Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

Design Student Questions

April 22, 2013, 1:25 PM

I was recently approached to answer six quick questions for a student’s project on self-promotion and working in the industry. It’s always great to share what I’ve learned, knowing that I would have never gotten this far without the help of some very kind people. Here they are:

1) How many projects do you work on in a week?
I usually work on two or three projects in a week, sometimes less or more, depending on the workload and clients’ feedback speed. Aside from these, I also work on one or two personal projects. Picturing Thoughts is one of them.

Three of the 'Picturing Thoughts' posters — many more on the website

Three of the ‘Picturing Thoughts’ posters — many more on the same-name website

2) Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew earlier?
I wish I had better teachers, but maybe it’s better that I’ve learned most on my own and by ‘stealing’ from the great people that I was lucky to work with. The best piece of advice I ever got is this: “decide if you want to be one of those looking at others’ work, or one of those doing their own work”. No amount of looking or teaching beats doing a lot of work yourself, paid or not.

3) Other than design what other things would I expect to work on as a designer?
It’s really worth keeping an eye on a few other subjects, not just design. Reading a lot will get you far, and an interest in photography helps as well. In the beginning I also worked in advertising, so a bit of knowledge about that is very useful. Not long ago I’ve put together a list with ten great books to read for a young creative, each with a few details. Aside from those, there’s also a very good book on copywriting, by Roger Horberry. Rory Sutherland’s (from Ogilvy) book is a lot of fun (really) and full of insights on how people buy things (behavioural economics, it sounds fancy but the book is not). All this reading will not only teach you a lot of useful things, but it will also make you more articulate, very useful especially when dealing directly with clients. A good designer is an educated one, with many interests outside ‘design’.

4) How did you get your first design job?
My first job came through a recommendation from one of my teachers, but at the time I was still a student so it was a part-time. I got my first ‘real’ job, after finishing school, by emailing all the top agencies in town. A couple of them called me for interviews and decided to hire me, I picked the first one. Since then, I’ve often used this approach (writing to the people I thought I’d enjoy working with and learning from) with quite good results, even if it meant just meeting them at first — projects usually came a bit later on. I’ve recently written a blog post for David Airey, you might find it interesting as well: On finding design work in a new country.

5) Do you feel as a designer it is better to be an all rounder or work in a specific field?
I’ve always been interested in working on a large variety of projects, maybe because I’ve studied both graphic and industrial design. The most interesting ideas and solutions appear from apparently unrelated subjects, and you can’t come up with them if you tend to do the same things. Not to mention how boring it gets, working on just packaging, just editorial or just identity design.

6) What is your favourite piece of design work and why?
This one’s very difficult, I don’t have just one favourite. I have a few favourite companies that I follow and try to learn from. Here are some great projects from a few of them, in no particular order: Pentagram, Wolff Olins, Lava, Studio Dumbar, EdenSpiekermann, johnson banks. Out of my own projects, it’s a bit tough picking one, as I always feel things can be improved, but let’s say I’d go with Baudeman, as it relies on a simple idea and is very striking visually.

The questions were sent by Laura-marie Saul — thank you.
You might also find Peter McCabe’s answers interesting.

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Design: The World of Minale Tattersfield — Book Review

April 27, 2011, 1:52 PM

Minale Tattersfield is one of the top British design companies, founded back in 1964 by Marcello Minale and Brian Tattersfield. They are now a global company, with eight offices all around the world.

The Design: The World of Minale Tattersfield book presents their work and their ideas. Their first book, ‘Design a la Minale Tattersfield’, published in 1986, ‘explored its artist-designer origins in the creative ferment of the early 1960s and charted its spectacular tradition of invention up to the mid-80s’ — as Jeremy Myerson, the book’s author says (he is also the founder of the DesignWeek magazine). The new book takes up the story, covering more than 25 years, starting from the 60s and continuing with the transition period in the 90s, with the expansion of the company and the increasing globalisation of the design industry. Read on for more info and pictures.

» Continue reading

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Paul Rand: Conversations with Students — Book review

January 2, 2011, 9:52 PM

«Everything is design. Everything!» … «It is important to use your hands, this is what distinguishes you from a cow or a computer operator.»

Starting with bold, very Rand-like quotes, Paul Rand: Conversations with Students, written by Michael Kroeger, is a small book divided in two parts: first, the conversations themselves, from February 1995 (first between Kroeger and Paul, together with his wife Marion, then between Rand and students from the School of Design, Arizona State University) and second, five homages from designers that had the privilege of studying with him closely. The author himself had the privilege of an individual one-week session in Brissago, Switzerland — as did Phillip Burton, Armin Hoffman, Herbert Matter and Wolfgang Weingart (also the book’s Foreword writer).

