The chosen logo.
First draft for the homepage.


Designing the Madaf Website

Nomi Geiger & Amitay Gilad about their Creative Process

Hi Nomi and Amitay, what a pleasure it is to sit here with you to talk about something other than work when for so long all our meetings have been in your professional capacity as the designers of the Madaf website. It's pretty amazing how long we just talked and dreamed about it, and look - suddenly it's up and running on its own.

Amitay Gilad: It really is exciting that the site is now a tangible thing in the world. We worked on it for a long time, and since it went up I have been receiving a lot of good comments about it, especially from artists. I get the feeling that artists feel that it was made for them.

It really was made for them and for their books. Actually, the main challenge of the site was to convey something of the feeling and magic of an artist's book, which in principle is a tangible thing in the real world. Could you tell about your approach to it?

Nomi Geiger: When we started working on the project, we thought a lot about the fact that a book, apart from being very material, also has a rhythm, and something very intimate about it. We thought about how to express this, and we realized that since the wonderful photos of the books that Yair Meyuhas takes for the site with Shiraz (Grinbaum)'s hand leafing through the pages, succeeds best in capturing the materiality and size, that these should receive the main focus. This decision led to a series of decisions - from putting the photographs up front, to making it possible to enlarge them. We wanted to convey the feeling of leafing through a book through a very live and digital element.

AG: Often when you want to create the equivalent action on a screen of flipping through a book, you insert a horizontal scroll across the screen, which has to be dragged to the side. But this is a faulty translation, it's not comfortable. The equivalent of leafing through a book on a web page is simply vertical scrolling with a mouse or trackpad. Every medium and its method.

NG: The trick was to think how to introduce intimacy, warmth, respect for the raw materials and a rich reading experience. When you go into any book on the site, you can choose how to read it. You can look at the text and the images together, you can look at the images enlarged and scroll the text separately, a bit like the experience of flipping through a real book - first, you leaf through it without reading and then, you delve deeper into the text.

AG: Instead of, for example, enlarging the format of all the images and then having the text below, or embedding images throughout the text like in a digital newspaper column.

NG: Yes, from the thinking that the text and images must reflect the same hierarchy.

AG: The site offers a few types of reading, in fact. First leafing and then deeper reading, or getting right into the reading. In the middle of each double spread is a moveable midpoint that changes the size of one of the two pages, and the reader can decide if they want more text or more images and enlarge the side that interests them more.

Yair Meyuhas shooting Meir Agassi's artist's book Vase.
At The Mishkan for Art Ein-Harod.
Photo by Shiraz Grinbaum.
Yair holding a lot of books.
Artport's Book Fair, 2022.
Photo by Shiraz Grinbaum.

This magnification actually allows us to see details in the book that we might not have noticed otherwise. Like the Google Art project, where you can see oil paintings more close up than you could ever in real life.

NG: We consciously decided not to deal with the question of the actual size of the books, the only place on the site where you can partially understand the scale is in the photos with the hand leafing the page. We chose to enjoy the advantages of the digital platform, and this is really an opportunity to see small books in a big way and up close.

One of the challenges of the site was that it has two related but separate parts - an index and a magazine. We came to you with this as a design challenge, but actually it was a fundamental question about what the site wants to be.

NG: Design is not just an aesthetic solution. The earlier the design stage starts in a project, the more successful it is. It even comes before the decision around the information architecture; the project starts at the stage of defining the concept/the brief. The conversation between designer and client can affect the brief itself and can lead to a deeper understanding of the project's goal and needs. It precedes decisions on structure, specifications and design.

At Madaf we felt that the thinking was coopertive - there was a lot of communication about what this thing was. Here, for example, there was a key moment in the meetingpoint between the two parts - the magazine and the index, which is actually also the meetingpoint between the magazine Ma'alelet (Leafing) and Artport, and we understood that each would get their place. The separation between the index and the magazine helped us to design, to give the site the central grid. It seems obvious when you see the site now, but it could have gone in different directions.

AG: The moveable border has become a noticeable visual feature and hallmark of the site. From the moment we realized that it was important to this division, the decision was made to continue it everywhere. For example on the recommendations page, where there really is no practical need for it, but it is the continuity that gives the identity. And identity is also a practical need.

NG: In the case of Madaf, it should be noted that this is a project on a huge scale that was accomplished by a small team of people with a great commitment and drive for the site and its materials - editors, producers, a photographer. And the developers - Meir Sadan and Nir Shaked, were completely committed to making it happen the way we imagined it. The decision to develop a page with five moving sliders - instead of the developers saying it's too difficult and better not, they said - well, it's difficult but we'll try to solve it.

