I had the joy of studying with a lot of amazing designers, one of them being Kevin Yuen Kit Lo, who I actually found out about margins from. [read his interview] He’s a brilliant example, one of the most idealistic designers out there, working for such great causes, political work. He’s a very committed artist that works with an amazing community. Another designer, Sarah Boris, a dear friend of mine, is working in London on a lot of book cover designs. She was a creative director at Phaidon and before that the ICA and the Barbican in London. She has recently been voted as one of the most influential female designers out there right now. Other people like Klaus Birk became a professor in Switzerland and Germany right after the MA, doing groundbreaking teaching work at some of the best universities in German-speaking surroundings.
There were a whole bunch of really talented people who were shaped by that MA at the London College of Printing, that they possibly couldn’t go back into regular, commercial work – they really found their niche in working for really important causes. It’s not easy to do, but those guys teaching us gave us the trust and belief to know that as a designer, you might come across manipulation a lot and if you do have to manipulate people into things, you have to make it important for our community, and not just capitalistic values. So I think that influenced me a lot, because when I do commercial work, I’m very aware and choose very wisely.
I caught up with Austria-based designer, Constantin Demner over Skype, which was perhaps fitting for the way he likes to work. Not satisfied with working in a limited market, Constantin considers himself a 'digital nomad' who deals with clients from all over the world. During our call, he shared his thoughts on the familiarity of the design process, the impact his MA peers have had on him and the design field, and what it's like to work out of his backpack.
What about inspiration from outside the fields of design and art?
That’s a big question. But generally speaking I would say what made me want to go into graphic design was skateboard culture, the early days of skateboarding. I’m going to be 40 soon, and so that was almost 30 years ago, when I got into that and the subculture that surrounded it. The magazines and visual culture made us perceive environments in a completely different way, and see things through a different filter, in a creative way. Just moving through the city and wondering how you can interact with things that other people might take for granted. That’s one of maybe the pillars of my inspiration and how I came into the visual design world.
Besides that, everything Japanese. Just the way the Japanese do the most mundane, everyday things in such an artful way. It’s so close to design – if you look at Japanese woodworking techniques, it’s just mesmerizing. The craft and the art that goes into the smallest details is something I’m very attracted to.
What's in your margins?
I recently got myself a studio space, which is exciting because I’m usually working out of
my backpack. It’s a temporary space in an old tractor factory in the outskirts of Vienna.
There’s a whole bunch of artists out there. My neighbor is a really talented screenprinter
printaffaires.com and risograph printer, so I have access to his printing studio, and I’m going to be doing a lot of experimental work there in the next year.
Edited by Padmini Chandrasekaran
Tell us about your thought process working through your favorite project.
The biggest project I did was a self-initiated one for my MA, called “Walk”. That took half a year to finish and was an intervention into public space. I painted a 2km wide line onto the pavement in East London, in Spitalfields. I applied stencils on to the pavement with local historical facts and geographical references. It functioned as an unguided City Walk. I thoroughly researched the area and discovered behind the walls and windows, there was so much information and history, and I wondered how I could communicate that back to the people who were moving through that space.
I figured out by using the language of street art, I could open up certain dimensions or levels of history and understanding. My teachers back then had a hard time dealing with that project because it was so hard to put it into an academic context and judge the effectiveness of that. But I found a few different ways to gather information from people in the public space interacting with it to record and analyze the information. It got published for many, many years. Even today, I still get people writing to me asking if they can publish it. It’s still alive. So that’s something I deeply enjoyed because it took my capability of communicating an idea visually, and put it into the street, a place which belongs to all of us. It’s one of the last things that really belongs to citizens. It was one my favorite projects, just because of the immense amount of work that went into it and because it really came from within. I remember, I really had to finish it for my course and I knew I had to deliver, so I actually even got busted by the police back then. I told them what I was doing and they really liked it and said, “okay just continue,” because they were really digging it.
Can you tell us more about your experience across various mediums – do you have a different approach to motion work versus print work?
After all these years of working in a creative world with deadlines, actually the process is always the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s motion or print work or even renovating an old door, doing woodwork. Any kind of brief, for me, just follows the same milestones.
The process always feels so familiar, so I just apply my experience with design to many different disciplines. Even now, I’ve been renovating this door and it’s so much work and it’s just the same as a design job. At the beginning you get excited, do the sanding bit, and you realize, “oh my god, it’s so much work”. You have to dust it off and clean and paint the first layer and let it dry and put the filler in and sand it and let it dry, and you do it all over again. It’s so many steps and if you get stuck in the timeline and think about how long it’s going to take it gets really frustrating. But if you zoom out of the timeline, you realize it’s very familiar and you’ve been through the same things in other moments of your creative career. So you just realize you have to do it and enjoy the process and enjoy the sanding and forget how long it takes, just sand. And when you zoom back into the timeline you realize, “I actually got quite far and it looks so much better than it did before.”
