#INTERVIEW: Grammy Winner #FritzKlaetke of @VDialogue Talks #music and #design

Fritz Klaetke of Visual Dialogue

2013 was a terrific year for the Grammy Awards. Especially if you were Fritz Klaetke; who became a distinguished new member of an exclusive club of non-musicians to win a Grammy Award. He even edged out his fellow, high school alumni, Jack White (!) on the honour. I’m not just tooting his horn, he’s really that good!

  • what is the best moment of the day for Fritz Klaetke to create?

i try to be open to the moment when the idea hits so it could be any time, but most frequently when i’m not at my desk, or sitting at the computer, or thinking about the million things that need to get done that day. like a lot of creatives, the magic happens when i’m out for a walk, falling asleep, just waking up—anything but “at work.” (even though i’m always really “at work” coming up with ideas—i can’t turn it off…)

  • what type of books are on your bedside table?

i usually have a range of books piled by my bedside—design, business, and yes, the occasional novel.

  • do you listen to the radio?

my first choice is usually npr, but if my 11 year old daughter is with me of course she’s in control. (in which case we might be listening to “call me maybe” over and over and over…)

  • where do you get your news from?

mostly the boston globe and npr, with other stories from links on facebook or twitter to nytimes, huffington post, fast company, etc.


Visual Dialogue created this trophy for the NCAA. The 18” tall trophy features polished upper surfaces and sandblasted lower surfaces bursting forth from a black granite base. The faceted figure we designed and sculpted created an iconic image of a football hero without portraying one specific position or race.

  • do you read design / architecture / science magazines?

well i subscribe to communication arts (my studio, visual dialogue, is featured in the march issue) and the new yorker, but i also tend to pick up dwell, interior design, wallpaper, print, wired, and whatever is lying around at the gym.

  • do you have any pets?

no but my daughter would love one (she had a fish for a while).

  • how does your design influence how you dress?

uh, i think you’re making a connection between graphic design and fashion… i do think there are a lots of similarities in the design process and the balance between classic standards and the latest trends.

  • what kind of clothes do you avoid wearing?

i tend to avoid anything with obvious logos—ironic since i’m a designer who creates brands and makes logos for a living.

  • when you were a child, did you want to become an Designer?

well, after the usual boyhood dream career phase—like wanting to be a nfl quarterback—i settled on design in high school (a prototype magnet school called cass tech, in detroit). my first “commercial art” project in high school was a redesign on the tylenol packaging, right after the cyanide poisoning incident which was all over the news. the notion of combining my interest in art with real world problems to solve hooked me right away. i also think being a designer was in my dna—my dad was an architect and my mom is a painter, so if you combine the two you get a graphic designer.


Fritz Klaetke and Visual Dialogue worked closely with Moshe on every aspect of the 288-page book design. The entire layout of the book is based on the Fibonacci grid (“the golden section”), referencing Moshe’s use of geometry in his designs. The introductory essays are presented as books within the book while the project sections function as virtual “walk-throughs” of his designs.

  • where do you work on your projects?

my company, visual dialogue, is headquartered in a rowhouse built in 1850 in boston’s south end neighborhood. the first 2 floors are work space and the 3 floors above are living space for my partner susan, daughter ava, and myself.

  • do you discuss your work with other Designers?

not formally, but i like to meet up with other designers for lunch, etc. to catch up. generally we just go over projects here with the head of strategy susan battista, copy director joe fox, senior developer jesse hart, designer/developer kimber lynch, and a student intern.


Visual Dialogue referenced the type and colors of the original Folkways JAZZ LPs in creating an entirely new design for Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology. The package combines a 200-page book with 6 CDs in a translucent slipcase, befitting what Time magazine called “the single best introduction to America’s first great musical form.” And in the words of producer Richard Burgess, “reaction to the Jazz set has been phenomenal—the look and feel has been a big part of the instant impact. I really think you nailed it.”

  • having a father as an architect, its safe to say you appreciate architecture as a major influence to your aesthetic?

well, ii grew up in lafayette park, a development in detroit designed by ludwig mies van der rohe, so that utopian modernism was something i’ve always appreciated. i also have respect the multi-disciplinary quality of charles and ray eames’ work.

  • are there any contemporary designers you fancy in particular?

a couple of my favorites are scott stowell of open in nyc (smart work across many industries), yves behar (work which crosses disciplines), but the list is long…

Fritz accepts grammy

2013. Mr. Fritz Klaetke’s acceptance speech at the Grammys for music packaging design

  • describe your style, like a good friend of yours would describe it.

hopefully a friend would describe it as “smart.” .. i think it’s been remarkably consistent. for example i did my first music packaging for a friend’s band over 20 years ago and have done over a 100 cd packages over the years and just won a grammy for woody at 100. but i’ve always tried to stay up with the latest things—we did our first website in 1994 and continue to evolve into new areas—video, advertising, interiors, public art, etc.

  • tell us about your team, is it a mix of different backgrounds?

the core team here is very small—and that’s how we like it. our strategy director susan battista previously ran the market research firm topic 101 (http://www.topic101.com) and before that worked as a research strategist on both agency and client sides. our copy director joe fox has worked for a variety of boston area ad agencies. and, well, i’ve never worked anywhere other than visual dialogue which i founded while i was still in school at the university of michigan.


Susan Battista, principal/strategy director; Fritz Klaetke, principal/design director; Joe Fox

  • which project has given you the most satisfaction?

it’s hard to say which one has given the most satisfaction, but the grammy for woody at 100 packaging certainly has received the most attention.

  • is there some Product you would like to Design?

it’s not exactly a product, but i’d like to get more into how political candidates and issues are framed within the context of design and marketing.

  • what advice would you give to the young Designers in this age?

be open—open to ideas, media, input, experiences, and learning.

vd_commarts_article_marchapril2013 copy

A mere sample of Fritz Klaetke’s long intern as design director for Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, client.

  • is there anything you are afraid of regarding the future?

like global warming? actually, yes, i’m very afraid of cities like boston and new york becoming venice by the time my daughter grows up.

  • What’s next for Fritz Klaetke? Other designers I know, cross into other disciplines, like Karim Rashid, who has experimented well beyond his roots as an Industrial Designer. And fashion designer, Maurice Malone, who tackles packaging and advertising … can we expect to see some Fritz Klaetke apparel? Or perhaps some Industrial design products from Visual Dialogue in the near future?

we’re interested in getting more into holistic branding for organizations—moving beyond the logo, signage, website, advertising, and print materials into the overall user experience including architecture, interiors, and overall consultant. i guess Creative Director with a capital CD — directing the creative aspect of an organization.

A promotional video depicting Visual Dialogue’s position as a leading design firm and advertising agency

fritz klaetke is a german-american raised in detroit, mi and currently lives and works in boston, ma. he studied graphic design at the university of michigan graduating with distinction in 1988 and moved to boston where he began his successful career as a leading graphic designer.

an artist, designer, sculptor, painter and illustrator, klaetke’s skills are multi-disciplinary. his design works have exhibited at institutions such as the cooper hewitt museum, new york and the smithsonian institute in washington, dc.


interview by madison avenue veteran.creative director benir koranache owner of celebrity brand focused consultancy bkltd.co based in london, england and new york city