/Mosel and Prestel. I’m a very tactile guy, and the texture of materials, beautiful papers, deep ‘texture’ printing or screen-printing gets me very excited. From time to time I also do scenographies for exhibitions.

As a designer working in Belgium today, what do you think is your main purpose?

The book publishing world is a small one, so it’s important to diversify, to be able to work for different publishers, to not be dependent on one house. Especially when you’re working in tiny Belgium, it is very important to think internationally. I’ve worked with publishing houses in Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom. They tend to view you as exotic, and generally really respect your work and opinions. I’m building a proper studio with multiple assistants, so we can create more power and flexibility.


Muller van Severen, Book, Luster (publisher) 2014 © Atelier Sven.

What key moment or person would you attribute to you becoming a designer?

In the early days, I used to design posters for cultural campaigns and clubs, and also magazines. I was always a bit frustrated with the fleeting nature of the work and its disposable nature. A flyer or poster lasts for about four weeks before it gets binned. I wanted to create more timeless, durable objects. This is how I started doing books. A book is something you go back to, which has content and soul, and which will stay forever. The thought that it’s going to live in somebody’s bookcase or in a library, or sit on a coffee table, makes me very happy.

To date, what creation are you the proudest of and why?

I’m mostly proud of the varied portfolio I’m building with a big diversity of designs, formats and materials. The collaborations with artists and authors are truly enriching. I really enjoyed working with Muller Van Severen in 2014. It was a very spontaneous, warm and funny collaboration. Working with Filip Dujardin for his “Fictions” book was a true delight as well.

What are your inspirations?

It’s surprising how modern vintage publications from the 30s to the 70s are, typographically and image placement-wise. They’re often more powerful, less typical and more contemporary than what’s being made right now. I like functional no-nonsense design and art, starting with the modernists of De Stijl, Bauhaus, DADA and Russian avant-garde, leading up to contemporary art like that of Sol Lewitt. I also love Japanese and Scandinavian design – as cliché as it may sound. Visiting contemporary art exhibitions always charges my batteries. And I love the city; walking and jogging gives me time to think. I also like to get stimulated by music while designing. But I get most inspired by talking with the authors, publishers, and artists. The more trust you are given, and the more you make the author feel involved, the better the result is, and the more pleased people are. A book is forever, so it’s important that everybody’s happy with the end result.


Muller van Severen, Book, Luster (publisher) 2014 © Atelier Sven.

Sven (38) studied typography and design at the Hogeschool voor Wetenschap & Kunst, Sint-Lucas Beeldende Kunst, in Ghent, Belgium where he graduated in 1999.

Images courtesy of Sven Beirnaert