INTERVIEW WITH GIORGIO BARAVALLE
Creative Director, de.MO
There are some days where I feel everything is against me. Other days make it feel like it was meant to be. Scheduling an interview with an interviewee was a struggle, but I was finally able to find someone who expanded my personal approach and thoughts on my thesis topic.
To begin this exercise, I started with a list of interview questions related to my topic, and generated a list of possible interview candidates who are knowledgeable of sustainability. The list was expanded to their personal knowledge of the medical field issue, and how their design experience would lead them in this situation.
However, I contacted AIGA in Cincinnati, faculty members at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, a professor at Savannah College of Art and Design, and faculty from the University of Cincinnati. I heard back from two faculty, who never responded after our last communication. These idea candidates related to sustainability, graphic design, and the issue of syringes in the trash.
Alas, Giorgio Baravalle, Creative Director at de.MO, was willing to have a phone discussion informing me through his experience, knowledge, and perspective. I was able to reflect more on my topic and explore how graphic design will be utilized for a solution. Baravalle’s film suggestion, “Puncture,” strongly related to my topic. It reveals a side of the health care industry people usually doesn’t see, and how profit influences decision-making, a point Baravalle touched upon during our discussion. I expanded questions to gain an understanding of his approach to design solutions, especially one so specific as mine. The questions previously created served as a guide, as I planned for other questions to evolve as the discussion went along; some smaller questions were asked, but only to clarify key points (those are integrated in the summarized answer). I also wanted to know what personally motivated him to create designs for socially responsible projects.
Q: Were you aware of the issue with the disposal of at-home used medical injection devices (such as needles and syringes)?
This question was very general question, which Baravalle felt was difficult to answer. He knows of the current situation with syringe waste and safety, but has limited knowledge and therefore felt limited in design solutions. It was kind of difficult for him to say how graphic would impact this issue and how to consider a solution this early in design planning. Graphic design can impact this situation and it would be an issue to tackle, but more knowledge of this topic would be needed. It was probably best to answer my other questions first, and then come back to this one.
However, Baravalle, felt the first step would consider a design solution for the product, such as a retractable needle. Then, deciding on a solution on how to prevent people from throwing exposed needles in the trash would be the next step. Educating the public against the danger and how it affects others is key. A series of tools would be developed to make this happen. As we solve problems, we find solutions. Apps, web design, videos, and social media could be used to educate people, other than TV and traditional forms of communication.
Q: What design disciplines would you utilize in educating people about this problem? To my knowledge, there is no industrial design solution.
At this point, Baravalle introduced me to the film, “Puncture,” which follows a lawyer and his firm in revealing a side of the health care industry we don’t see (based on true story). It discusses syringe design and the avoidance of transmitting diseases through contaminated needles. A nurse has a needle-stick injury and contracts hepatitis, and she wants the firm to bring this issue to light. However, a product solution was developed, but the corporations involved shut it down. Baravalle felt this film was very relevant to my topic, and politely informed me that there is a solution – it’s just not public.
Baravalle’s reasoning about why syringe design hasn’t changed is because of the corporations…“end of discussion, right?” A solution has to work for the corporation, and it all comes down to profit and convenience (branching into politics). What’s needed is education and a change that works for society. It’s a challenging issue because it goes against capitalism. Sustainability isn’t necessary profitable, and therefore is a concern for corporations. It goes against them as a power, their beliefs, and goals. Without this barrier, this complex issue would be easy to solve and implement, however, it’s the corporations that seem to be halting the process.
Q: Have you had any projects with a connection to the medical/pharmaceutical field? Do you think sustainability is something they would be interested in?
Baravalle does have clients in the pharmaceutical field, but has not encountered medical projects related to sustainability. Are these clients interested in sustainability? “Yes, maybe.” Again, it goes back to profit. Everybody loves to promote sustainability, as it will save us. One way or another, society will get there, but it’ll take longer to implement because of the corporation profit issue. The companies favor sustainability, but it would need to be a smart solution so they would still make their profit. A perfect compromise would please everyone, but it requires a huge amount of change.