» Continue reading

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On quitting the best job & taking on world’s best: London

September 12, 2010, 5:46 AM

A DESIGNER’S COMING OF AGE

After three years and a half, Friday (September 10) was my last day at Brandient. I remember that during the first year, I was quite unsure if I had made the right decision, of quitting advertising. Gone were the large creative department with the big TV, the couch and the tennis table, the all-night free-bar parties followed by oversleeping, the sexy girls from the PR department, the “cool” factor that surrounded me whenever I said “I’m an Art Director”. Being a designer felt much more serious — less fun, more thought. And it felt lonelier. Fewer and fewer understood what I was talking about now: typography, grid, guidelines, packaging strategy etc. Not to mention the increasingly hard to answer parents’ question: “What do you do exactly?” Sadly, in my country, when I say “I’m a designer”, most still assume I’m in the fashion business.
Oh, the pain…

After two years though, gone were the doubts. Sure, I’d still envy from time to time my art director best friend’s living la vida loca style, but there I was, a 25-year-old, working on large national rebranding projects, having his designs produced in almost all the cities around the country. And those were not simple six-months-lasting outdoor campaigns, but large retail solutions, built to last for at least five or ten years. And it was all thanks to the small group that ‘angrily’ wants to make work that would rival the world’s best in a country that constantly tries to hold them back — and in a market where competitors would rather shoot themselves in their own foot than help build branding and design as a highly-valued and respected profession.

Three years and a half later, I’ve been part of some of the biggest rebranding projects ever to take place in Romania, I’ve learned more than ever and I’ve settled on what I like and want to do for a living. Projects with full responsibility have given me more confidence in my skills and in my decisions while working along the other designers has made me understand that any design approach can be valid, as there is no absolute truth in design, but a multitude of solutions. We are not saving people’s lives, even though we sometimes act like it’ll be the end of the world if the deadline isn’t met. That doesn’t mean that we are less important, as our work influences everybody’s lives, day after day. That comes with its moral responsability, and you can easily fall down the 12 Steps on the Graphic Designer’s Road to Hell, as Mr. Milton Glaser wisefully advises against. But here I go, raving again about the greater impact and  importance of design — but that’s just another important thing I’ve learned in these years: thinking like a designer and living like one, 24/7. Being a designer is a way of life, not just a job.

Some might say that writing all this is a little pathetic, overdramatic or just lame. But it has become a habit these days to forget the people you owe to. Everybody is so self-centered that few remember to even say thank you. Nobody is born all-knowing. And don’t be fooled, nobody got wise all by themselves. It takes a lot of confidence and shared experience from the older ones for you to get any smarter.

So here it is, my pledge to Brandient for giving me the best job by far a designer can have in Romania: thank you.

•••

AIMING SKY-HIGH: MOVING TO LONDON

A few years ago I was quite the unforgiving with those that chose to leave the country. There is so much here to do that I hardly could understand the ones that left in search of the better life, that few ever got. But as usual, the wheel turned around and I became just like them: eager to leave. There are many reasons*, but I’ll name just a few.

First, the challenge
Who wouldn’t dream of working together with the best in the world? Pentagram, Wolff Olins, Brand Union, Landor and so many other top companies that I look up to — why couldn’t I be there? They’re human, just like everybody else. Just as I’ve dreamed while in college of working at Brandient, the best in Romania, my dream these days is to succeed in working and learning from the best in the world. You’ll never get very far if you don’t aim high enough.

Second, the right time
I’m 28 years old. I’m not married (but I am in a stable relationship, and yes, we’re moving together). I do not have kids, nor do I plan to in the next three or four years. Even though I might be old by Alexander The Great standards, I think I still have much to learn and experiment. Just as Siddhartha, the best way to learn about life is to go out and experience it by yourself, in as many ways as you can, to see what you’re really made of. So, as O-Ren says: “Now’s the f***ing time!”

Third, the political, economical and social situation
There’s been more than 20 years since the fall of communism in Romania. Sadly, we’re still ruled by the left-overs of the dictatorial regime — corrupted politicians incapable of putting together even the slightest plan for economic stability. Local businesses are striving for survival while the government seems to excel at punishing any succesful entrepreneurship. Socially, the large majority of the population slowly sinks into cheap, mindless consumerism and cultural vulgarity. Worst thing of all, people have lost the pride in their professions, everybody just hopes to hit “the jackpot” somehow. There is no real self-respect, no trust in anything whatsoever.

Why London?
Because Marry f***ing Poppins, that’s why :)) It’s one of the biggest metropolises in the world and one of the most diverse. People’ve been gathering there for centuries, and those who make it are among the best. Sure there are plenty designers there (some 40k, from what I hear), but intelligent, hard working people are never enough, no matter how big the city. I don’t think I have to tell you about the artistic, the architectural, the ever-moving London. Last but not least, since almost everyone’s usually from some place other than London, moved in recently or having lived there for decades already, the differences between ‘locals’ and newcomers are easily overcome, unlike in other big capitals (Paris, for instance).

What will it take?
Luck, mostly — and patience. The cold hard truth is that it doesn’t matter so much how talented you are, but how well connected you are. Most of the time it’s just about being at the right place, at the right time. However, the good news is that luck can be ‘helped’. Sitting on your ass all day never got anyone very far, that’s for sure.

What’s left behind?
A huge need for design, for education, for sincere art, for competent and upstanding professionals, for succesful entrepreneurs. But that won’t happen without visionary leadership. Until then, Romania remains pretty much a no man’s land, where everyone is fighting for himself and nobody wins.

All in all, moving to London is a big gamble — but then again, I don’t want to look in the mirror twenty years from now and ask myself “Why didn’t you try at least? Were you too scared? Were you too comfy?”.

In the end, I’m hoping for the best, but getting ready for the worse. I’ll be living and working in London from September, 25th.

*Disclaimer: the idea of moving to London came first as a personal decision, but this is another story for another time :)

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