CAPTCHA Design Festival

Workshops, a symposium and an exhibition: Mannheims young generation of designers are creating new dimensions.

Mannheims creative industry is mainly focused on music, fashion and design. With the two design festivals UNCOVER and CAPTCHA, the design field has been in an especially dynamic process of development. This years edition of CAPTCHA takes place from September 3 to 16, and will become a hotspot for young designers from all around the globe. We met Luca Büttner and Denys Hsu, of the faculty of design, for an interview at the Mannheim University.


The CAPTCHA Design Festival kicks off September 3rd, and this years motto is “dimension”, it could have been “CAPTCHA goes international” though, don’t you think?

Denys Hsu: Indeed! We’ve got a very diverse line-up this year, including regional, national and international participants! After five years, it was a deliberate step to market the festival internationally. Both our website and social media are now in English, and this years motto is understandable in both German and English. 

Luca Büttner: Sometimes national and international designers will produce their Open Call pieces on-site in Mannheim, here at CAPTCHA. This is always very special to us. This year everything is quite a bit larger in scale – which is exciting for us, as we are reaching a new dimension ourselves.


Mannheims CAPTCHA-Team 2018.


What is the fundamental idea behind the festival?

Luca: Anyone is invited to participate. As in previous years, we want to give design students the opportunity to take part in exciting workshops – for a smaller budget. Comparable workshops are usually a lot more expensive. CAPTCHA is made for students by students, and is quite affordable for this reason.



How does the festival work? How are the proceedings organized? 

Denys: Things beginn with a one-day symposium, followed by three days of workshops. During the workshops each group will develop results, which are presented during the opening reception at the Mannheimer Kunstverein. After the opening reception follows a one-week public exhibition. 

Luca: The symposium, which takes place September 3rd, at zeitraumexit, in the Jungbusch quarter, is our kick-off event. This years Open Call is particularly exciting. We have invited design students from all around the world to submit projects on the subject “dimension”. It is completely irrelevant where these people are studying, or if they can personally take part in the festival.

Both the symposium and the workshops feature some great people. Give us some details please! 

Luca: Simone Cihlar from Berlin will helm a workshop on Concept Design. She is a Mannheim alumni herself, and is internationally successful with her beautiful collage and paper designs. We’re sure it will be awesome! It’s also a nice contrast to the many digital projects we have. We’re very excited to have her! Jonathan Castro is from South America and works for Metahaven in Amsterdam. His poster designs are very hot right now. It’s wild and very cool stuff! 

Denys: Raffael Schoen and Simon Rüegg are coming from Switzerland. They work for Präsens in Lucerne, and will possibly be creating a magazine during their workshop. In any case we are looking forward to an exciting workshop with a focus on print and typography. Dominik Rinnhofer from Karlsruhe is active in video mapping. He might also create a sculpture as part of his workshop, which will later be projected upon. 

Luca: Sascha Ehlert, who is in charge of the awesome “Das Wetter” magazine, will take part in the symposium. This is interesting for students, especially considering their own professional future. Colin Dörffler is back again as well. He was here last year already and we are really strengthening this Munich-Mannheim connection. We’ve got a great line-up this year!



So, over the years you have created a growing CAPTCHA network?

Luca: A lot has come together: workshop participants return as visitors of the symposium, we keep in touch and support each other.

Denys: The Network has really grown and we are constantly forming new friendships, which we maintain and cultivate. We rely on a large number of supporters and cooperators, without whom the festival would not be possible. In the Mannheim area we are supported by the kuehlhaus AG and Raum Mannheim, as well as by Frank Zumbruch, who is head of the Creative Commission over at Startup Mannheim. He will be moderating the symposium this year and shares his knowhow, which he has through the UNCOVER Design Festival, with us.



How do you guys see design developing in a more general sense?

Denys: Hard to say. Design is constantly developing in so many different directions. We grew up in the era of industrial design. Nowadays things are evolving faster and faster through the internet and social media. 

Luca: Today design is shaped by many influences; new ideas can come from any direction. Designers are exposed to a much larger audience and things are much more global in scope. Nothing is impossible and you can basically do whatever you want to.



Does this diversity manifest itself in CAPTCHA?

Luca: Sure! We’ve got all kinds of media – ranging from classical print, to extravagant video installations. 

Denys: We offer many different creative directions. This is what makes CAPTCHA so interesting to young designers, as they can work very freely here.

Where does the name CAPTCHA come from? And why do you guys call it “the CAPTCHA”? 

Denys: The name was chosen, as we aren’t robots!

Luca: In Mannheim many tend to call it “the” CAPTCHA and opinions are divided on the issue. To be correct one would have to call it “the CAPTCHA Design Festival”. But it’s just as controversial as the question on the correct pronoun for Nutella. In the end everyone can call it the way that feels right to them. 

CAPTCHA premiered in 2014. Were you guys part of the team then?

Luca: We are both currently studying design at the Mannheim University, in the fifth and sixth semester respectively. So in 2014 we both weren’t part of the team yet. Those who started the festival aren’t students anymore, but we know each other. Christian Hartmann, for example, supports us from a distance. In general the team is changed every year and we are in touch with many new people for each festival edition. At the moment we are a team of 11 students, ranging from the third through ninth semester. We’re a colorful mix of people, but things are working great!

Denys: Luca and I are not here for the first time, we got to know each other at the CAPTCHA. So we still know the people from before. Caro Kaiser from UNCOVER Designfest was there in 2014, when the motto was “liberation of writing”. We are well networked with each other, but each year is everybody is mostly doing his own thing.



As up and coming designers yourselves … what are your own specialties?

Denys: I’m not sure, to be honest. I’m interested in many different areas: spacial design, exhibition design, 3D design, but also UX design and print design. If I had to pick, then I guess I would choose 3D and spatial design.

Luca: My situation is similar. I’m not interested in limiting my possibilities at the moment. Currently I could see myself getting into interaction design. Though things can always change in a heartbeat. 

Were you ever part of the CAPTCHA Open Call?

Luca: Sadly, no. I directly became part of the organizational team, as I was so excited by the concept of the festival. Being part of organization and also participating is not realistic time-wise. I imagine it would be fun to exhibit my work though.

Denys: I also became part of the organizational team from the get-go. It’s been a blast and I’m glad to be part of the team. There just isn’t time to spend on creating anything for the Open Call, as organizing the festival is a lot of work.



You’re both from Mannheim. What is Mannheims spirit all about and what makes it an interesting place for young designers?

Luca: I feel at home here. This becomes most apparent to me every time I leave the city for a while. Whenever I come back it feels very inspiring and I discover new things in a place I know so well. These are the moments in which Mannheim can really shine.

Denys: I see Mannheim as a city of extremes. You can find rundown building facades, right next to shiny ones, lush parks beside concrete landscapes. Real Mannheim natives live right next to many different cultures – and it’s wonderful. You can enjoy the nature by the Rhine and also the perks of a big city as well.



Last question: What are you looking forward to the most?

Denys: Hmm … to the people, the designs, the exchanges – to everything really. It’s going to be a great week, I’m sure. 

Luca: I’m especially looking forward to our afterparty in the Disco Zwei, on the 7th of September. Once that party starts we will have completed the workshops and the opening reception. So the team will have earned a party to celebrate with friends and partners, fellow students and companions. Party, fun and networking are integral parts of the CAPTCHA experience.

Interview: Andreas Stanita / LA.MAG

Photos: Rainer Diehl

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