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Liz Danzico's Match Preview

Time After Time

Layer Tennis. Two words. Two critical constructs. But what’s most important about these two words is what lies between them and remains unspoken, unsaid, and unknown. Time. The volley. The pause. That fifteen minutes. And today, we introduce time almost as a third player in our Friday afternoon match here at Layer Tennis as our players defy time in an unprecedented rivalry.

Reporting in from the velvety booth here in New York, I’ve not seen such cloaked competition between two opponents. Could it simply be the time difference between them? Their shared vetern-ship of the game? Their mutual affection for grids?

Playing from a location in misty London is Tom Muller, pronounced “MUHL-er,” not “MYOOL-er,” so you can rule out any references you might have been thinking about straight away. “Sometimes, when I’m lucky they’ll greet me with ‘Hello, Muller’,” he admits with a reference to his own website, so a note to any well-wishers in the crowd. With a distinct thing for orange and a proclivity for grids, you may know him from such other places as Season 2. A design director specializing in print, logos, identity, interactive work, and motion, he appears to be unflappable in his media choice. His work has been called “mixing grid with Sci-fi-like style,” (in a good way). He just got back from a day of cross disciplinary frolicking, which might come in handy today. He hails from Belgium, but now resides in London, England, which means if you’re watching live, he may very well be playing this match drunk. Ultimately, this may or may not be an advantage, after all it was Ernest Hemingway who advised, “Write drunk; edit sober.” Luckily, there is no editing in Layer Tennis.

And from a dark location somewhere in Tokyo is Oliver Reichenstein, information architect, philosopher, master of focus, designer of information, mapper of web trends, and writer, who claims his nickname is “olo” but we know him as iA. Earlier this year, he made the Internet feel like a smaller place. And recently made a much-discussed app for writing. His hometown is Basel, Switzerland, but now resides in Tokyo, Japan, which is not confusing, but does means that if you’re watching live, it’s directly in middle of the night. Ultimately, this may or may not be an advantage, as it was E.L. Doctorow who said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I don’t think this actually helps Reichenstein one bit other than to know it’s foggy in London.

During this week’s mandatory calisthenics, our competitors when back in time as if in some sort of cathartic design session. Graphic design, wasn’t in fact, what they’ve always wanted. In fact, aside from wanting to be a Russian cosmonaut at age seven, Thomas Muller wanted to be a “bin man” because the “orange trucks they used back in the ’70s in Belgium were just too cool.” If history is any indication we’ll see the return of orange today.

Not to be outdone, Oliver Reichenstein, fiercely competitive even in the warm ups, refuted with his own seven-year-old career choice: “astronaut, boss, and painter,” as if astronaut alone wasn’t good enough. An overachiever already.

I would reveal more about the week’s preparations, but the rivalry between these men has been almost too much for the fine velvet that lines this Layer Tennis booth. In fact, what I’ve witnessing here has made the two men glad to be separated by eight hours.

Do they have anything in common? Looking across both their traditions of work, the grid plays a major role, but color seems to separate them. Both experiment with media and rush forward across platforms, but where one seems playful, the other serene. The rivals are, of course, planning in secret, so I ask you: will their layers form a pointed narrative or will they unite in their opposition?

Well, we won’t have to wait any longer. Reichenstein has won the coin toss. It looks like Muller is sending some sort of orange signal, clearly already trying to distract his opponent. But all we see is focus from Tokyo. We’re about to begin. From New York, I’m here – in the third time zone – with strong coffee and a pencil, playing along. Quiet, it’s almost time.


Liz reports in from crisp Brooklyn, New York, where she's part designer and part educator. She writes about design for a number of publications and has an admitted thing for thank you notes.

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