“[Our professors] were ex-punks that told us they were going to take everything we knew and shake it out of us, to relearn.”
The creative process for me is like a download. I’m the vessel and I just have to download that information through me. I don’t really have to do anything, I just have to be patient and zoom out of the timeline and allow myself to be the funnel to download that creative input and put it out. That applies to any creative work, whether that’s making a music video and doing the editing, or designing an album cover. An album cover is such a big one because you’re working with musicians who have spent months or years creating a very personal, deep, emotional body of work. They give it to you and you have to find that one image that translates all of that. It’s overwhelming, but if you realize you’re just a vessel, the information is out there. If you just open the right port and leave it open, the information is going to download. You just have to trust that process.
Tell us about your background in the industry and how you started studioelastik.
I started out in Austria studying at a two-year graphic design course that was tailored to enter the industry. We did a lot of analog stuff to get started–a strong typographic foundation. After about a year at an agency, I decided I wanted to go into freelance, so I founded studioelastik in 2001. I started to get my first gigs through friends and the art community here in Vienna, Austria, where I’m based now. I then applied for a one-year MA in Typographic Design at what was formerly the London College of Printing, now the London College of Communication. I took my studio work with me to London and worked on that parallel to my MA, and was there for about six years. After London, I moved to Brighton, which was an amazing creative environment to be in. There was an especially strong connection to the music scene there. It was a breeding ground for indie and electronic music, and I made a lot of contacts there and got invited into designing for music: album covers and visuals for live shows.
I had a phase where I was really busy and didn’t enjoy what I was doing anymore so decided to take a sabbatical and went to Africa for 6 months, which was a real life changer. It was like a parallel universe, showing me everything I was missing here, but it was also missing everything I had back in my actual life. So after that I decided to come back to my hometown in Vienna where I’d inherited my grandparents’ house and now I’ve been back almost ten years. I’ve since turned that house into an artist’s space where artists live and work. We have a small communal garden and it’s a very special place here.
“You’re just a vessel, the information is out there. If you just open the right port and leave it open, the information is going to download. You just have to trust that process.”
What are your thoughts on inclusion within a team or project? Do you feel like your experience with the design field in Europe is different than in the US?
I would say I work alone a lot, so most of my work is kind of lonely. I team up with my clients and I only enjoy working with clients who join the process. The more trust there is, the more excited the client is and the better the outcome. I’ve never really even seen myself as a European designer even though I guess I am. The name studioelastik was chosen because I wanted to be flexible and work anywhere and grow and expand or contract depending on my projects. My market is really international. I never set out to be the best in Austria, I just went for what I wanted. I work with labels in the States and clients from all over the world. I’m working with artists who come from the craziest backgrounds and situations. I never felt like the industry was that one-dimensional, but I do get lonely moments working on the computer. Recently I’ve realized that and started teaching because I needed more feedback and connection with other people–to look someone in the eyes–not just me and the client remotely over skype or email.
I’m interested in the fact that you work mostly alone – did you not enjoy the agency environment when you started?
I enjoyed it because I learned a lot. But Austria is a small market, and I was never satisfied working in a limited market. In the States or the UK, you have industries for the most bizarre niches, but in Austria if you’re into fashion or music, there are only a few labels, so I always felt restricted by that. If you want to work in the music industry, that’s a global thing. With studioelastik, I think I’m one of the first people I know who would travel with his computer, and just go sit somewhere in a weird café hacking his mobile phone to his computer for an internet connection. For myself, I really invented that term, Digital Nomad. I always had my work in my backpack because I realized I could. So I set that trend for myself. I didn’t have people to follow–I started that when it was something that people weren’t really doing back then. I’d like to continue doing that. I don’t want to be limited by geographic boundaries because they seem so outdated.
What’s on your agenda for 2018?
One thing I definitely will say for myself in 2018 is I want to get more into teaching. I realized there are all these amazing young, hungry, talented designers out there. Rather than competing with them and fighting to have my voice in this growing sea of talented people, I want to work with them, team up and help. There will be more work with musicians – a band called The Acid who recently scored an experimental film called The Bomb, about nuclear bombs. I was very lucky to be invited to design with them. The whole project was art directed by Stanley Donwood, the designer of the Radiohead artwork. I have another project designing for a musician in California. And the rest, you never know with freelance design, things just come up whenever they’re ripe. So, I’m open to new challenges.