IN TER VIEW
The following interviews are part of a larger project for a thirdyear Directed Studies in Design Futures. We have conducted these interviews with Emily Carr alumni to gather knowledge about design practices, methodologies, experiences and advocay, while simultaneously taking the opportunity to showcase former students of Emily Carr University. The interviews were prepared with two specific audiences in mind; Current, the Design Research Journal, and the Design째, which both are web based publishing mediums for design research and degree content respectively. We are excited to share with you the outcomes of our project, and to create a legacy for Emily Carr, sharing the experiences and insights of alumni.
Bree + Solveig
The following is an interview with the Creative Director of Seven 25. Design &Typography, Isabelle Swiderski. The interview was transcribed from a video of our meeting in October, 2011.
Isabelle Swiderski was kind enough to spend a moment with us to talk about her design work, experiences and practices. She is an Emily Carr Communication Design alumna, and holds a Master of Arts in communications from the Royal College of Art in London. She is the founder and Creative Director of the Vancouver-based studio Seven25. Design & Typography Inc. Established in 2000, it became her full time commitment in 2006. One of the things that struck us about Isabelleâ€™s work was how it spans over multiple mediums. There seems to be a cross-pollination and generation of inspiration with ideas percolating all the time a result of her flexibility with various mediums. We were curious to learn more about her motivation and experiences around this.
SJ: There looks like there is a lot of learning transfer
focused on branding and developing my web skills.
going on between the different mediums. What
Then about two years ago I got back into filming.
kind of learning transfers have you discovered while
I am interested in the arts as much as politics,
and social change, and how we can use design
IS: Sometimes there are surprises and sometimes
thinking and design systems to trigger social
there are more expected [learning transfers].
change. Those are some of the major themes in
Certainly the refrain or the well known truth is
the work that I like to engage in; how we can have
that we are all basically telling stories. All of the things that I engage in are about telling stories, just in different ways. Film is really just another extension of what Iâ€™ve been doing. Even putting on Common Thread, an exhibition from a couple of years ago, came about whilst thinking about things that interest me and seeing how the input of other people can make the story more relevant to people. SJ: What interests you?
IS: I am curious about lots of things, so I keep
an impact beyond selling things. Making money
shifting focuses. For instance when I was at RCA
in the not for profit space is not a negative thing.
I did film work and when I moved back here I
If you can become self-sustaining, especially
with fewer grants available and less money from
SJ: How did you get involved in not-for-profit work?
agencies, it is super important. If a not-for profit
IS: I have always had an interest in our impact on
has the ability and the appropriate product to
the environment. Even through my childhood, it
move into the realm of social enterprise to be self-
was something that was close to my heart. As
sustaining, it is fantastic and, I think now, the way
time went on, I worked as a book designer for
several years and when I came back to Canada
SJ: Have you always had a clear vision?
IS: No. I think it comes through challenging yourself, discovering new things and going “oh, that’s interesting, I haven’t thought about that recently or haven’t thought about that in this way”. You may be collaborating with someone new or encountering something new, you’ve seen a show, or travelled somewhere; these all feed your curiosity and your interests. Hopefully it just becomes exponential to how you learn and hone your vision. Even if at the beginning you have
I did work with educational, cultural and not-for-
to perhaps compromise where you work, and it
profit organizations. Then I went to Rethink where
may not be exactly in keeping with your vision
I did mostly commercial work and realized what
or what you want to do. I think as long as you
interested me most. My direction evolved gradually.
allow yourself time to think about what it is you
This is not to say that we would drive people away
want to do, then eventually you’ll get there. I really
who are for profit, especially as social enterprises
believe in that. For example the film I am working
are a part of what we do.
on; It took me one and a half years to study and nine months to write the script and collaborate
SJ: How do you negotiate and navigate your work
with people, and now it’s realized. It was not
between the practical and the artistic?
instantaneous; I had to go and keep going. So,
IS: I try to balance things I am passionate about,
I think that if you can give yourself that space to
whatever they may be and hopefully work with
think about what it is that you aspire to, then there
people who are kind of in that space. I love
is a much better chance of it happening. And I
strategy and the big picture thinking that comes
think that makes it super exciting.
with branding and with identity work. Then the self-
Isabelle specializes in education, cultural and not-for-profit
directed projects, like Common Thread or the film
work. After she shared with us her insights on how we can
are driven by that space that I allow for, to think of
realize our aspirations, we asked what drove her work in this
what do I want to do next. More than calling it art,
it is just trying to get out of the business a little bit and think ‘well, why am I in this business? What
is it that I love about it?’ I think that helps me to
things going on in terms of identity now, because
identify what I may not be doing at that particular
of virtual identity and our real human physical
moment in my practice. I bring it in laterally through
identity. It’s become more and more complex I
another self-directed project.
SJ: Can you tell us a little about the self-directed
SJ: What characterizes the design community in
project you mentioned: “Common Thread” ?
