29 Jan Fresh Meat: Carla Saunders
Carla Saunders is a Johannesburg-based graphic designer, graduated from the Greenside Design Center College of Design. Images are her language and through these, she is driven to challenge our perceptions and preconcieved ideas with a conceptually rooted approach. We caught up with her for our yearly grad series to learn more about her thoughts on design, the project she’s most proud of to date and what she’s got planned for the year (and years) ahead.
How and why did you become interested in graphic design?
The reason the design field appeals to me is predominantly because of the communication aspect. Imagery is a language on its own and it affects our perceptions and understanding of things. This is something I am quite happy to be involved in.
What do you enjoy, or alternatively dislike, about it?
A dislike about the industry is how it has lost a lot of its integrity. It has become commercial and people have abandoned their passion for great design and valuable communication. As the First Things First manifesto, which was a call to action for a different approach to design, stated about the issue:
“Designers who devote their efforts primarily to advertising, marketing and brand development are supporting, and implicitly endorsing, a mental environment so saturated with commercial messages that it is changing the very way citizen-consumers speak, think, feel, respond and interact. To some extent we are all helping draft a reductive and immeasurably harmful code of public discourse.”
How would you describe your style, and what influences it?
My designs are influenced by an idea or commentary that usually takes a socially critical approach, and that is followed by research coupled with a concept that will give the execution direction.
What is your design philosophy? Or, what principles do you always work according to when designing?
Design communicates, therefore it’s such a powerful medium in which to relay information or an idea. What I aim to do with design is to attack and deconstruct harmful and sinister ideologies such as poverty and class, and to help society see the reality behind mere construct from a heteronormative system.
Was studying at the Greenside Design Center what you expected it to be? Has your perception of the field changed since your first year? And if so, how?
I enjoyed my time at GDC immensely. I doubt I would have evolved into the type of designer I am in a different environment, my exposure to great designers and taking a responsible approach to design is something I’m lucky for. My perception definitely changed in my second year, the possibilities of what can be done by designers became expansive and awe-inspiring.
What’s the best piece of advice you received while studying?
The best piece of advice was from my honours lecturer Robin Turner. Because of the commercial nature of the industry it becomes a common thing for aspiring designers to lose the fire in their belly about ideals and practice for change. He encouraged that one should not kill the flame, to hold on to it, because one day you could be in the position of opposing the norm, within your own studio for example.
Your approach comes across as being conceptually driven. Are aesthetics ever a starting point for you, or would you say this is secondary?
I believe form follows function, I do designs that just look beautiful but that can be compared with someone drawing out a doodle whilst talking on the phone. I believe a whole design becomes superficial and flimsy if it lacks a good strong conceptual foundation.
What is it that attracts you to editorial design specifically?
I think it’s a personal talent that evolved into a loved interest. I place great value in a publication design that is copy heavy, yet the designer found a way to make it simple, easy, engaging and an interesting process for the reader.
Which of your creative projects are you most proud of?
That’s a hard one. The one I found quite challenging, satisfying and enjoyable is the ‘Everything About Nothing’ project. It was formed to answer a brief from the ISTD (International Society of Typography Designers) – they launch yearly briefs for students to respond to, which are then judged on their typographical excellence and awarded membership into the society. What my project aimed to counteract or comment on was the general apathy felt by society.
This made me write out a narrative that was like a person having a late night existential musing over what the term ‘nothing’ means. Spaces in which the term ‘nothing’ relates were explored: like the execution being digital as it will occur in an intangible virtual space. Also, because the end result of the narrative is that nothing never means nothing, it always means something – if not everything – this digital output, which ended up being a 13m long continuous landscape orientated jpeg, was faxed through an old fax machine on a roll of thermal paper, so it ended up being a 13 m long fax. I used a fax machine because it has become a redundant technology in the traditional sense in South Africa, and because it prints through heat activating chemicals that are coated over the paper and they turn black. The paper however continues to react to heat and things like UV light so the text will fade away and the paper will go blank over time.
Coming up with the typographical output and design was an interesting venture within itself. I played around with the idea that without light we can’t see anything like colour or without looking we can’t tell one surface from another with no perspective. Therefore I decided to use light projections of my typography designs and interfere the light with substrates to alter or distort the appearance, capturing a different truth, that which is usually unseen.
What are your plans for 2015 and beyond?
To gain experience within my industry, get to know the field and how it works. My long term goal is to eventually start a tertiary institution that focuses on implementing and teaching critical design that will better society instead of viewing it as a consumer or “ism” group, along with a studio that will hopefully grow into an organisation that will give substance, support, research and guidance on how to build a socially critical method of designing.
Where can we stay updated with your work?
On my Behance profile. Keep a lookout for a few secret projects which I’ll hopefully be launching this year.
Publication design, ‘We Are the Hollow Men’:
‘What is this Place’, a series of design executions used to convey that an aesthetic pleasure can be found in that which is broken:
Publication design for an critical theory academic paper by Lindi Maritz: