This is a Catalog of case-stories from the practice of lay-out, even if this practice is sometimes imaginary. They stories were selected after many discussions, workshops and brainstorms because they are each in their own way an invitation to rethink lay-out from scratch.

The Catalog is compiled in the context of the Libre Graphics Research Unit, a traveling lab where new ideas for creative tools are developed. The Research Unit is an initiative of four European media-labs: Piksel in Bergen, WORM in Rotterdam, Medialab Prado in Madrid and Constant in Brussels. This cross-disciplinary project brings together typographers, web-designers, illustrators, graphic designers, cartographers, writers, artists and programmers who are dissatisfied with the shrink-wrapped relationships that proprietary software allows, and who have decided to use Free, Libre and Open Source software instead.

Collaborating on the design of posters, fonts, software, maps, websites and books, we end up using each others’ tools and methods, and learn about very different paradigms. As a result, our range of tools has expanded dramatically, and we started to experience from up close how digital tools are cultural objects. Each tool-of-a-trade is tightly linked to professional conventions and ways of doing. While using them side by side, we understand how much they are ‘path dependent’, meaning that software, like any technology, is often the result of more or less arbitrary conflations of people and situations, sometimes leading to unreflected fossilisations (the text-box model) or other times unnecessarily overlooking relevant practices (chevronnage). How can we change the path of these tools, how to think about their direction?

We realised that at this moment, a precise and shareable way to speak about what constitutes lay-out, “a spatial arrangement of texts and other graphical elements”, is missing. What exists, seems to have been directly exported from Gutenberg and shows surprisingly little traces of it’s encounter with digital systems.

Over the last months, without detaching from our working experiences, we have therefore tried to expand our vocabulary and find new perspectives. From the ongoing conversations four axes of orientation emerged: Digital Sensitivity, Process Awareness, Extended Dimensions and Engage and Disengage. Although intimately related, they each offer a direction in which we would like to see digital tools develop.

This Catalog gathers very different stories in which we, sometimes with great difficulty, try to communicate our shared desires, and locate unrealised potential. Even though we would love to excite the Free, Libre and Open Source community to develop some of these ideas into concrete code, this is not a series of feature requests. It is a way to use software as a tool to think with, as location for a dialogue about practice and tools. By offering you this dense clusters of narrated practice, wishful thinking and sometimes productive misunderstanding, we hope to extend the conversation into the future.


Digital Sensitivity

Tools that combine digital, programmatic and computational sensitivities with the sensitivity of a human designer. Can we overcome the inertia of digital objects if we extend levels of access to code and design? How can we make programming and lay-out co-habit in more interesting ways?

Process Aware

Understanding the many practices that design is made by/through, we want tools that are history-aware, have a memory, and invite reflection and dialogue.

Extended Dimensions

A bug-report on the limitations of Gutenberg who omitted the typographical practice of ‘writing’ or ‘drawing’ when developing movable-type. How can we think of lay-out as a multidimensional practice, that leaves the limited 2D space of lines and squares?

Engage and disengage

Exploring the rich space between ‘destructive’ and ‘non-destructive’ operations, we look for a non-binary state of digital objects. Lending terminology from rendering to baking, these examples show how fixed and fluid elements could maybe mix and blend into each other.


This Catalog resonates the voices of many people, amongst others:

Adam Hyde, Agnes Bewer, Aitor Mendez, Alessandro Rimoldi, Alexandre Quessy, Alex Leray, Ana Carvalho, Ana G. Angulo, Anaïs Alauzen, Angela Plohman, Anna Borcheding, Antoine Begon, Antonio Roberts, August Black, Aymeric Mansoux, Belen López, Birgit Bachler, Brendan Howell, Camille Bissuel, Camille Pageard, Cédric Gémy, Chris Sugrue, Denis Moyogo Jacquerye, Dennis de Bel, Donatella Portoghese, Egil Möller, Elisabeth Nesheim, Eric Schrijver, Gisle Froysland, Jaime Munarriz, Jill Walker Rettberg, John Haltiwanger, Jon Nordby, Jorge Toledo, Letizia Jaccheri, Lieven Van Speybroeck, Lisa Haskel, Ludi Loiseau, Luis Conde, Marcos Garcia, Marie Frignet des Préaux, Michaël Fournier, Michael Murtaugh, Michael van Schaijk, Miguel Gallego, Nathalie Trussart, Nicolas Malevé, Nik Gaffney, Øyvind Kolaas, Peter Westenberg, Rémi Forte, Ricardo Lafuente, Ricardo Vega, Stephanie Vilayphiou, Thomas Laureyssens, Tom Lechner, Torstein Leversund, Walter Langelaar.

Catalog compiled and edited by:

Colm O’Neill, Femke Snelting, Gijs DeHeij, Pierre Huyghebaert, Pierre Marchand