IS: Sure. So the show happened in 2009 at Emily
IS: Well it does not feel very big. I think it is
Carr University of Art + Design. Because I’ve lived
changing. It felt to me, for a while, that it was not
and worked in various places and I also have a
very open towards the rest of the world. I think that is changing. Perhaps it has even changed already. I think that is very exciting. Even in obvious things
“There is more overlap and more of a sense of cross-pollination and a desire to bring all these different points of view into design practice and thinking.”
like conferences and people who are invited to speak. There are so many other disciplines that are enfolded now into design. It felt to me that different disciplines were considered more separate, maybe around a decade ago. There is more overlap and more of a sense of cross-pollination and a desire to bring all these different points of view into design practice and thinking. I think this is very exciting because it opens up opportunities to create projects that have broader boundaries. Maybe it is simply that I was not involved in those kind of things at that time.
mixed background, French, Canadian and Polish, I have always been interested in the hybrid identities
SJ: Do you find there is something missing in the
that we develop. I was curious to ask my friends
design community here?
around the world if they had a similar sense of
IS: I don’t know that it is the design community,
that, or if they defined identity in the same way I
but I think that the geographic separation that
did. Even when I was at Emily Carr I was always
exists in Vancouver is still something that I try to
fascinated by identity and how we form identity in
rebel against. I think for me personally that is the
those years of “teenager-dom” and the different
only issue, and I try to travel and communicate
influences that result in our personal identity. I
with people elsewhere for that reason. And it’s not
asked a few friends—I think it ended up being
because we don’t have talent here, because we
22 designers from around the world—to submit
do, but I just think it is important to have different
a poster. We paid for all the printing, framing and
points of view, otherwise you quickly fall into a rut.
installation. There are also so many interesting
SJ: So how do you rebel?
IS: Oh, I travel as much as possible. And with the studio, even though we are five years in, it is difficult to take more than a week off at a time. I really long for the days when I could just go away
One of the things we’ve talked about the geographical distance we need to negotiate when working in Vancouver. However we live in an increasingly globalized world and we were wondering if and how Isabelle might see evidence of a world sense of design occurring.
for even two weeks, but that will happen. And I am
SJ: Do you see evidence of a world sense of design?
very active online as well. And when I collaborate
IS: I think more as a tool rather than an aesthetic. I
with people or I am involved in projects that are
don’t think that there is a universal design aesthetic
self-directed, I try to involve people from other
or style, which is a good thing in my opinion. But
countries. Or if I am lucky enough to be asked to
I do sense that there is a global movement that
be involved, then that is very exciting.
understands and values the influence that design
SJ: Are you currently involved in a self directed project like this?
IS: Well, I am due for a new one for sure. I was asked to contribute to one recently. A friend of mine in Berlin has written a book about how you evolve as a designer called “I used to be a student too” and it was a comparison of work that we did in school and some work that we are doing now and discussing what may have changed. SJ: What have you discovered as major changes?
IS: How much time I spend working...And, maybe
can have in bettering the ways in which we live
more of a focus on what interests me personally.
and that is certainly one that I am particularly
Certainly, I don’t think I allowed myself that space
attentive to. And I think it’s miraculous how quickly
in school. I mean, being at Emily Carr you know
ideas can be disseminated now. That is part of
what it is like. Third year was horrendous for me.
the reason that I love twitter. Just this morning,
But even in fourth year, especially as designers
there is an organization that is trying to create a
we seem to be so petrified by who knows what,
video on demand system for Canadian film and
the world or missing a deadline. There is a lot
then I discovered this small local company that is
of navel gazing that goes on and so I think it is
doing the same thing for GLBQ films and so I just
very liberating when you get a little older to have
tweeted “I am wondering if these two organizations
that space to say “What do I love? What am I
are talking about whether there is overlap” and I
got a response that they were now, thanks to that virtual connection, talking to each other. When else could you have that kind of influence. I don’t
know these people personally, but I like what they
SJ: How do your clients respond to this method
are doing and it crossed my mind that potentially
they could help each other out. How cool is that?
IS: There are clients who really value the
So if you bring that tiny thing on a bigger scale
collaboration and want to understand the process
its absolutely fantastic. I discovered for instance
and to contribute to it. Which makes it all the more
52x52, where you sign up to pledge to give money
rewarding, because no matter how much research
every week to a charity for 52 weeks. People are
you do, as an external player, you can bring in a
finding out about it and the money is growing
fresh perspective, but you never know as much
exponentially. I cannot think of another time when
as the organization themselves. So those clients
you could do that sort of thing.
challenge us and keep it interesting. I always compare it to teaching because teaching and
SJ: What kind of things do you tweet about?
interacting with clients is the same in the sense
IS: I tweet about design, typography, film,
that everybody needs something different from
politics and not-for-profit. I am really interested in
you. And you have to be open to how everybody
networking and the film was a perfect example of
learns or wants to interact. So if you are able to
that. I was just so humbled by how many people
listen and adapt then hopefully the collaboration
came onboard, offering help and skills. I think
is fruitful. As with students and as with clients
social media facilitates those kind of connections
you have to allow that person the room to be a
participant in the exchange. Itâ€™s fascinating and challenging at the same time.
We were intrigued by the way Isabelle had broken down her method and process on her website into the elements: strategy & planning, substance & tone, form & style.... For us it reflected a lateral thinking process and we were curious how clients responded to her approach.
Watch the interview with Isabelle on the Current blog: current.ecuad.ca
IN TER VIEW