Me: Jonathan Zawada

Published:  February 13, 2012
Me: Jonathan Zawada

Each month desktop asks a creative to write about their background, inspirations, mentors and views on design.

Simultaneously working as a visual artist and a graphic designer, Jonathan Zawada explains his creative process and how some of his best ideas have come to him while washing the dishes.

Words: Jonathan Zawada

I have no qualifications. I only finished the first six months of my bachelor of design degree before I left to take a job with a small company that built websites. My role was not as a designer, but really just as a coder and builder. At the time, though, income was far more important to me than an education. For me at least, learning is best done on the job; the challenges and pressures are real, not abstract, and so are the results of your work.

The work I create is no reflection of the work I like. From the beginning of my career in design, my goal was to ensure that the work I created was a reflection of my clients’ goals and ideals rather than of my own. Initially, this was informed by the belief that a design that was recognisably attributable to an individual designer actually serves to promote the designer at the expense of the message the client wishes to communicate. This approach has led me to creating work that isn’t an emulation of the things I would like in my life, but rather something else entirely – it is external to me completely. For me at least, I feel like it’s a healthy approach to have towards creative work. It helps separate it a little from my personal creative desires, which is important when you’re working from home and the concept of ‘bringing your work home with you’ is already unavoidable.

Learning about personalities is the fundamental underpinning of my design practice and by far the most enjoyable part. I was always – and still am – quite socially retarded. Luckily, my career has given me an avenue and a framework within which to meet and get to know lots of different people with very diverse desires and views of the world. And my job has often been to translate those into a visual language. It’s the part of my job that I get most excited about when I’m starting a new job. I think it’s also the reason why I’ve often been bad at holding down long-term jobs or client relationships. The most fertile design territory comes when I’m first trying to get to know the complicated world that the client is coming from.

Jonathan Zawada by Pierre Toussaint.

Rather than ‘liking’ and ‘hating’ things, I’ve found in reality I ‘like’ or ‘am jealous of’ things. I’ve tried to find exceptions to this rule, but so far I’ve come up with none. Even in the most extreme cases of god-awful things, at its core my disdain generally comes from part of me that wishes I could have got away withit. That isn’t to say that there are also a lot of things that I like that I am also jealous of, but I’m far more accepting about those things and they don’t get under my skin so much.

I am a terrible, terrible collaborator. Just ask my patient friend and total genius, Shane Sakkeus. I really don’t know why that is, I guess I must be a total control freak. I’m also quite scared of people I don’t know, which is a bit of a shame because the work I like best that I have created is the work I have made with other people.

A lot of my best ideas are the result of my poor eyesight. I should really wear glasses all of the time, but I often don’t. An awful lot of images I have create something I’ve misidentified from a distance and thought, ‘Wow, that’s such a clever idea’ and then, upon closer inspection, found out it was something far more pedestrian, leaving me with some little egg of an idea that seemingly manifested itself completely out of the ether.

The most effective way I have found to think about a design solution is not to think about it at all. Over years of trying to get past creative blocks, I’ve discovered that the process of design is by and large best left up to my subconscious. My conscious brain second guesses itself and analyses the problem at hand too aggressively – like it’s holding onto it too tightly to allow it to grow. More design solutions than I can count have come to me while washing the dishes or walking through the supermarket.

For me, design and art aren’t in the same ballpark, or even the same state. I often get asked about what I think the differences are between art and design, and I think the difference is pretty fundamental and absolute. Design is work created for somebody else, the client. It has quantifiable results and it has a measurable purpose in the world. At its core, design is centred on the communication of a message and the success of that communication can be measured. To me, art, by contrast, is entirely subjective; it simply comes from the person that created it and serves no measurable purpose. It may have no message at all to be communicated or, if it does, it will have very blurry edges that can never really be pinned down. I’ve always thought design, especially effective design, employs an established visual language, images as placeholders for words and messages. It relies on that premise to function. Whereas art constructs this visual language from scratch each time over or at least develops new dialects as it goes, and the viewer gradually learns that language by osmosis.

Photography by Pierre Toussaint.

Design = waste. I used to believe that a good designer could affect, in a social or environmental way, the world for the better, but I’ve come to realise that that view of a designer is completely antiquated and sentimental. No matter which way I look at it, design to me can never be seen as anything much more than simple decoration that comes at the end of a series of prior decisions that have been made by marketers, accountants and businessmen and as a result is, when viewed totally objectively, completely superfluous and thus wasteful.

We can remove the designer. In the world of the ubiquitous, accessible and versatile computer, all aspects of the profession can now be completed, not by a third party interloper who arrives very late in the process, but by the author or creator of the item themselves. The removal of the Designer with a capital D is not only more efficient, but also more honest, especially considering the ever-decreasing lifespan of designed items within our world. Design really has now been entirely separated from the truly ‘creative’ part of the process and simply become the layer of style that is placed on top at the very end – like icing on a cake. As such, it is only a reflection of the tyranny of style and taste that is manifested from the most fickle and transient part of the culture that created it. Design has been squeezed into an ever-tightening corner by the economics of production over decades of increased efficiency, and now that the message is in a constant state of intangible flux across a multitude of digital mediums, traditional ideas of design have, in many ways, become shackles that restrict rather than liberate the item from reaching its audience.

All images are copyright by Pierre Toussaint.

From desktop magazine.

One Response

  1. Wow, Mr Zawada.

    Here’s a man who knows his own mind.
    Not that I agree with him, but his opinions are so well formed and he’s not scared to offend.

    Also, I like that there is no convenient silver lining after the the statement ‘we can remove the designer’. What I most like about this article is that it brings up a lot of questions and doesn’t try to have the answers.

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