Today marks a decade since the passing of Arnaud Mercier, AREA 17’s cofounder. To reflect on his life and career, we’ll use the words of ADG-FAD, the Association of Art Directors and Graphic Designers based in Barcelona.
For the 50th-anniversary edition of the Laus Awards, ADG-FAD wrote a beautiful tribute to Arnaud. Originally published in Spanish, we translated and republished with permission below.
Arnaud Mercier, the legacy of a genius
We honor the trajectory of this visionary designer and digital pioneer, who served as part of the Laus Awards jury in 2005.
The next edition of the ADG Laus Awards, the preparations for which are now underway, will be our 50th-anniversary edition. Since 1964 and throughout each of the 49 previous editions, the ADG Laus Awards for Graphic Design and Visual Communication have brought together thousands of projects, studios, agencies, clients, professionals, students, participants, and jurors.
A seminal event like this is an opportunity to reflect on our past, to tell better the story of who we are and how we got here. For ADG and the Laus Awards, our story has been written by all those who have participated in countless meetings, assemblies, awards, juries, conferences, and debates, accompanying us throughout the years and the innovations we have redefined the profession and promoted design excellence in Spain.
Looking back at the 2005 Laus Awards, the name of a juror from the erstwhile “Interactive” category caught our attention: Arnaud Mercier (1972–2011), the French graphic designer and developer. We found it inevitable to write about him because of what his work represents for our profession since it helps us understand the current digital design landscape.
“Interactive design was born as a small village that became increasingly connected with surrounding cities as it grew. Arnaud Mercier was one of those who traveled the path that connected the village with the city of graphic design. He did so much and with such preponderance that he turned that route into a high-speed highway, bringing prosperity to both populations.”
— Javier Cañada, Tramontana
At the end of 2004, when the members of the Laus 2005 jury were invited to participate, most of us had internet access via ADSL modems. However, wireless connectivity was increasingly being implemented. We were about to see a PlayStation Portable for the first time, and iTunes was at the cusp of introducing video support for its version 4.8. This latter development would introduce podcasts to the masses and demonstrate that users wanted to watch television on their devices and pay for it. Of course, at this time, the most foundational and transformative of all the names and acronyms was the concept of Web 2.0, which brought along with it greater interactivity and, more importantly, social networking. Although we still hadn’t been introduced to Facebook, MySpace was a trendy site. YouTube would soon be acquired by Google and become the most revolutionary social network in history.
In this milieu, Arnaud Mercier was a headliner in the Laus 2005 Interactive jury, which today we simply call ‘Digital.’ Joining him as jurors were Pere Rosales, Pablo Moreno, Ángel Souto, Andrés Colomer, and Hillman Curtis.
Trained in computer engineering and audiovisual editing, Mercier was the founder of the design studio Elixirstudio, co-founder of the interactive agency AREA 17 and co-founder of Slash, a contemporary art website in Paris. He regularly worked with agencies worldwide and was selected Young European Creative (Rome ’99) and exhibited at the Georges Pompidou Museum of Modern Art.
In terms of the Internet, many perceive 2004–2005 as another era or, at least, as a transition from one era to another. Arnaud Mercier was a pioneer of this transformation, understanding the digital environment more as we do today than his contemporaries back then. Even before the change to Web 2.0, Arnaud had initiated the use of Flash in Web design. In fact, in 1999, Mercier had the audacious idea to design an interactive Website entirely using Flash (Flash 3 at the time) and Shockwave.
“Arnaud was an off-road visionary who applied classic editorial design concepts to digital design at a time when everyone was going in the opposite direction. Above all, his timeless aesthetic, many of the interactions, design patterns, and behaviors that he assigned to his layouts are still valid today and have come to define modern digital design.”
— Diego Blanco, Hanzo
A tireless preacher of Web design principles and methodology, Arnaud created The Pixel School in 1999, making it the cornerstone of his design process and the predominant feature of his influential body of work. In 2005, Arnaud established The Pixel School as the design methodology of AREA 17 and many aspects of the approach are still relevant today.
“Arnaud was 20 years ahead of his time. That is why he became a reference and inspired those of us who followed his work from the beginning. His sharing of his knowledge and work was a great way for us to learn, and we would spend hours analyzing what he was doing and how he was doing it. In addition, AREA 17 was among the first to share its guidelines and methodologies so that anyone could learn from them. Mercier was a visionary and still is a reference.”
— Samuel López, Sr. y Sra. Wilson
From a visual identity design to its expression as an online magazine or website, Arnaud Mercier’s work is revered today — eight years after his tragic death. It’s simple, clear, different, memorable, beautiful, usable.
“He knew very early that the key to digital products was to strike the right balance between design and technology, emotion and functionality.”
— César Úbeda, Runroom
As a tribute, AREA 17 created a permanent online collection with more than 2,000 images documenting his fascinating and prolific career.
Arnaud represented excellence and brought it to our Awards. We want to return the gift and honor him for what he was: a genius and a teacher whose legacy will serve all those who continue his work in this discipline.
“Arnaud was both far ahead of his time and firmly rooted in the past. At a time when other digital designers followed Apple’s skeuomorphic approach to software, Arnaud saw that digital design should be rooted in the timeless principles discovered by the modernist graphic designers of the mid-20th century. Thankfully, time proved him right. We are fortunate to live in a world today that Arnaud envisioned and helped foster.”
Miguel Buckenmeyer, AREA 17