AG: It seems that most developers would say have said no to the idea, but Meir embraced it.

The first meeting, 2021.
Vardit Gross, Mika Nachtailer, Yael Moshe,Nomi Geiger, Amitay Gilad, Nitsan Gaon, Meir Sadan, Nir Shaked, and Shiraz Grinbaum. Photo by: Shiraz Grinbaum.

By the way, the choice in the end was to go for minimal design. Even in the logo.

NG: Since we had good raw material, the beautiful artists' books, and excellent photographs of them - we understood that the design needed to be relatively quiet. This is a site that gives maximum space to content.

AG: I remember a session where we really struggled with making a logo for the project. A beautiful logo, like some kind of diamond, a logo that takes on the front role. But the project rejected any such attempt. In the end, we decided to write the name of the site in font (Michal Sahar's Masada), and added the separation element to it throughout the site.

What do you mean the project rejected it?

AG: This particular site is a container. It should be quiet and let the content lead. And every decision that tried to resist that felt wrong.

Do you find yourselves going back to the site now, after you've finished working on it?

NG: I go to the site often, when I'm looking for information about a book or an artist. It's a real tool.

AG: It's like an identity card with important details. I also had an unexpected experience - I worked on the site using the photos you sent us, and then I chanced upon a physical book that I only knew from the site. It was like meeting a celebrity on the street.

Logo sketches from Amitay's sketchbook.

I like thinking of artists' books as celebs! And maybe we'll come back to them in a moment - we talked about the design of Madaf which is a website for books, but Nomi you also design artist's books.

NG: Yes, but lately I've been choosing to design fewer books. Designing an artist's book is a project that requires the highest level of intimacy. It's much more than discourse on how to design and give shape to things - it is a meeting between two people with very high visual sensitivity. As a designer, you need to kind of zoom-in to understand the things that are not expressed in words - the artist's temperament, rhythm, and also zoom out, take a step back to understand how to wrap it graphically. It's a process that beyond the long amount of time it takes (at least a year), it also requires, for me at least, a tremendous amount of emotional resources. So I choose only a few projects.

Does a close friendship usually come out out of this long and close process?

NG: Yes, but not always. There is, of course, also the opposite situation.

Does it surprise you that people are still publishing books in such a digital age?

NG: They say that we are the first era that's dealing with trying to reduce the amount of information we are exposed to. Precisely within this excess there is something in the container of a book that makes it possible to interrupt the sequence of time and information. A closed container that begins and ends at a certain moment, a kind of time and knowledge capsule, and this is, in my opinion, something that cannot be replaced.

Archiving Madaf: Mika Nachtalier (chief producer & Shiraz Grinbaum, editor in chief).

Yes, we actually created a big library together. Shiraz (Grinbaum) said that it is like "raising a network that was invisible, of a large community in which artists, designers, craftspeople, curators, a readership take part - the community that produces an artists' books." Now you can see which books influenced which artist, go back and get inspired. From a designers' perspective, what are you interested in looking for in a library?

NG: I always check who designed the book. As a regular person :) I find it a rich source of information that has an interesting cross section of the local culture. Beyond information about the books themselves, I am looking for information about artists, exhibitions, trends, specific topics and more.

As Nomi said, an artist's book is an act of deepening, which requires just being in it. From your experience, when should an artist start making a books And how should the process be treated? This is a big question, so you can answer it in chapter headings :)

NG: When there is a strong desire and something to say.

Let's end our conversation in the tradition of the magazine, which began with Ma'alelet, with two questions we always ask our interviewees. The first is "making a book is like"…

NG: A dream where you are trying to move forward by walking in deep water.

And the second, which book should we add to our library (which is not yet in it!)?

NG: All the books that are on my actual shelf in the studio are already listed here. That's crazy and wonderful!

"We took the fact that there are two bodies and two types of content to leverage this division into the center of the site. You don't start with a magazine and then discover the index or vice versa. The decision was to put both things up front as much as is possible."

"We really struggled with making a logo for the project. A beautiful logo, like some kind of diamond, a logo that takes on the front role. But the project rejected any such attempt. In the end, we decided to write the name of the site in font (Michal Sahar's Masada), and added the separation element to it throughout the site."

The chosen logo.
First draft for the homepage.