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COLLECTIVE HOPE

Follow us at @collective_hope

COLLECTIVE HOPE

Collaboration No. 13

In Conversation With

x Leonardo de Vasconcelos

Sebastian Pren

July 28, 2020

Sebastian and Leonardo used the similarities in their different languages, Romanian and Portuguese, to convey the feeling of Speranţă / Esperança (Hope). We chat about the broadening perspectives in design and channelling the frustration and anger from this year into something productive.

© Sebastian Pren
CH

Hi Sebastian and Leonardo. Thanks for chatting with us! How are you both?

SP 

Hi there! I’m fine, thank you.

LV

Olá! I’m good, thanks.


CH

Could you tell us a bit about your creative practice?


SP 

Back in 2017, I studied Visual Communication at the National University of Arts (Bucharest, Romania). Soon after that, I joined the Fabrica (Benetton Research Center) design team. I spent almost two years there and learned a lot. I think the most important thing I learned was how to work on collaborative projects together with people from all over the world. I also learned how important research is, as part of the creative process. 

I still keep a sketchbook of doodles, notes and information for every project I work on. Other than this, I try to do my research as thoroughly as possible every time I work on a new brief.

I’ve always considered personal projects essential for my creative practice. Whether it’s a digital illustration or a mural, I try to learn as much as possible from every problem I face during the process. 

LV

I’m from a Brazilian design school with heavy roots in the German Ulm School, so my foundation is very Modernism centred. When I was a student, I used to see my professional and personal life as two separate worlds – the first one was influenced by design concepts like “less is more” and the other was as a Black student from a working-class background living in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Very dissonant, right?

My click came after questioning why something from Europe should influence my work more than my life as a Latin American. There is a Portuguese word we use when we talk about life experiences called vivência. After this, I took advantage of using vivênciae on every project instead of relying only on European design concepts, dogmas and methods. Since then, I’ve applied this line of thinking to every aspect of my life. I believe that we should not bend over to methods, but fold, cut and cross them, to make something based on our own views.

I have the practice of writing every idea down, be it on paper or digital. It helps me to construct meaning and to visualise possibilities. If it is a self-initiated project I try to think about the platform, digital or print, and the range. After the first definitions, I do some sketches and naturally the project takes shape. I must confess that I don’t have a method. It depends on the project as I’m constantly reevaluating my choices as a person and this affects my work.

CH

How has COVID-19, or 2020 in general, impacted your creativity and mental wellbeing? 


SP 

That’s a tough one. 

2020 has been a really strange year so far. Many of the projects I was working on got postponed or cancelled, and at some point, I was asking myself what I should do next. Working as a freelancer, you have to deal with these kinds of thoughts quite often, but it usually works out. I've tried to reach out to some studios I worked for previously, but as you can imagine, it was difficult for them as well. I’m keeping myself busy working on my personal projects or joining open calls, like Stay Sane, Stay Safe.

LV

Ugh 2020, worst year ever! My husband and I moved to the United Kingdom at the beginning of the year, right before coronavirus hit the country. We stayed at three different Airbnbs while waiting for an opportunity to afford a rented house in a competitive London market. In the meantime I was sending my portfolio to every studio in the city, hoping for a chance to find work. Unfortunately, the answer was all the same, and I needed to move ahead. To deal with this tough time, I created a series of illustrations with figures twisting inside their tiny houses dealing with daily routines during lockdown. It kept me sane and active while watching the daily updates of Boris Johnson on YouTube.

Then George Floyd happened, followed by João Pedro Mattos Pinto, a Black child killed by police while playing in his backyard at Morro do Salgueir (one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas). It was hard to deal with. Following this, a series of black squares popped up on social media as a response to show solidarity to Black people. This soon turned into a backlash, with companies adopting the square but being called out due to the many cases of racism inside their workplace. The black square movement was a glimpse into a new understanding of racial prejudice in the UK and the absence of Black people in design studios.

This had an enormous impact on my life and I’ve been trying to be active on the subject, channeling all the anger into something fruitful towards design. At the moment I’m doing research on Black designers – I’m planning on launching a project in the following months, fingers crossed.

© Leonardo de Vasconcelos
© Sebastian Pren
© Leonardo de Vasconcelos
CH

What have you changed in your life lately to make it more enjoyable?


SP 

I tried to find a better work-life balance. Last year, as much as I enjoyed being busy all the time, I realized that it wasn’t really healthy and I had to change something. 


LV

During lockdown, many spaces were closed. I didn’t know the city at all so I used this opportunity to walk and visit parks and boroughs. After lockdown, I scheduled a visit every weekend to cultural and touristic places. This fraction of normality was enough to help me not lose my mind. Now we are back to full lockdown again but I’m less anxious, so I think the plan worked well. One thing I enjoyed is the opportunity to watch live design talks. I think many of the events that would normally happen IRL have turned into something more accessible for everyone.

I’ve been trying to be less critical of my projects too, accepting that some things will only go back to normal after a vaccine solution.

CH

As an industry, how do you think we can better support creatives and their mental health? How do we bring about Collective Hope?


SP 

First, I think it’s really important to give equal chances to designers, especially those that are just out of school. The lockdown taught us that work can still be efficiently done remotely and I think this should encourage studios to expand their network and to give a chance to young designers as well. 

Secondly, it’s really important to understand you’re not alone. Working as a freelancer might make you think you’re on your own and it’s hard to ask for support when you’re facing difficulties. We can inspire collective hope once we start supporting each other as much as we can.


LV

I see two changes that must happen, one related to the design field and the other to society. The first one is the precariousness of the profession. Unpaid jobs and internships, few working rights, unpaid overtime and low salaries to survive in expensive cities. These policies are so common that companies expect this from professionals. From my point of view, as designers we must articulate and fight against this common idea and changes will come.

Second, we need actual change related to the lack of BAME designers in companies. Equality texts on job application websites are not enough, blind selection is not enough. Plan and action are necessary if we want to support creatives from all backgrounds to succeed, starting with the most affected. It is a problem that runs deeper than the design industry. I mean, it's not just changing design practices that will solve this problem, but allies can make it less painful. Collective hope for me is the answer. But, sad to say, we will only achieve it after some countries deal with actions from their past, like slavery and colonialism.

I like this quote from Antionette Carroll: “Like all systems, systems of oppression, inequality, and inequity are by design. Therefore, they can be redesigned."

CH

Lastly, what has working on this project meant to you?


SP 

It was really nice working together with Leo. We discussed a few possible routes in the beginning and then we decided to follow Leo’s idea, by writing “hope” in our native languages (Portuguese and Romanian).

Cheers to Campbell Hay for this nice initiative and thank you for inviting me to take part in this project. 


LV

I liked the proposal. I think it is exciting to be part of these movements as a response to COVID-19. 2020 will be in history and science books, so will design and related projects. When I met Seb, I did some research about him so that ideas could grow. One of them was his country of origin, Romania.

Our languages, Romanian and Portuguese, have the same Latin origin. I imagined that if I was lucky, “Hope” would be written similarly. I proposed the idea, and he liked it. I enjoyed the opportunity to use our nationalities as a starting point, it goes together with my approach which I discussed on the “creative practice” question. Even though we were both busy during the process, it was good to get to know Sebastian and his excellent work.

Cheers to Campbell Hay for the project!

Sebastian Pren

Leonardo de Vasconcelos

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