Q: In your interview with PDN (2011), you mentioned liking to create designs that make the viewer think differently about everyday actions. What do you feel are the best design disciplines to visualize this practice?
Design disciplines (or mediums) change according to what you’re trying to accomplish. Baravalle discussed examples of his work such as the books based on 9/11 and Chernobyl. These are social problem issues, which are hard to identify and understand in society. As it’s hard to change people’s minds (“almost impossible”), what needs to be achieved is something that makes people think differently, thus the process of re-thinking. A design can’t propose what is wrong and right or it will turn the viewer away. What one needs to do is offer a different point of view, different solutions, and different ideas. People are more receptive to this, and will connect the dots on their own. Basically, designers start a process of viewer thinking by introducing a topic or making a suggestion, with the goal being the viewer taking initiative to research more and expand their ideas (“just a little nudge to start the process”). The process of informing changes every time, but the concept is the same. Keep in mind that there isn’t only one solution (“there could be 150 more”).
Baravalle stated that there is no universal way or method of saying how something should be done. A designer needs to utilize different concepts of the same subject. Designers have the power to make people think, and this is what makes the difference and how one approaches it different. Invoke a reaction from the viewer, which is to be different from the norm. Design solutions are a success if they follow this concept for every design project.
If one aggressively suggests a right or wrong solution, the immediate action is rejection (“it’s the way we’re built”). One doesn’t need to push too far or the audience won’t listen. Designers need to be clever and open about the issue, and draw people in.
At this point, Baravalle used the children in Africa campaign as an example of projects being stale. Because this campaign has used the same approach for a long time, people have become immune to the idea. He points out that we need to be careful of using imagery, and what it means to people.
Q: You mentioned in the same interview about how to not design for a specific target audience. As this thesis topic will initially be for consumers of a specific target audience, how do you feel this can impact society overall? Would there be a way to introduce everyone to this issue, even if they don’t use needles and syringes?
Baravalle explained with my design problem, I would have a target audience (the PDN interview was addressing another idea) as I’m addressing a specific issue and the people involved. However, one has to be careful not to make solutions so specific that it alienates the general public (you also have to educate them along with the target audience). (“Why alienate the rest of the population?”) The solution must be accessible to everyone, who must be able to understand and approach it. For an example, a candy is being targeted for 5-year old boys, so Baravalle would design a wrapper to appeal to this audience. But, why would one alienate the rest of the population, such as a 40-year old man or woman, who might love this candy? Baravalle points out that this is a fault of marketing – why make something so specific, when it can appeal to everyone? Design needs to be able to cross the barriers that marketing puts into place, which again comes back to profitability.
Baravalle hypothetically explained how he was not part of issue now, as he never used needle in his life and may not in the future, but tomorrow his wife could start needing this type of medication. So, even if someone isn’t involved now, they could be through themselves or another person later. That’s why it’s better to create awareness and make it open to everyone, especially to ones who never knew of this issue.
Q: What design principles do you utilize in order to create solutions? Does this include collaboration with other industries (not just the client) in producing a successful solution?
A successful solution is one that best solves the problem, which changes all the time. Baravalle doesn’t personally follow a specific method to solving a problem, as he believes different projects require different methods. His focus is on the client and collaboration; a designer must work with the client by researching and educating them, because when a client brings a problem, they do not really understand what it’s about (color theory, deeper meanings, etc.). One has to translate who the client is into a visual, and then explain the reasons for certain design approaches. If a designer doesn’t explain their choices to the client and just “make it pretty,” the client won’t ever really be happy because they’ll never understand what they’re viewing. A designer and client must go through the process together: a problem is brought to the table, the designer solves the problem, and then explains their solution and reasons. What a designer must do is sell what they think is good for their client, and in turn the client must believe them. A client’s decision on the fin al solution allows them to feel like they own the solution.
