Loraine Furter


Rokfor is a software developed by Rafael Koch, Urs Hofer and Gina Bucher to create automatized content and layout processes for different publication formats.

Translated from German (see Rokfor’s website).
automatic writing

Awarded as one of the Most Beautiful Swiss Books of 2011, the book Robert A. Fischer Ich/Buchstabendrescher etc. (2010—11), was made with the software Rokfor, designed by publisher Gina Bucher, programmer Urs Hofer and graphic designer Rafael Koch. The book presents a selection of 239 texts amongst the 20,000 text files contained in the digital archive of Robert A. Fischer, “desktop rockstar”, author, art critic, media artist… Fischer wrote about new technology, amongst other topics, he was a fan of automatic writing (producing between 3,000 and 4,000 characters a day), and prefered unedited/unformatted versions of texts. He was thus the ideal subject to develop a project experimenting with digital publishing tools. Rokfor explores the relations and interactions of the different actors involved in the publishing process via the same program, at all levels of production; but it also raises the question of the automation of editorial and bookformat production processes. The issues remain open, and the debate goes on…

Extract of an essay published in “Editions – Publications”, in Living Space – Surface Habitable, Chaumont’s International Poster and Graphic Design Festival, June 2014.

I met Gina, Urs and Rafael at Issue Frankfurt, Self Publishing Fair for Design and Art, in October 2013. I was very excited by their project Rokfor, that represented an alternative to the very normated publishing and layout tools of today, and finally an involvement of graphic designers and editors in thinking and making production tools. I was also very interested by the fact that a book made with Rokfor was awarded by the Most Beautiful Swiss Book Prize in 2011, which was for me a big sign that new design and editorial practices were ready to be addressed by the graphic design scene, often a bit conservative. At the time, I was working as the coordinator of a similar prize based in Brussels, the Fernand Baudin Prize, where my attempts to include discussions about digital publishing were almost vain… (it is still the case in 2015, in Belgium and in Switzerland)

Since a few years, several projects highlighting the potentials of programming in design projects had been popping up in Switzerland. The program Lines developed by graphic designers Astrom/Zimmer (also awarded by the Swiss Design Award that year) is a writing and reading tool — a kind of thoughts organizer. The book Typeface as a Program, published by the art and design school ECAL in Lausanne in 2009, addresses the question of the new programs to design fonts. With Rokfor, it is the process of making books that is programmed.

designing programs that design books

In the above diagram, we can see the different parts of a publication workflow, and its actors: from the subject to the result, passing by analysis, method, test, test, test, and finally “ending” with a loop: the process is circular, it can be repeated at several levels (conceptualization, production, etc).

It is the special “flavour” of digital publishing tools that generate books. A program (algorythm, rules) is run, going through different actions predefined by the designers of the program, like automatically importing a content in a structured template, applying styles and generating a file. Modifications are made directly at the source, in the program, and in the content data bank, and the program is run again… until the RESULT is good.

handcrafted programming

Still, the perfect program generating custom books that create automatically a specific form for a specific content with high design quality and no typographic mistake remains an utopia. What graphic designers see as a threat — the fear of being replaced by machines — is not likely to happen soon, at least not more than with the very widely spread and anyone-can-use desktop layout software like InDesign.

There is actually a lot of fine-tuning in this way of designing books. For specific books, you almost have to design a new program every time! It is almost handcrafting, we realise with Urs Hofer, talking about the tension between the culture of automatization that comes from programming and the art of working on detail embedded in the graphic design culture.

the book as a program

With the new digital technologies and cultures, the book, its production, and its reception are challenged, giving way to whole fields of experimentations, remaining at the moment widely unexplored. Looking forward to discover the program(s) of the future!

10 June 2015, version 1.0, license CC-BY-SA.
(based on an unedited/unformatted version started in 2013)