Me: Suzanne Boccalatte

Published:  May 10, 2011
Me: Suzanne Boccalatte

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

Words: Suzanne Boccalatte

I am always looking up and over things for inspiration and solutions.
My artistic training means I use the language of conceptual art in thinking about design. Simply, artists make work for themselves; designers make work for an audience. There aren’t many that cross over these boundaries. The exceptions are designers Milton Glaser and Barbara Kruger, and artist Donald Judd, who said his work is “the simple expression of complex thought”. I like to think that my work mirrors his sentiment.

I like to throw great design, writing and art into the mixing pot. I believe creativity is all encompassing. I discovered that the creative process is very transferable, realising this when I recently took a creative writing course, thinking I couldn’t write. I experimented with writing in the way I design: relax and go for it and see what happens. And often than not, that process works. I believe that designers, like writers, need to get into the ‘zone’ and often I’m most creative when I’m not thinking about it. I like to think of creativity as finding the ‘space between’. This sounds clichéd; however, the more relaxed I feel, the easier it is for ideas to appear. There is nothing like ‘writing out’ something. I often use cathartic writing to inform my design and art. In fact, I always start a design with a word. A word says 1000 pictures.

Crafted books are the way of the future. I don’t believe we will see the death of the book. I was told that we would have a paperless office in the 80s and it didn’t happen, and I was also told as a kid we would be eating space food sticks in the future and that didn’t happen. Books will be around in the future; however, they will be more considered. Not too long ago, I was lamenting the ‘technology bandwagon’, now I embrace it. As designers we need to be zeitgeists: across technology, fashion and culture. We need to be fearless when other people fear. That’s the basis of what we do. If the audience responds to a website, great. If they want a brochure, good. Or a social media strategy? Why not? We are responsible for communication and messaging, never mind the medium. Most importantly, people need engaging, original ideas, because in our time-poor, media saturated world, it is the idea that creates the audience. As designers we need to both specialise and broaden. Books will become more tactile and precious. Pulp fiction, airport novels and textbooks will thrive on iPads, but the book will stay. After all we are sensual beings and the demand is high. I like technology and I like books. Period.

Suzanne Boccalatte

I recently met the McSweeney’s publishing team in San Francisco and they were refreshingly disorganised and messy. They were also incredibly humble and nice. It’s funny having heroes from afar, like Dave Eggers – in reality they can be such regular people. Often the most interesting people I meet are the most ordinary and approachable and I think that’s nice. Being comfortable in your own skin is important.

I like to collaborate with my clients. They are bigger risk-takers and get involved and understand the creative process. Milton Glaser talks about not working with toxic people and I think there is something in that. Toxic people are the most fearful and controlling of process. I like working with people that are nice and those I could become friends with.

All our design work starts with a strong concept. Designers are more than ‘message dressers’. I believe the foundation should be in the idea. While I love style, the sublime and the beautiful, I am at my happiest when thinking about ways to access my clients and audiences’ emotions, trying to persuade them to like my ideas (clients) or to buy a ticket (audience). I am obsessed with the human condition, with what makes us desire one thing over another. I am obsessed with how we make decisions about what we like, often unconsciously. I am compelled to create that which moves me.

I recently took myself to a fairy-tale writing workshop and I am in the middle of writing a fairy-tale/children’s book. Fairy-tales are interesting because, like design, their foundations are based on human nature. As designers we can’t predict how one person or another might experience a design. We can guide our audiences and hope for the best. A concept or a good story does help. Fairy-tales may seem like innocent stories, but they contain profound lessons for those who delve deep into their meanings. A design is also an emotional experience. The tricky thing for designers is in unravelling an audience’s experience of design. When an experience hits a brain it is filtered – through our beliefs, our values, our memories, the society we live in, and countless other things. Most of this filtering happens in a split second and what we’re left with is our ‘own reality’, which provides us with the raw material we use to focus. The more ‘developed’ the audience, the deeper the experience. Concept and layering of meaning helps to, as Stefan Sagmeister says, “touch people’s hearts with design”. I’d like to think that I’m also contributing to the articulation of greater cultural meanings of life.

Suzanne Boccalatte

I believe that yoga and meditation can help us be better designers. Focusing attention on our inner worlds makes us more open, more balanced and definitely more creative.

One of my worst experiences was nearly drowning three years ago. I am now a lot less precious and I try to breathe often. Life is short and I fill my days with reading, writing, thinking and being creative. I try not to waste a minute of it. You never know when it could be your last.

We are asked more and more for strategy and not just design. Clients are wanting more bang for their buck and, as designers, we are in a good position to help them with strategy, as we often do this anyway. I think people have been fearful in the last few years and when people fear, they tend to shrink and shrivel. It was the sculptor Brancusi who said, “Nothing grows under the shadow of big trees”, and I think recently there has been too much shadow and not enough growth. But if trend forecaster Li Edelkoort is correct, as she often is, the world is shifting and there is a new sense of optimism. I certainly feel that.

Photography: Vanessa Echeverria.

From desktop magazine.

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