Interview: Counter-Print

Counter-Print is an online rare and out of print bookstore run by designers Celine and Jon of Leterme Dowling design studio.

Can you explain what “Counter-Print” is for some of our readers who may not have stumbled across your site yet?

Counter-Print is an ever expanding database of (usually) out of print design books. You can browse the books by cover, look through a few spreads and buy them if you wish. They are all selected by us and quality control is set to maximum. We would like to think that the customer could buy any book on the site, even blindly, and it would always be a great book. We then have a sister store called Counter-Objects which sells all the new stuff. Contemporary graphic art, posters, home-ware etc. But Counter-Print is a book shop for design geeks like us.

How did you get started?

Well, Counter-Print isn’t the day job, it’s just an idea we had. We are graphic designers and run a studio called Leterme Dowling in the South of England. We have always been huge fans of design. I’m from Belgium and my partner Jon is English. We met at university and both shared an appreciation of the history of graphic design amongst more romantic things. We often took vacations back to Belgium and stayed with my parents. Whilst in Europe we often picked up ridiculously hard to find design books and would bring them back to our respective London studios we were working at after graduating. Our colleagues there were really envious of the books we found so we started bringing copies back for people. I suppose this is how it started. The actual idea came sitting in a pub one day, as so many do, and we decided we wanted to do something, beyond our 9 to 5 and tried to think about what we could do that didn’t already exist. Counter-Print came about as we new a) that we had a good knowledge of design and what people would want to purchase b) we had a great source of books in Belgium and the rest of Europe that we had easy access to due to my family still living in Belgium c) due to our backgrounds as designers we had all the right knowledge and skills to create a platform through which to sell the books and d) no one else was doing it at the time. few!

What do you love most about printed ephemera?

I’m not sure if it is describable. Is it? It’s the smell, the feel. It’s the quality of ink on paper. But it is also the rarity of some of the books. I could be the only one that owns a certain percentage of my collection and that feels a little empowering. I have mentioned this in interview before but I think there is also a certain, perhaps misplaced feeling, that merely by by owning books it imparts some of the knowledge within their pages onto the owner. Ridiculous, but that is the feeling I get.

What do you look for when adding a piece to your collection?

Well, a good rule is it is a book that we would like to own ourselves. If the book doesn’t sell then it becomes our property, in a way, because it will be on our shelf, tucked away until it does. We also make sure we aren’t ever just buying a book for its cover, it needs to have substance within its pages. Apart from that, most of our early books were from, what would be considered, the Swiss school of design but now ‘anything goes’ as long as it is inspiring, well designed, considered etc.

What is your favorite piece of print design?

I couldn’t choose. I think it is the collection, the assembled choices we have made over the years, that I cherish. If you cast your net wide, in terms of influences and sources of inspiration, then I think that is a more fulfilling way of distilling reference.

Is there any specific period or place that produced your favorite work?

Like many people, we like Dutch design from the 60′s and 70′s but also American design from the same era. The likes of Lou Dorfsman, Soul Bass, Herb Lubalin etc.

What is your favorite trend in print design?

Ohh, what a horrible word. I couldn’t advocate the use of trend within design. We are all guilty of it but I couldn’t say in an interview that there is one I’m a fan of. Sorry.

Without giving away your secrets, what are some good places to find out of print, rare pieces?

Amazon? No seriously, you can often find some great books on there. It is more about knowing what the books are called. But I would also, advise people to get down to their nearest second-hand book shop and roll up your sleeves. Books are much more likely to be found at an affordable price at these places. Also this will give you a much greater sense of satisfaction when you churn something up! Charity shops are good too, especially Oxfam book shops in the UK.

What is the weirdest place you found treasure?

There is a ‘book town’ in Belgium called ‘Redu’. It has a cafe but the rest of the towns income comes solely from the book shops. There is 2 or 3 on each street. Kid in a candy store!

What led you to start Counter-Objects?

First and foremost we are fans of graphic design. We had started putting bits and bobs of non-book-related material on Counter-Print, such as bags and posters, but we didn’t want to pollute the experience of someone shopping on the site. People come to Counter-Print looking for books and I know what it’s like when you have a site you like visiting and then someone starts screwing with it and changing it from its original purpose.

So we created another site for these bits and bobs called Counter-Objects which allowed us to sell everything else design related that isn’t a book.

What is your favorite current piece on both Counter-Print and Counter-Objects?

On Counter-Print it would have to be any of the many U&lc magazines we have by Herb Lubalin. On Counter-Objects I really like the ‘Anything’ stationery range from Michael Sodeau.

What would you like to see more of in print design?

I would just like to see more of it, but I suppose that is just the nature of the way the industry is going – with everything moving online and the dawn of the iPad etc. We have actually just launched a new magazine which deals with this very issue called Eight:48. It is in a tabloid newspaper format and each issue will focus on a different topic of debate, relevant to the current creative scene. Ten leading designers, illustrators and product designers will be asked their opinion on the ‘future of print’ in the first issue and have the opportunity to showcase their work and talk about their influences. Issue 01 is forwarded by Steven Heller and includes contributions from Julien Vallee, Mat Cook, Anthony Burrill, HelloVon, Jason Tozer, Face 37, Robert Hanson, La Boca, Supermundane and MillerGoodman. It is available from both of our sites as well as

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