Is there a process? Yes and no. Everyone understands a problem, but each person creates a different solution due to diverse backgrounds and beliefs. It’s hard to find a general solution for every problem, but as long as one understands their own reasons and gives a good explanation, that’s the process to follow. This whole part of the process is vital to design.
At this point, Baravalle suggested that the first question I asked in the interview should be the last, as I would need to go through this similar process.
Baravalle then touched on how “pretty has nothing to do with graphic design.” When teaching, he asks students why they designed a “cool” logo. If they cannot place a reason, he tells them to revisit and to bring a concept and idea. He said he has given better grades to solutions that may be deemed “ugly,” but their idea was very strong, new and interesting (this is what made them “beautiful”). Designers need to be rewarded for this process and understanding, not just the end result.
Designers need to try different answers in order to make people think, and to get a reaction from the viewer. The solution has to have a purpose and really needs to evoke a strong reaction. It again goes back to the idea of implementing a subtle approach, and to start the process of thinking within the viewer.
Q: What was the turning point that personally convinced you to create design solutions for socially responsible projects?
Baravalle answered that it was two things that steered him in this direction. When he was out of school, he began to design numerous projects and felt he had a different perspective because of his background. However, it then began to become hollow and he was getting bored; nothing meant much in his work and he was just “making things pretty.” At this point, he was introduced to an Ambassador of Peace with the UN, who then contacted him for a book design about a social issue.
This introduction exposed him to a whole different world about TV and media. He then began diving into archives and contacting photographers. He discovered how stories not brought to attention because they were ones the media didn’t want to touch. There was a lot more to the eye than the media and government was letting on.
Then, 9/11 happened.
It was shocking. Why did this happen? But then there were no answers. Baravalle wanted to understand how things “came about.”
We are aware of current situations in the world, but we truly don’t understand them until we’re “hit in the face,” or it hits close to home. This was a key element for Baravalle as he became involved in socially-driven work.
I tried to keep this a brief conversation, as I know Baravalle was extremely busy, but I felt our conversation could have gone longer, as the discussion was very engaging. I was able to identify recurring themes in our conversation: creating different solutions to problems; how profit influences decision-masking (especially corporations); introducing an audience to a problem subtlety, allowing them to make the connections; starting the process of thinking/re-thinking within the audience; educating the public on issues and clients during the design process; and there is no universal method or process in solving a design problem.
These key themes will allow me to revisit my thesis topic from a different perspective: how to introduce the general public to the problem, while still connecting with the specific target audience. I would have to use a method allowing the audience to see the problem on their own, without forcing it on them. And I would need to discover all design outlets in order to decide on the best solution, which my research on consumers will help reveal. This again would also rely on heavy collaboration between various fields and backgrounds.
Because of Baravalle’s film suggestion, I believe I will be able to contact the law firm involved to see if I could gain their knowledge on corporation influence (there is more than what we’re seeing). As there is a product solution out there, but kept hidden, I really need to explore why corporations are halting this safety device.
As this film wasn’t a mainstream event, I believe people are not aware of it, such as I. If the issue the film highlights, and the corporations’ influence, was brought to the light, people would be able to re-think the problem and be proactive. As Baravalle says, we are aware of current situations, but it doesn’t really hit home until it’s “in your face.”
As mentioned before, I started with a list of interview questions related to my topic, and ones that pertained to my first list of interview candidates who were knowledgeable of sustainability. The list was expanded to their personal knowledge of the medical field issue, and how their design experience would lead them in this situation. However, when Giorgio Baravalle agreed to the interview, I expanded these questions to include his experience and concepts. I wanted the interview to be more of a discussion, rather than a Q-A session, which I felt I was able to achieve.
I think Baravalle was a little overwhelmed at first when seeing the list of questions, but when we conversed on the phone, I explained that these were more of a guideline, as I was looking to gain an understanding of his approach to design solutions (especially one so specific as mine). Some smaller questions did come up, but only to clarify key points and to make connections. I do feel letting Baravalle see these questions beforehand gave him insight on my topic and what I was wanting to gain from our interview.