When interviewing graphic designers, the chance to snoop around their studios is a definite perk of the job. The state of someone’s workspace speaks volumes, both personally and professionally - you can tell a lot from the books on the shelves and work on the walls, from the mess (or lack thereof) and even the prominence and provenance of the coffee machine. Alexandre Bettler’s East London workplace is, then, a bit of a departure from the norm. We meet at E5 Bakehouse, under the arches below London Fields station, where the first of the breakfast crowd begin to filter in as we talk. Behind the racks of sourdough and rye, staff who’ve clearly had a very early start are already busy with the next batch. Looking around, I’d hazard a guess that designers of one kind or another make up a fair proportion of the Bakehouse’s clientele, but so far, Bettler’s the only one working on the other side of the counter; for ten months, he’s been here honing his skills as a baker, having set his graphic design practice aside, at least for the moment.
Just over a year ago, his workplace was very different indeed. Up until that point, Bettler was based just down the road in the studio occupied by Modern Activity, the design practice he founded in 2007 with fellow Royal College of Art alumni Matthew Appleton and Daniel Crabbe. A graduate of the Ecole cantonale d'art de Lausanne (ECAL) in Switzerland, he had worked freelance as a designer for several years before embarking upon an MA in Visual Communication at the RCA, where he met his future studiomates; Modern Activity was formed in 2007, shortly afterwards. In the intervening years, they worked with a broad roster of clients within the arts and cultural sector designing, among other things, artists’ books and catalogues, printed programmes, posters and flyers, and websites for fellow creatives and organisations. To an outsider all seemed to be going very well indeed, but Bettler had a different dream in the back of his mind, one that was slowly gaining momentum. When Modern Activity closed in December 2013 it was, as he puts it, “a case of ‘now or never’”.