Interview with R. Jucaitis: Archetypes of Modern Designers

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Associate professor of graphic design in Vilnius Academy of Arts and Licentiate of Arts Robertas Jucaitis shapes a new generation of designers and also holds a brand building company Mata Hari that focuses on branding and visual communication. Read how Robertas reflects on the archetype of a modern designer, skills required for designers to stay competitive and more.

How did you find yourself in the world of graphic design?

I graduated from Vilnius Academy of Arts in 1990 with a diploma of an architect – designer in my hands. Since I was neither feeling as a designer nor as an architect, I hit the road to France, Paris to proceed with my studies in industrial design in LEcole Nationale supériure de création industrielle Les Ateliers in Paris, being the first Lithuanian designer to study in France. Intending to spend there a semester, I spent four years instead which now, I suppose, would make a wonderful novel.

When I came back to Lithuania straight after the studies, the industry was decreasing considerably, meaning that for an industrial designer it just wasn’t a right time to find a promising job. Western Europe wasn’t open for Lithuanians very much either therefore I decided to jump into the field of communication, more specifically – advertising.

I had been working in big advertising agencies for 9 years until I founded my own design studio Mata Hari of my own in 2004. It was the same year when I was invited to hold lectures in Vilnius Academy of Arts. And now ten years are counting when these two activities are running in parallel in my life.

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Robertas Jucaitis

You are a famous academician. How did you develop your academic career?

Firstly, such notions as famous and academician, gives a smile on my face :). In 2008, in Vilnius Academy of Arts, a department of graphic design was born under a form of a graphic design studio of professor A. Klimas. Just recently, in 2010 it transformed into an autonomous, fully functioning department. The same year I got a degree of associate professor and in 2012 defended a degree of Licentiate of Arts. Since then – the sea of my academic achievements is calm :).

I engage in writing about design and visual communication trends in Lithuania: give speeches in conferences, lead creative workshops and put my impressions about graphic design and branding in my blog.

What values do you put on your students – future designers?

In our department we are fostering disciplined, synthesizing, creative, respectful and ethical personalities of 21c.

How did design students change over the years?

Rapid technological changes and an urgent demand for graphic designers have encouraged the origination of a graphic design department in Vilnius Academy of Arts. Therefore a modern design student has to be confident about creating an original type, an animated vignette, an electronic or print publication, a poster, an advertising campaign, a corporate identity, a web design; also master professional photography and video shooting and be able to manage post production, handle projects, know about web in general as well as about print technologies, colour theory, marketing and psychology of consumers; and if necessary – write a critique.

Being a graphic designer is one of the most multidimensional professions around. I wouldn’t mistake you calling it a communications decathlon.

What is the archetype of a modern designer? Or are they all hipsters? What characteristics will future designers exhibit?

In Lithuania the majority associate the notion of a designer either with fashion design or working in advertising agencies. We need more precise terms since e.g. web designers nowadays are called front end developers.

For me as a designer myself, it‘s complicated to stick any kind of sociocultural labels on colleagues. These could be probably better noticed looking from a perspective of a client. Though a modern designer could be characterized as using divergent thinking when a problem provides a stimulus to look for many answers (vs. in convergent thinking information as a totality is used to search for one and only truth).

The future of design is digital design in which programmers will prevail. Designers seeking to march with the times will either or already have to look for partners that are able to code or learn coding themselves. Though still, designers are strong as they possess heuristic work methodology and maintain a multifaceted profile (I’ve already mentioned necessary skills and knowledge in technologies, marketing, psychology, etc.)

What differences do you observe in design and branding comparing to those that existed 10 years ago?

Regarding technological side, I notice the most profound changes in online technologies as well as in the fields of 3D and CGI. Offline design has changed lesser. Although technologies are now both more powerful and more precise however when you are creating a logo, you don’t feel that at some point.

Though one way or another designers are forced to keep up with technological changes as new, better tools come into play constantly. You have to be very close to what is trending and being used most extensively as if not – you’ll become a caveman shortly.

From the marketing side – segmentation, specialization and large open markets have originated. Everything moves to internet rapidly. Static design communication is transforming into dynamic and constantly changing one that possesses a variety of changing faces though still preserves an idiosyncratic identity (e.g. swisscom.ch). Atoms are being substituted by bits and this is an irreversible process.

 What other trends of design and branding regarding techniques, style or any other aspects catch your sight?

I don’t mean to be a futurist like, for example, Mary Meeker (Meeker’s Internet Trends Report) or analyse tendencies, like, for instance, Bill Gardner (in LogoLounge). Trends in branding are best observed by marketers. Let’s say Michael Porter claims that a few years ago a new form of collaboration between society and business originated. He called it CSV – Creating Shared Value. Companies have learned that it is necessary to share profit with society, e.g. Google, IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Nestlé, Unilever, Wal-Mart. Branding has to take that into consideration.

Design trends are in no way static. The form of design is conditioned by multimedia communication and niche tools that rest on code like Processing, vvv, max/msp and others.

What about problems or negative processes in design?

It is complicated for innovation to make its way into the heads of businessmen and government officers (I dare to call it Lithuanian genetic anabiosis). The latter ones – ultraconservative, do not perceive the benefit of design. They’ve (not without help of European Union directives) created impossible rules and obstacles for small creative design studios to follow in order to participate in public tenders. Young designers are left in the margins at all. Legally they don’t’ have any chances to get a commission via public tenders as well.

As regards the commercial sector, relationship with a designer isn’t often considered a par partnership. Probably because most often customers are not able to estimate the future benefit of investing in a design. Therefore money that is equal to a price of a cup of coffee every day, from the perspective of three to five years is only seen as inexcusably huge expenses by the majority and in no way as a successful investment.

Cheaper technologies and democracy also has its other side – designers have to compete not only among themselves but also with anyone who’s a little better at computers – same apps, typefaces and templates are accessible to everyone and everywhere.

Eventually, designers themselves use pre-made means. Websites presenting stock photos, illustrations, pictograms, logos are thriving. Internet is more than full of free tools to satisfy all kinds of needs. Templates and ready-to-use design objects allow one to make a logo, a presentation, an info-graphic, a web page or anything without making much effort and quickly.

Potential designers’ clients find it difficult to resist to such temptations and separate the wheat from the chaff.

 What message would you like to send to the design world?

It was said by Winston Churchill in 1941, 29 October: Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never in nothing, great or small, large or petty never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.

eddy@trackduck.com'

Edmundas Eddy Balcikonis

One of the co-founders of TrackDuck www.trackduck.com startup, avid traveler and blogger. Passionate about effective remote team work, project management and UX.

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